Bicycling advocates are expressing guarded optimism about the City Council’s approval in July of a plan to implement portions of the Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) that would create a $312 million bicycle infrastructure across San Diego when completed.
Known as the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP), the July action identifies six objectives and 40 high-priority infrastructure projects of the 77 listed in the BMP to provide a safe, reliable and interconnected network for cyclists and other alternative modes of transportation.
According to Kathy Keehan, the District 5 representative on the City’s Bicycle Advisory Board (BAB), in light of the City’s long-term goals to make biking accessible to everyone, any step in that direction, including the SIP, is a good one.
“What the SIP accomplishes is it sets real concrete goals and actions that need to happen soon to implement the BMP,” she said. “It translates the BMP into a specific set of tasks for the City to accomplish.
“If you can build a connected, safe (bike path) network for people to ride, people will ride. We see that over and over again in U.S. cities, and around the world. But if you build it, you have to build it well — a line of paint on the street is not going to be enough.”
Yet any progress achieved with the SIP’s passage is tempered by its lack of a tangible timeline or committed funding. So while the SIP is another arrow in the quiver, success will be entirely dependent on the aim.
“I have hope that the plan can do good things, but it’s really going to take advocates to push our leadership to reallocate funding,” said Nicole Burgess, Pacific Beach ‘s representative (District 2) on the BAB. “The plan has good objectives. If we can meet those objectives and fund (them), then we’re going to do OK. But if this plan is just a plan that gets put up on the shelf, then it’s just like any other plan.”
You can find the Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) at sandiego.gov/planning/programs/transportation/mobility/bicycleplan
The SIP’s strengths aren’t necessarily in its text, but in the context in which it was drafted. Since the approval of the BMP in 2013, the City has also adopted the Climate Action Plan, which calls for bicycling’s share of commuter transit to grow to 6 percent from its current 3 percent by 2020 and 18 percent by 2035; Vision Zero and its target of zero traffic fatalities on San Diego’s roadways by 2025; and the Downtown Mobility Plan, with its 9 miles of protected bike lanes slated to start construction this year.
Bike advocates are counting on those mandates to give the SIP teeth, says Andy Hanshaw, the BAB chair and executive director of the 1,500-member San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.
“None of those things were in play in 2013, when the BMP was adopted,” Hanshaw said. “So it’s now important to have the SIP to start those things out. We’re excited because it’s a huge part of what the City should be doing to reach those CAP goals; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to provide transportation options.”
So what’s in it for PB?
Of the 77 projects listed in the BMP, eight are located in Pacific Beach and the adjacent Mission Bay Park (see sidebar list at right). Additionally, Grand and Garnet avenues are recognized by Vision Zero as dangerous corridors with frequent accidents, which are given priority in the SIP.
While PB has seen its share of bike lanes painted on streets through the City’s effort to resurface 1,000 miles of streets in five years (the Resurface and Repurpose project), BAB rep Keehan claims it’s the PB community itself — through the PB Planning Group and the PB Pathways project run by BeautifulPB, among others — that is the leading edge of biking improvements in the neighborhood.
“PB doesn’t have a lot of bike infrastructure, but there are a lot of bicyclists,” Keehan said. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand in PB. I really give those organizations a lot of credit for elevating the conversation in PB about bicycling and keeping it on the radar. When things happen in PB, bicycling is always part of the conversation.”
BAB rep Burgess lists a number of ongoing or planned projects in PB as vital for producing the needed bicycle network to connect the community. However, Burgess, as well as other BAB members, recognize that the bottleneck is pedaling south.
“Lastly, but most importantly, is the critical connection along Pacific Highway,” Burgess stated. “Pacific Highway is the backbone of our City and has great opportunity to be a phenomenal, beautiful, walkable, bikable corridor connecting the north to the south.”
Balboa Avenue Transit Station
Bike advocates believe the SIP can deliver the impetus to include bicycle and pedestrian access in the critical planning stage of the Mid-Coast Trolley and its Balboa Avenue Station (I-5 at Balboa Avenue), when costs are cheapest and implementation is easiest.
The Balboa Avenue Station will be part of the Blue Trolley Line that will run from downtown San Diego to University City (station stop at UTC Westfield), designed by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). Service is anticipated to begin in 2021 and by 2030, SANDAG predicts 3,180 daily boardings.
Keehan explained: “We have an opportunity, with this station, to make it better if we’re thoughtful about how it’s done and if we’re ambitious. We must really, truly make the commitment to make it not just possible, but attractive, to get people from one side (of the area) to the other to access that Station. It’s a big challenge.”
Noting that some traffic planners and engineers have never ridden a bike, Burgess recognizes that it will require a change in culture for bicycles to emerge as the viable solution to traffic congestion. She argues that cities benefitting from a shift to bicycle transportation for commutes and beyond have made the required investment.
“In the Netherlands, they spend 40 percent of their budget on bikes and in Portland, Oregon they spend roughly eight percent on bikes,” Burgess noted. “And in the end, that is what they have for ridership — over 40 percent in the Netherlands and eight percent in Portland. We spend very little and it is evident in our current ridership.
“It’s important for us to shift the dialogue from bikes being used for recreation to bikes being used for transportation. A healthy, active future is in reach for San Diego and we have great opportunity to become a world class, bike-friendly city, but we will need leadership from the top and proper allocation of funding.”
So bike advocates argue the SIP’s benefits will be seen in retrospect.
“We’ve tried hard to separate priorities for the program,” Keehan explained. “We’ll see how that rolls out. The proof will come when we get those projects that get more people riding, and those people feel safer and more comfortable when they’re riding. We need people to ride more. That’s the goal at the end of the day.”
PB Bicycle Infrastructure Projects in the BMP
The infrastructure improvements on the eight projects below vary from the construction of new lanes to upgrades of existing lanes to the addition of traffic-calming measures, such as reduced speed limits, speed bumps, etc. Find the details at sandiego.gov/planning/programs/transportation/mobility/bicycleplan
1. Mission Boulevard: Turquoise St. to Grand Ave.
2. E. Mission Bay Drive: I-5 to Grand Ave.
3. Mission Boulevard: Grand Ave. to W. Mission Bay Drive
4. Ingraham Street: Beryl St. to Pacific Beach Drive
5. Pacific Beach Drive: Ingraham St. to eastern end of Pacific Beach Drive
6. Rose Creek Bridge: Eastern end of Pacific Beach Drive to western end of N. Mission Bay Drive
7. Rose Creek Bike Path Extension: Southern end of Rose Creek bike path to western end of N. Mission Bay Drive
8. Crowne Point Drive: Pacific Beach Drive to Lamont St.