By Kendra Sitton | Editor
The city is backing a plan to create a pilot program for a dedicated bus lane on a 2.7-mile stretch of El Cajon Boulevard in Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s updated budget, which is expected to be approved in the coming weeks.
Councilmember Chris Ward, who backed the plan in its early stages alongside Council president Georgette Gomez, praised Faulconer for making what has always been a community priority into a city priority.
“Improving ridership and transit efficiency is a necessary solution to meet our climate action goals and make transit a smarter, more viable option for all San Diegans,” Ward said in a statement.
The pilot program would use a solid eight-inch line to designate lane-three of traffic on each side of the major roadway for buses only. Since the pilot program is only a temporary measure, the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) will evaluate whether the paint and signage work as well as looking at signal prioritization in order to improve travel time reliability.
The dedicated bus lane will extend from Park Boulevard to Fairmount Avenue, with the eventual goal of extending to San Diego State University.
This affects Rapid 215 and Route 1, which together carry 10,000 passengers per day. The goal of a bus-only lane would be to speed up their commutes as well as to expand bus service to even more people.
Unlike other projects like the recently passed protected bike lane along 30th Street that take out coveted parking spaces, the move to bus rapid transit (BRT) is receiving widespread community support. The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association (ECB-BIA) was the main proponent of it through their Blvd. 20/20 Plan, which cast a new vision of the Mid-City corridor that runs through University Heights, North Park, Kensington, Talmadge and City Heights.
At public forums held by the business association, a top concern among neighbors is making the road more walkable. The corridor currently has one of the highest rates of pedestrian deaths in the city. With cars forced to drive in only two lanes, the proponents of the pilot program say this will reduce their speeds and create a safer environment for pedestrians. Businesses also think the change will improve their outcomes.
“El Cajon Boulevard a long time ago was designed as Highway 80 and that was decommissioned. It’s why Interstate 8 was built. It’s become a dense urban center of San Diego and it really does need to be transformed into one that’s more livable and amenable to doing good business,” Beryl Forman, the marketing and mobility coordinator of ECB-BIA, said. “We know we need to come around to a new alignment given that it is very wide and unsafe.”
The current plan allows for buses and bikes to share the lane, which, according to Circulate SD Director of Policy Maya Rosas, means cyclists would have the lane to themselves during the eight-minute intervals between buses rather than using “sharrows” (the painted signs telling cars and bikes to share the road) in a lane with a constant stream of vehicles.
Overall, she sees the project as a first step to make transit faster across the region.
“If San Diego is ever going to reach its climate action goals, that means making transit competitive with driving by yourself. More people will choose to ride transit when it becomes time-competitive,” Rosas said.
The pilot program was pushed forward in part with assistance from the advocacy foundation TransitCenter, which helps cities across the nation improve their public transit. Kirk Hovenkotter, a TransitCenter senior program associate, spoke at a town hall meeting about how pilot programs have worked in other parts of the country.
“This is one of the busiest bus corridors in San Diego and we’re excited to see the mayor pushing forward the idea of implementing a pilot bus lane and also looking to expand upon that pilot to continue to speed up those trips,” Hovenkotter said.
“Projects like these benefit everyone who’s already riding the bus on the corridor and they also expand the capacity of bus service so more people will be drawn to transit and the street can handle more people. I think that’s why the business community is excited for it,” said Ben Fried, communications director for TransitCenter.
After the pilot program rolls out, officials will receive feedback and measure the success of the project in order to decide whether to make the dedicated bus lane a permanent fixture of the mid-city corridor.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at Kendra@sdnews.com.