County Bicycle Coalition partners with local business district to create a business-friendly bicycling district
By Dave Schwab | SDUN Reporter
While a push is on to improve infrastructure to make Uptown more bicycle friendly, cyclists and motorists alike are being reminded they need to follow the rules of the road and drive more defensively.
“Roads are for people, not just for people in cars,” said Jim Baross, a longtime cyclist and chair of the Normal Heights Planning Group. Baross has been involved in cycling-related transportation planning for years.
Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, agreed with Baross’s sentiment, saying, “Both realize the road needs to be shared. We need continuing education for people who need to learn how to share the road better.” The Coalition is a regional bicycling education and advocacy organization, formed in 1987.
Besides safe streets, Hanshaw also said people today want communities that are friendly to walkers and bikers as well. How to achieve the goal of safe, shared road use between bicyclists, cars and pedestrians has become a transportation challenge.
Pointing out that roadways are engineered to ensure “easily flowing car traffic,” Baross said this may “neglect concerns about bicyclists or people walking.” He said both cyclists and motorists need to follow the rules of the road, sharing responsibility to look out for each other.
“Some people are their own problem. They don’t ride where they should, like on the wrong side of the road or too close to parked cars. Any motorist who blows through a traffic signal is a problem for themselves, and bicyclists,” Baross said.
North Park resident Kevin Wood also pointed out potential problems cyclists contend with, including distracted driving and cyclists riding too close to parked cars.
“Everywhere in San Diego is a good place to ride, or should be,” Wood said. Also a cycling instructor, Wood commutes an hour by bicycle to his work in Kearney Mesa.
“Nowadays, with more folks texting, talking on their phone [and] messing with their radio or their GPS, that’s definitely a worry for cyclists,” he said. “We definitely tell cyclists that you should avoid riding in the door zone. You should be riding far enough out from parked cars so if their doors open, it won’t hit you.”
Wood said San Diego culture is changing to encourage and accommodate cycling and other alternative transportation modes, like buses and trolleys.
“Studies have been done nationwide showing folks are interested in living in urban neighborhoods with amenities they can walk or bike to, and have their identities less wrapped up in owning a fancy car and driving it everywhere,” he said.
For Wood, that is happening more and more in Uptown. “A lot of people are going out to the restaurants and bars in South and North Park and stopping at businesses, and they’re doing it by bike and not by car,” he said.
Angela Landsberg, executive director of North Park Main Street, said her organization has cooperated with the County Bicycle Coalition to become an official “business-friendly biking district” within San Diego.
“We have a huge cycling constituency in North Park,” she said, adding that infrastructure improvements are on the way. “We’re going to have the second bike corral in San Diego installed on 30th [Street] and North Park Way in the next couple of weeks,” she said.
“We have free valet parking for bikes at our Farmers Market and we’ve got 35 new bike racks going in throughout the business district.” Bike corrals park 12 bikes in a space accommodating one car, and the first was implemented in Hillcrest, at Sixth and University avenues, on May 14.
There are other reasons for promoting cycling as alternative transportation, which has numerous public benefits.
“Folks want to save money in this gas crisis, and cycling is a good thing to do,” Hanshaw said. “It’s a clean, green viable alternative for transportation. It’s also a smart way to make short trips and connections to our neighborhoods.” He said cycling is becoming a way to attract tourists as well.
Though Uptown is widely recognized as a great place to ride, cycling enthusiasts like Wood and Randy van Vleck, who lives on 30th Street in Golden Hill, said problem areas do exist.
“Thirtieth Street is one of the greatest streets in San Diego,” van Vleck said. “Unfortunately, it’s not too bike friendly. It has very narrow lanes, too narrow for cyclists and motorists to share side by side.”
Two other trouble spots in Uptown, van Vleck said, are near the intersections of Park Boulevard and University Avenue, and University Avenue and Alabama Street.
“Park and University is a complex intersection, and could benefit from some treatments that will make it friendlier for bicyclists,” he said. “My friend was struck by a motorist while riding his bike here, and died.”
Describing the University Avenue and Alabama Street intersection as “very hairy” for both cyclists and pedestrians, van Vleck said cyclists eastbound on University Avenue “have to negotiate with motorists to take the lane at a high speed, get into the middle of the lane before the parked cars and keep an eye out for motorists pulling out of Alabama [Street], who are significantly obstructed by parked cars.”
The cyclist proposed solutions for minimizing the dangers, including having signal detectors reflect the presence of cyclists, “not just motorists,” he said.
Additionally, van Vleck previously submitted a traffic request, which was approved by the City, to paint “sharrows,” or shared-lane markings, on streets too narrow for conventional bike lanes. The approved request will see sharrows along 30th and Olive streets to Upas Street in North Park.
“We’ll see what type of impact this will have,” he said.
Chris Kluth, senior active transportation planner with San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), said the city adopted a regional bike plan in 2010, which is a network that “connects activity centers and smart-growth areas.” SANDAG has a comprehensive region-wide bicycle plan in place, called “Riding to 2050: The San Diego Regional Bike Plan.”
Kluth also said SANDAG is the design phase of a project to create an interlocking network of Class 1 bike paths, connecting Downtown to Hillcrest, Mission Hills and Old Town, as well as Hillcrest through North Park and Normal Heights to La Mesa. The Class 1 paths are part of the Riding to 2050 plan.
Additionally, Hanshaw said the Bicycle Coalition will be developing a strategic plan in the next five years to “advocate for” and “protect the rights” of cyclists, as well as to promote bicycling throughout business districts like North Park’s.
“When you get into these business districts it’s a lot easier to park with your bike and there’s a lot less traffic,” Hanshaw said, adding that businesses can encourage their patrons and employees to ride bicycles instead. “Some people don’t even think of it as an alternative.”