San Diego steps up cycling infrastructure in the wake of bike fatalities

Speaker 1: (00:00)

The city of San Diego has taken bold steps to dramatically increase the number of bike lanes on its streets, a move in part in response to a number of road fatalities that have occurred in recent months. One of those deaths was that of Matt Keenan, a 42-year-old cyclist who was struck and killed while cycling on Camino Del Rio south of Mission Valley last month, here is his widow, Laura Keenan.

Speaker 2: (00:25)

I’m so excited to see Evan grow up and do all of this with Evan. As I mentioned, he was going to take his first steps soon and didn’t want to teach him music and play sports with him. And he could never do that. You know, he would drive to work. Um, he works in LA Jolla. So he would drive from North Park to LA Jolla. He rode his bike to the grocery store or just do various errands. It was just that if he, if a day went by without riding a bike, it wasn’t a full day for him.

Speaker 1: (00:57)

Bicycle safety advocates, hoping to make the streets safer for cyclists like Keenan, are encouraged by the addition of new lanes and increased safety protocols. Still others in the community are concerned about the impact that more bicycle-friendly streets could have on traffic and parking. And the already congested roads of the city. Journalist David Garrick, the San Diego Tribune, now joins me with others. David, welcome to the program.

Speaker 3: (01:22)

Thank you for.

Speaker 1: (01:23)

So how has the city tried to prioritize bicycle safety in recent months?

Speaker 3: (01:27)

Um, well, in the last few months with the deaths happening, they kind of came up with this new idea that some maybe call a model where instead of seeing a street as dangerous, let’s plan for two years, how to fix it. , they immediately went out and put bollards on Pershing Drive and the bubble park, and they made scratches as a kind of temporary permanent measure until a more firmly permanent measure could be put in place.

Speaker 1: (01:52)

What role do a number of recent fatal accidents actually play in the aggressive development of the city’s cycle lanes?

Speaker 3: (01:58)

Um, I mean, I think there has been a constant call from environmental and cycling groups for cyclists to have better bike lanes. Um, and the city has generally done a good job. Obviously, the people who want them would like it to go faster. But with these deaths, it only increases the sense of urgency at City Hall. And we have a new mayor who, I would say, is arguably more focused on this issue than his predecessor.

Speaker 1: (02:23)

I was going to ask, you know, has Mayor Todd Gloria’s approach to this issue been any different than mayors in the past?

Speaker 3: (02:29)

I’m sure Todd Todd would tell you that. I mean, I think if Kevin Faulkner was there he would say he did a good job and focused on it, but I think Todd has a Todd Gloria, the new mayor put more of it in there. emphasis on that. Being included in the budget, one million dollars for a team of 12 people. This is going to be spent on planning and building cycle paths through town, which Faulkner did not do. I think the environmental groups are waiting to see what Mayor Gloria does sort of on the mode-sharing goals. It’s a fancy term for more people, riding bicycles, and fewer people riding in cars. Uh, the city has ambitious goals in this area. And I think environmental groups want to make sure the mayor puts a plan in place to achieve those goals.

Speaker 1: (03:06)

You write that establishing a cycle path can often be a lengthy process. How the city’s efforts to build a lane after a pair of fatal crashes in a Balboa Park purge were different.

Speaker 3: (03:17)

It’s just a new way of looking at things instead of the normal city process which has a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of paperwork and a lot of approvals in the old days. If somebody died on the street, they’d say, oh, that’s a dangerous area. Let’s study the intersection, put a consultant on it. Let’s see what to do. And then maybe six months, a year later, we’ll come up with something, throw it up the mast and then maybe have a change a year and a half down the road. It was a situation where I don’t know, four or 5, 6, 7 days later they came out and they did something immediately. It’s kind of an immediate reaction to eliminate bankruptcy and paperwork.

Speaker 1: (03:49)

And the city has put in place hundreds of kilometers of cycle paths in recent years. But you write a lot. Doesn’t offer the rider as much protection in the first place. Why is that?

Speaker 3: (03:59)

Yes, there are four different levels of cycle paths, at least one class 1, 2, 3 and four, the most common and the safest cycle paths like the class where it’s really like, there is a way that it blocked. It is therefore a cycle path and it is protected on both sides. And then you go down to the lower level where you have these Sheros these arrows in the street where it just reminds of cars, please be kind to the cyclist. And then in between that you have the striped tracks, which they don’t offer any protection, but at least it’s a tape that shows cars exactly where they can and can’t go. And, uh, one of the criticisms that a cycling advocate pointed out during the meeting I rode that 410 of the 450 miles the city has created since 2013 has been the least protected, meaning you are still vulnerable on a bicycle. If someone swerves or if someone is a reckless driver, you are going to be affected. Whereas when you are in one of these protected lanes you are much safer

Speaker 1: (04:48)

Besides the lanes themselves, the city is taking a number of measures to improve the overall quality of cycling in the city. What can you tell us about this?

Speaker 3: (04:56)

Well I mean they do a lot of different things to try to make it better. I mean, it’s, it’s a war on several fronts. Uh, they had a bike path downtown. These are the special areas where there is a bike path between parked cars and the sidewalk, uh, to try to encourage people to cycle downtown. Again, the overall goal here is the urban areas of the city. They want people to cycle more often, uh, that cuts down on traffic jams and that, uh, will help the city meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets in the climate action plan.

Speaker 1: (05:23)

From the community saying about establishing new paths. Is there a shared consensus?

Speaker 3: (05:28)

Uh, yeah, definitely divisional. I mean, a lot of cycling advocates and tend to be maybe younger tend to be more positive about them. And then some of the single family home owners who have been in their neighborhood for a long time, they lose a lane of traffic or they lose parking. And in some cases, they lose bowls and they may be happy to do so if they saw the lanes full of cyclists. But right now, you know, they’re often looking at the bike lanes and they’re mostly empty. They will see a cyclist pass every two or three hours. And it frustrates them to wonder why are we spending this money doing this? Get rid of the traffic lanes, get rid of the parking spots for something that’s not going to happen, or they feel like it is, maybe it’s a cake-in-the-sky idea. I think the advocates of cycling would say if you build it they will come and you have to build these lanes now, make cycling safer and then more and more people will use it as an option test

Speaker 1: (06:16)

Cycling in general, a boost during the pandemic

Speaker 3: (06:19)

He has. And you know, that’s another controversial issue. Some people will say, look at all these numbers, they are so awesome during the pandemic. And I think an opponent will say that 2020 has been the strangest year we’ve ever had. So any statistic that is based on 2020 is pretty dubious. So we’ll see how it goes. But during the pandemic, more people were riding their bikes perhaps because they were working from home. And so they didn’t have to put on their fancy clothes, which is inconvenient, to ride a bike. And e-bike sales have risen sharply, which is another kind of encouraging sign. So for people who were older or maybe can’t climb a hill, they still choose to ride a bike, but they use an electronic bike to solve the problem.

Speaker 1: (06:54)

I spoke with the Tribune Union of San Diego, reporter David Garrick. David, thank you very much for joining us.

Speaker 3: (07:00)

Thank you.

Speaker 4: (07:02)


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