By Kendra Sitton – Editor
The North Park Planning Committee is preparing for a vote on the addition of a protected bike lane to 30th Street. The final vote on whether to urge the city to move forward with plans to improve biking infrastructure along the community’s main thoroughfare will happen at the committee’s next meeting on Tuesday, May 14.
The project is already gaining significant community input, as nearly 100 people crowded into an upstairs room at North Park Christian Fellowship on Tuesday, April 16, to speak on the proposal. The approval process is on a short timeline because it coincides with the conclusion of the 30th Street pipeline construction when the road will be repaved and repainted. The proposed bike lane and the loss of current parking spaces, as well as other issues, were reasons locals came in to give their input.
Officials presented separate proposals for two different segments of 30th Street: the first from Upas to Juniper streets, where there are currently 162 parking spaces, and the second from El Cajon Boulevard to Upas Street with 258 spaces. In some sections of the corridor, a center turn lane would be eliminated to accommodate the new bike lane, while in others, street parking would be cut to accommodate bike lanes with a physical barrier alongside the vehicle lanes. Still other proposals could add a floating lane of parking next to the road, creating a physical barrier for the bike lane. With the bike lane next to the passenger side, this would also cut down on the common issue of drivers exiting their cars and hitting a cyclist, an issue referred to as “dooring.”
With everyone receiving less than two minutes to talk, it took over an hour of going down each row in the auditorium for people on both sides of the issue to have their say about the proposals. Despite input from both opponents and proponents, and a few in between, the atmosphere remained calm. The only outbursts were of applause when a pro-bike lane advocate said something pithy.
Those activists, with the support of Councilmember Chris Ward, already organized events to push for the new bike lane. On Saturday, April 13, they created a “people-protected” bike lane along 30th Street so cyclists could see what it was like to ride safely there. With a long row of people wearing bright neon vests next to a lane for cars, cyclists, including young children, drove along the road to cheering. Many of those advocates are embracing the proposal that creates a physical barrier between moving cars and the bike lane — but eliminates the most parking spaces of all the proposals.
The recent push to improve biking infrastructure county is partially due to an effort to reach the county’s climate action plan, which calls for 6% of the road share to be made up of bikes by 2020. With bikes still making up such a small minority of the road use, some of the residents in the audience argued the roads should still be left to cater mostly to cars in search of parking. However, the presenters, led by City of San Diego Mobility Program Manager Everett Hauser, headed off this argument by pointing out the North Park Garage on 29th Street, which was constructed to relieve parking problems in 2005, operates at less than a third of its capacity every day. Since the parking garage charges a fee of $5 a day, it is cheaper than metered parking along the street, and they said ultimately results in the parking garage losing money.
Patrick Santana, an avid cyclist, said riding along 30th Street currently is challenging. He also said the argument that a bike lane should not be added because there are not many cyclists on the road is akin to people looking at a river and saying a bridge should not be built because there are no swimmers using it at that moment.
30th Street is currently painted with “sharrows” — the combination of painted bicycles and arrows marking the lane as shared between bikes and vehicles. This system can lead to dangerous road conditions as cars swerve into oncoming traffic to get around a bike, and bikers feel they must ride closer to parked cars, which increases their risk of getting doored. It also means only the most confident and aggressive cyclists use it. Surveys have found only 1-2% of people are willing to cycle under dangerous conditions, while half of respondents say they would try biking if there was a protected lane.
“I don’t feel safe in this area,” Phil Ballew said, a business consultant who often rides his bike to meet clients in Uptown. (Editor’s note: Ballew is friends with the author.) He said he has been doored twice in the past year and urged the committee to close the infrastructure gap.
Business owners on both sides of the issue spoke out at the meeting. In addition to some elderly residents worried about having to walk farther to access the businesses on 30th Street, some of those business owners worried clientele from other parts of San Diego would be less likely to make the trip out to North Park if they knew they had to struggle to find parking.
A business owner from a with a consulting firm on University Avenue where bike lanes have been implemented came to show his support of the plan. Ari Isaak claimed that of his 13 employees, many have chosen to give up their cars and cycle to work.
“If you care about parking, you should care about getting the cars off the street,” he said.
Bankers Hill resident Ben Baltic said business actually went up and there were more parking spaces available when bike lanes were implemented near property he owns on Fourth Avenue. He said for people to ride more, there cannot be gaps in the infrastructure where bike lanes end. Instead, many in the audience argued the entire system needs to be connected the same way roads are for cars.
Justine Epstein, owner of independent bookstore Verbatim Books in North Park, said there is more to consider than just parking. She argued that biking cuts down on air pollution and with more people walking around the area, the ambience of the area would improve.
“Parking is not getting better by not removing parking,” Epstein said.
With a growing population, the current levels of car use and with the parking structure being underutilized, parking in Uptown could still get worse. Two women at the planning meeting said they moved from inclement places where they were able to bike more because of cycling infrastructure.
Marissa Tucker said she biked 50% of the time while living in San Francisco but that amount has dropped to 5% in San Diego.
“I would bike 100% if that was an option. I’m taking up that parking space,” Tucker said.
Another woman said that after years of going without one in other cities, she is considering buying a car because there are not enough transportation options in the city.
In their concluding remarks, the majority of the planning board voiced support for adding a bike lane, while only a few announced which of the proposals they will back in next week’s vote.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org