Safe routes for all on The Right Side: Let’s fix the city’s Bicycle Master Plan

Our streets are the primary public spaces we have in our neighborhood. There’s Balboa Park to the west, but we are cut off from most of it by a canyon and there are barely any other parks in the neighborhood; no libraries or civic centers. The design of our streets is also woefully behind the times: cars, bikes, and now scooters share the same space, leading to unsafe environments. It’s time for change.

Part of the solution is to add some bike lanes, which can be shared with scooters. Why bike lanes? The quick answer is that bikes lanes are necessary to ensure the safety of all users of our streets and to provide a real choice for getting around.  My kids love to ride their bikes, but I can’t imagine taking them out on our busy main streets. My wife worries about life insurance when I decide to commute by bike. Unsafe streets for scooters and bikes leads to people riding on the sidewalks, which makes it harder for pedestrians to get around. This leads to more driving, which then requires more parking. The status quo of dangerous streets and inadequate parking makes no sense and doesn’t work for anyone. This includes car drivers: as most can understand, bikes and scooters zipping around our streets can be nerve-wracking for drivers when there is no obvious place where they belong.  And it’s only going to get worse as more and more people live in our neighborhood.

Unless we rethink things. If we could make it safe and pleasant to walk, scooter, and ride bikes, then there wouldn’t be so many speeding cars on the road. Less cars means more parking for those times when you need to drive or if you can’t physically manage a bike or scooter. If we could build a neighborhood where everyone could walk or bike to all of their daily necessities if they want to, it would be possible to leave the car in the garage or driveway some days. I’m not saying everyone needs to walk or bike everywhere, but only that it should be a safe option for anyone who chooses to do so. And the need to lessen our reliance on cars to avoid catastrophic climate change can’t be ignored.  Adding the best type of lanes, where there is some physical separation between cars and bikes, are proven to cause a big shift in how people get around.

The hard part is how to get from there from our current street design.

The short answer is that if we act soon, we have a chance to add a real bike lane on 30th Street just north of Juniper Street, one of the few ways to travel from north to south.  To do this, we need your support.  The city is about to repave 30th Street and if the community supports adding the bike lanes, we stand a chance of convincing the city to do it when they restripe the road.  Already convinced this would be a good change? All we are asking at this point is you sign a petition to signal to the city that the local residents support a change. If we get enough support, we can ask the city to consider what bike lane options are possible.

Not sold on the plan yet?  That’s ok.  I’ll admit it’s not a perfect plan that will make everyone happy.  We’ll have to remove some parking, although it’s mostly parking that’s not often used.  It’s also not the gold standard, ideal bike lane design.  Instead, it’s a possible compromise solution that we have a real chance of implementing soon. The goal isn’t to just serve our hardcore cyclists or to not get in the way of cars. This plan is meant to improve our streets for everyone with as little inconvenience (and cost) as possible.

In a series of posts, we detailed why this is a good idea.  The links below will send you to those posts, with a short summary on what we discovered.

In the first post, we talked about how the city currently designs bike lanes in our neighborhood.  The short answer is that in two sets of plans, the city decided to add “bike routes” on most of our streets, with an expensive bike path within the park next to 28th Street.  Another public agency, SANDAG, plans to add a major bike connections to downtown via Pershing Drive, with outlets at Redwood and Upas Streets.  The bike routes aren’t real bike lanes, they look like this:

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In the second post, we detailed why the current plans aren’t good enough.  The only real bike lane, planned along 28th Street, would be really expensive and there is no real plan to fund that project.  It could be decades before we see it built.  The “bike routes” are also based on outdated guidelines that are no longer considered safe.  Current design standards strongly suggest separated bike lanes on major streets.  Finally, even if we could magically put the planned lanes in place, they wouldn’t be sufficient to get enough people biking to meet the goals of the city’s Climate Action Plan.

Third, we talked about the possible options for fixing the city’s plan.  The only real option for a North-South route that doesn’t cost a fortune and complies with current standards is to build real bike lanes on 30th Street between Juniper and Redwood.  Although the ideal solution would be to build one-way protected bike lanes, that would require removing all parking on 30th Street.  That might prove to be politically impossible.  But if we build a two-way bike lane on the east side of 30th Street, we can keep at least half the parking.  That could be possible.

Fourth, we explained why building real bike lanes on 30th Street is entirely within the realm of possibility.  The city has already committed to building bike lanes instead of simply designating bike routes when “feasible” or “possible.”  It even directly committed to reviewing the possibility when it repaves streets, just like it is planning to do soon for 30th Street.

So How Can We Make This Happen?

Interested in helping make this happen? If we want to make it safer to ride bikes and scooters in our neighborhood and want to realistically deal with the risk of climate change by making it possible for people to get out of their cars, we have to give this a chance. We can ask the city to restripe the road and, if it proves to be successful, we can improve it in the future with better separation. If we can add real lanes on 30th Street up to Redwood Street and connect to the planned lanes on 30th south of Juniper, it will make it possible to safely ride the entire length of the Right Side if we can jog over from 30th to the upcoming Pershing Bikeway via Redwood. (More on that in a future post…)

So what are the practical steps to make this happen? Good question! I won’t pretend it will be easy. The city is always hesitant to remove parking. And some people that like to get in and out of our neighborhood as fast as possible won’t like it. If we want to get this done for those of us that live here and want to truly enjoy our neighborhood, we need to show our City Councilmember, Chris Ward, and the city administration that the local residents want this change. Our city has never done something like this before, but if anyone can do it, we can.

Our immediate goal is to get support from Chris Ward and to have him ask the city engineers to at least study this plan to quickly determine whether it’s feasible despite the removal of some parking. That’s all: either show us it’s impossible to add bike lanes, come up with a better plan, or support the project.  If the engineers agree it’s possible, we can get more buy-in from the community via the planning group. It will also be important to gauge the opinion of those that live along this section of 30th Street.

This will only happen with your support. If no one speaks up in favor of this change, there will be no reason for the city to support it.  Hopefully this can be the first project of many to improve our neighborhood. Want to help? Here’s what you can do as a first step:

1. Sign the change.org petition in support

2. Sign up as a supporter of the Right Side Club. This is hopefully only the first project of many to improve our neighborhood and not all of them will be bike lanes!

3. Do you think you can help make this happen by using your skills, connections, advice, or general brilliance? Do you live along this section of 30th Street and have some input? Send me an email, I need help!

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