By Kendra Sitton | Editor
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that on Thursday, May 16, Mayor Kevin Faulconer directed staff to implement fully protected bike lanes on 30th Street, which was presented as Option A to the North Park Planning Committee. He is also directing his staff to evaluate blocks north of Howard Avenue up to Adams Avenue to add protected bikeways to the final design.
In a 7-6 vote at their meeting on Tuesday, May 14, the North Park Planning Committee decided to support a fully protected bike lane along a 1 ½-mile stretch of 30th Street, which would eliminate hundreds of existing parking spots. In a separate vote, which garnered support from all of the members who wanted to preserve some parking spaces along the busy road, the group added a set of recommendations for the city of San Diego to consider when implementing the bike lane. The suggestions included studying how many bikes utilize the lane in the annual checkup of the Climate Action Plan, tracking the number of fatalities and injuries on the street, and annually reporting on the financial impact the change is having on community businesses.
Their vote departed from North Park Main Street, which represents businesses in the area. The Main Street organization voted in favor of Option B for Segment 1, which would have preserved half of the 400-plus parking spaces from Howard Avenue to Upas Street; and created floating parking lanes to form a barrier between bicycles in a lane next to the curb and moving vehicles in the center of the street. This was decided in a re-vote requested by members on May 9. The business group had previously pledged support for Option A, a fully protected bike lane, in Segment 2, which will mainly affect the residential properties from Upas to Juniper streets.
Opponents of the bike lane came out in full force to the meeting compared to the initial information meeting on April 16, which was dominated by cycling advocates. Their comments did convince a few of the board members to support the floating parking option instead of the fully protected bike lane, but they were still outnumbered by the rest of the board, many of whom ran on a pro-transit and pro-density platform.
“What I want to do is get rid of the option because it is arrogant to think that we want to have a minority controlling a city asset,” said Matt Thompson, a Utah Street resident.
Vernita Gutierrez, who represented the SoNo Neighborhood Alliance, said she is vehemently opposed to Option A for the bike lane. “I’m not opposed to bike lanes totally, but I don’t know why it has to be on the main artery. Why not the side streets? I haven’t heard a compelling argument for why it can’t be on streets parallel to 30th. This is really typical of the city and our elected officials to cater to (the) bike lobby and developers,” Gutierrez said.
The current bike lane on Utah Street was brought up repeatedly during the meeting as it runs parallel to the proposed bike lane on 30th Street. Bike lane opponents, many of whom are either business owners or decades-long residents, argued cyclers should be using the existing bike infrastructure instead of taking away from the already overburdened street parking in the area. However, members of the board who regularly bike pointed out that although there is a bike lane on Utah, it is not protected with a barrier at any point and disappears entirely at other points. In addition, it does not connect to South Park so it is not as useful to commuters.
While there were less speakers in favor of the bike lane at this meeting compared to the April 16 meeting, many were still influential figures in the area, including City Council District 3 candidate Chris Olsen, as well as Clint Daniels and Brer Marsh, from the Uptown Planners community advisory board.
Despite the loud and sometimes rowdy opposition from the crowd, the majority of the board was not swayed from their previous pledges to support the bike lane. Some even said it would help alleviate other problems the community is facing like that of electric scooters.
“Scooters need to be addressed and integrated in our mobility options more generally. One issue a lot of people have raised in these meetings in the past is the presence of scooters on sidewalks which is obviously dangerous and illegal,” board member Eduardo Velasquez said. “If we want to get scooters off the sidewalks, another thing we can do is create better protected bike lanes so the scooter riders will feel safe integrating with general traffic.”
Another repeated concern was elderly and disabled people being unable to access businesses without nearby parking. While the street will still have to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act according to federal law, the board included in its list of suggestions that the city should evaluate nearby side streets for disabled parking and loading zones.
Some board members expressed a willingness to reevaluate the decision and even bring back parking along the street in a few years if the bike lane does not bring in the promised increase in cyclists and causes a detrimental financial impact on businesses.
“This is an important moment. Change is always hard,” Velasquez said.
Based on this community input, Councilmember Chris Ward made a recommendation to Mayor Kevin Faulconer about the repaving project. The mayor announced on Bike to Work Day he is directing his staff to create the first protected bike lane in North Park. While his letter directed staff to look at the parking needs of disabled people and businesses in their final design as well as to continue their work to add head-in parking spots in adjacent streets to replace parallel parking spaces, it did not specify whether further suggestions proposed by the North Park Planning Committee will be implemented.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.