What’s Wrong With the Current Right Side Bike Lane Plan?

As detailed in the last post, the city has a plan for adding bike (and scooter) lanes in our neighborhood.  There are, however, problems with the plan.  As discussed in this post, the plans are (1) too expensive to implement in part, (2) inadequate to meet the city’s own goals for increasing ridership, and (3) planned in reliance on outdated guidelines for designing bike lanes.

First, anyone who knows the neighborhood will notice a big flaw in the City’s Bike Master Plan for our area. For actual bike lanes, the City is planning on the only complete north-south through-lane to run alongside 28th Street. On the City’s plan map, it looks like a nice clean line running the whole length of the park. But in the real world, this is what it looks like (highlighted in yellow, with the future Pershing lane highlighted in green):

You’ll notice that between Date and Nutmeg, 28th Street is interrupted by Switzer Canyon, a dog park, and the edge of the golf course. Either the city plans on everyone riding mountain bikes to use this lane, or we need to fly on our bikes with E.T., or we need to build a really big bridge or loopy path to deal with the steep hills. The City also plans to build this path within the park rather than in the existing 28th Street roadway, requiring a lot of planning and engineering. Which means a lot of money and a near certainty that it will never be built in the near future. As far as I can tell, adding this bike path is nowhere in any of the city’s plans.  Even being optimistic, it’s probably decades away.

Second, the City admits the bike lanes, even if built as planned, are inadequate to meet the Climate Action Plan goals.  Remember, the goal was to get to six percent bike commuters by 2020 and 18 percent by 2035.  In 2016, the City estimated that a little less that two percent of residents commuted by bike in our neighorhood.  The bike lanes added in the community plans would only get us to eight to ten percent by 2035, well below the 18 percent goal.  When the community plans were passed, the city acknowledged the shortcomings, said it would monitor the use of bikes, and revisit the issue in three or four years if the proposed changes weren’t getting the job done.  The city is only starting to measure the change and hasn’t made any real public efforts to revisit the plans.

Third, the sections marked as “bikes routes” on major streets may have made sense in 2013, but they now conflict with updated design guidelines. The guidelines changed based on an increased awareness that even if sharrows are easy to install,they definitely don’t feel very safe. Some studies have even concluded that sharrows make roads less safe.

Last year, well after the city enacted the Bike Master Plan and community plan updates, the city tweaked how it designs its streets.  The new street design manual was a major change, relying on national best practices and the latest in design thinking to build safe, complete streets. The design manual itself doesn’t directly address bike lane design. Instead, it refers to other sources to establish guidelines. At least two of the design guides listed by the city for designing bike lanes, known as the AASHTO guide and the NACTO guide, now specify that these sharrows are only appropriate on roads where there are less than 3,000 cars a day and a maximum speed limit of 25 mph. It isn’t just the city that relies on these guides, Caltrans refers to them too. Here’s a handy chart from an upcoming change to the AASHTO guide that displays what seems to be the general consensus of professional engineers (not normally known as crazy bike advocates!), which should shape how San Diego designs its streets going forward:

Screen Shot 2018-10-20 at 2.13.42 PM

As you can see, anything other than lightly-used roads with low speeds should get real bike lanes.  Once speeds hit 30 mph or 6,000 cars a day, some physical separation is needed.  Although the city appears to follow these updated guidelines in its latest community plans for other neighborhoods released after the change in the street design manual, the plans for our neighborhood use the outdated guidelines.  Despite these new standards, the city plans to add sharrows on 30th Street, where there is an average of around 9000 cars a day and a posted speed limit, as least in some sections, of 35 mph.   Similarly, on Redwood, another sharrow site, the average traffic already adds up to about 5000-6000 cars a day with posted speed limits of at least 30 mph.  Juniper, another place with a planned bike route: the speed limit may be ok, but over 4000 cars travel on it every day.  Fern Street? Between 7000 and 9000 cars a day.  Another problem: on 30th Street, the #2 bus line runs all day.  The Caltrans Highway Design Manual says bike routes and buses should not share a lane.  Yet the City seems to ignore this policy.

These newer guidelines, which the city itself has endorsed, reveal that the now-outdated Bike Master Plan is inadequate and unsafe in some places.  And we haven’t even mentioned the city’s Vision Zero policy yet! If the city built these bike routes, they would arguably be in conflict with the very design guidelines they endorsed, potentially creating a huge liability issue if they lose the typical immunity from lawsuits a city receives for approving construction of streets based on designs conforming to establish standards.  Rather than paying out tens of millions of dollars to injured cyclists and pedestrians after the fact, the city could improve its plan to avoid the injuries in the first place and save money.

So, in summary: the city is planning for impossible (or costly) bike paths and unsafe bike routes that violate updated design guidelines, leading to potential liability and injuries in the future.  Moreover, even if the bike routes could be built, they would not be enough to meet the goals of how many people should be biking to avoid catastrophic climate change.  We obviously need an alternative if we are going to realistically plan for the future without overspending. Luckily, there are options.

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