Monday, May 11, 2015

The Key to Reaching City Goals is in the Green, Protected Lanes

Written by Andy Hanshaw, Chair of City of San Diego Bike Advisory Committee, Executive Director SDCBC
May is National Bike Month. Across the country, communities will spend the month of May promoting programs and activities to encourage more people to ride bicycles in their daily lives. And why shouldn’t they? The benefits of replacing a short car trip with a bike ride are numerous: studies show it benefits our health, our communities and our local businesses.  
National Bike Month is a good time to assess how far San Diego has come as a bike-friendly region and, while we have great goals for bikes, one thing is clear—we’re not investing in or implementing the strategies that will get us there.
In order to make San Diego a city less impacted by climate change, living with less pollution and maintaining safer streets for everyone, we need to get more people riding bikes. How do we do that? The most obvious, and only first step is to build safe and protected bike infrastructure citywide that connects neighborhoods, businesses, schools, shops and other destinations. Without more bike paths and lanes to make riders feel safe on our streets, our lofty city goals are just that: goals.
Currently, three city initiatives address this goal by encouraging the implementation of safe bike infrastructure and the many proven benefits they bring.
·       First, the City of San Diego wants to reduce impacts of climate change and harmful pollution in our air and environment; a goal everyone agrees is important. Mayor Kevin Faulconer and city council have drafted a Climate Action Plan with goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by calling for a significant increase in the number of people using a bicycle for everyday transportation. The goal of the plan is to get six percent of San Diegans riding bikes for transportation by 2020 and 18 percent by 2035. Currently, that percentage is barely one. How can we get more people riding if people don’t feel safe on the roads outside of a car?
·       Mayor Faulconer has outlined a plan to resurface 1,000 miles of city streets over the next five years, yet resurfacing streets doesn’t specifically include adding safe bike infrastructure. We need to do more than resurface and repave our streets; we need to repurpose them. Repurposing streets means we reconsider how we can use the space on our roads to make them safe for all types of transportation, particularly bicycles and pedestrians.
·       Hearteningly, the Regional Bike Plan includes already-funded bicycle projects planned for several key urban areas in the City of San Diego, including Uptown and North Park/Mid-City. The car-first mentalities we’re used to have caused push back on some of these innovative bike projects, keeping us stuck in an outdated and unsafe environment. Research shows better bike infrastructure benefits businesses and cities in the long run, so what are we waiting for?
While the status quo often has an allure, there are things far scarier than change—the fact that the city hasn’t prioritized the safety of its bicyclists and pedestrians over the relatively small loss of on-street parking that may be needed in order to complete these smart growth, sensible and needed projects. Riding a bike down University Avenue in Hillcrest is both a challenge and terrifying to many. If people don’t feel safe on bikes, no one is going to ride and our city’s progressive and necessary goals will collect dust. It’s as simple as that.
We have already seen firsthand that safe bike infrastructure encourages more people to ride from the recently installed buffered bike lanes on 4th and 5th Avenues. These bike lanes running from Hillcrest to downtown are perfect examples of the continuing change needed to reach climate and bike ridership goals and increase public safety. This model needs to be a part of the citywide strategy for a safer and healthier San Diego.
If we are going to talk the talk, let’s bike the bike. This is a call to significantly increase funding for biking and walking in our transportation budget.
A call to reduce our car emissions and air pollution to slow the damaging effects of climate change in our beautiful city.
And one to make the people of San Diego our biggest priority when the City plans for the 2016 budget and beyond.
Above all, this is a call that can't wait.

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