How Can We Fix the City’s Plan to Ensure a Safe Route for All?

As we already discussed, the city has a plan for bike lanes on the Right Side, but there are some problems with the plan.  Ideally, we can come up with an option to improve the plans that is feasible and can be augmented in the future.  The first question is where to put it. Once we have that figured out, we have to figure out the possible designs.

Where Can We Add a North-South Bike Lane?

So, what are our options for location? There aren’t many: the Right Side suffers from a lack of north-south connections given our canyons.  Here is the map of planned routes again:


As we talked about in a previous post, 28th Street doesn’t work because it’s interrupted by a canyon. 32nd Street works in the north, but it’s so narrow that adding bike lanes would require closing it down to cars. Even we aren’t so crazy to suggest that would be a good plan. All the way to the east is Boundary Street, but that’s pretty out of the way.

Eliminating the impossible or impracticable leaves us with only one good option for getting all the way from north to south and across Switzer Canyon: 30th Street, where the city is already planning to build (unsafe) bike routes and which the city identified as a high-demand corridor in the bike master plan.

If you think about it, 30th Street is perfect: it has the benefit on being one of our main streets and already having some bike lanes, starting at Ash up to Elm Street, with plans already to extend those up to Juniper Street. It also works with minimal interruption for the middle of our neighborhood: there is no need for parking on the long section over Switzer Canyon because no one stops there other than to store a car for too long.  If we want a north-south lane, the only viable option is 30th Street.

How Should We Design the 30th Street Bike Lane?

Let’s go back to the current guidance for designing bike lanes from an upcoming “AASHTO” guide:

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For 30th Street, where there are about 9,000 cars a day going 35 mph, we are solidly in the “separated bike lane” territory.  The problem for 30th Street south of Upas is its narrowness, with only about 40 feet of roadway.  The Community Plan designates 30th Street as a “2 lane connector,” which the Street Design Manual says has 11-foot car lanes.  So that leaves us with 18 feet to play with. At a minimum, state standards dictate a separated bike lane should be five feet wide with a two-foot buffer, with a seven-foot lane and three-foot buffer preferred.  So we need between 14 and 20 feet for two one-way separated lanes in each direction.  That would leave us with no room for parking on 30th Street.  Although possible, especially over Switzer Canyon, that may be a tough political sell.

The other option is a two-way bike lane on one side, with lanes running next to each other.  Those can be a total of eight feet wide with two or three feet of separation, which would leave room for a standard seven-foot wide parallel parking lane.  Although it may not be ideal, a two-way bike lane may be the only politically feasible option.  If we eliminated just a few, mostly unused parking spaces from the east side of 30th Street between Juniper and Redwood, we could build a nice two-way bike lane with some separation, like this:

Adding a bike lane by narrowing the road would also have the benefit of slowing down the cars a bit and making walking a bit more pleasant. We would have to design some shared spaces at a few bus stops, but it could work. There are no traffic signals here that would have to be redesigned, cutting down on costs. The east side of 30th Street has few driveways in that area, leading to few conflicts between cars and bikes. In the end, it would look something like this:

So those appear to be our options: either one-way separated lanes with no parking at all, or a two-way bike lane on the east side.  The next question: would the city go for this? Read on...

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:

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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.

How Does the City Currently Plan for Bike Lanes on the Right Side?

Before we can think about bike lanes in our neighborhood, we need to understand where we are now and how we got there. Over the past five years, the city developed plans to add bike lanes to our existing roadways. The two most important plans are the 2013 Bicycle Master Plan and the Community Plans (for North Park and Golden Hill) passed in 2016. Other plans, like the Climate Action Plan and the Vision Zero policy, affect how lanes are planned.  Want more details?  You’ve come to the right place.

Almost five years ago, in late 2013, the city put together a “Bicycle Master Plan” to design a network of bike lanes throughout the city.  In addition to the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, a county-level entity known as the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, is building some bike lanes. In our neighborhood, the main SANDAG project is the Pershing bike lane, which will connect downtown with North Park via Pershing Drive, with outlets at Redwood and Upas. It should (hopefully) be completed in a couple of years, sometime in 2020.  It will add a nice roundabout at Redwood to connect to our community, like this:

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Ideally, we can design a feeder network that meets up with the Pershing Bikeway, with connections to our main business areas and all corners of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the Bike Master Plan…does not do this.  Here’s the city’s original plan for this area:


The blue lines are real bikes lanes and the yellowish line along 28th Street is a separated bike path.  The green lines and dots are what the city calls “bike routes” and are places where the city paints what are known as sharrows on the road, meant to signify that bikes and cars should share the road. You’ve probably seen them, they look like this:

A couple of years after the city adopted the Bike Master Plan, the city also passed the Climate Action Plan, with the goal of reducing the city’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2035.  This, in simple terms, is a big deal.  The city plans a wide range of actions to make this change, including a goal to increase bicycles commuters from about 1 percent to six percent by 2020 and 18 percent by 2035 in areas near transit.  (Most of the Right Side is not considered an area near transit at this point, but it will be in the future under existing transit plans.). Right now, we are under two percent citywide. The Climate Action Plan itself doesn’t include specific plans for how to reach these targets.

Most recently, almost two years ago, the city passed the new North Park Community Plan, which largely mirrors the Bicycle Master Plan for bike lane plans, other than shifting one bike route from Palm Street to Redwood Street (likely because Palm is split by Switzer Canyon and the old plan was impossible).  Similarly, the Golden Hill Community Plan was adopted at the same time and largely mirrors the earlier Bike Master Plan.  The Golden Hill Plan contains one of the few on-street bike lanes on the Right Side, on Dale Street between Date and Juniper.  This parallels a bike lane segment on 30th Street, which the Bike Master Plan had stretching down to Beech, but also conflicts with reality, as the bikes lanes are already striped on 30th Street down to Ash Street.  Anyways, here is the Golden Hill plan:

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Considered as a whole, the existing (yet largely unrealized) “plan” is generally for a real bike path up and down 28th Street, bike lanes on 30th (or Dale?) between Juniper and Date, and some sharrows painted in other areas.  The current reality already doesn’t match this plan and there doesn’t seem to be much consistency between the plans.  But this is just the start of the problems.  Still interested? The next post discusses what’s wrong with these plans.

Welcome to the Right Side Club!

Welcome to something new!  The first question I should address: what is the Right Side Club?

The short answer is the Right Side Club is a new grassroots experiment to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods immediately to the east of Balboa Park, aka the Right Side.  North Park, South Park, SoNo, Altadena, Burlingame, Golden Hill, Brooklyn Heights, T32: there’s a lot of different names, but we really aren’t so different. And we aren’t focusing on a precisely defined geographic area: if you live near here, you can be one of us.

There’s plenty of people who claim they are interested in quality of life and “community character,” but we hope to be a bit different.  We recognize the Right Side is a dynamic urban neighborhood faced with change, and we embrace that change. Our goal is to support the change needed to make our neighborhood into the best place to live in San Diego for everyone who wants to live here.

To do this, we need to recognize that the old way of doing things won’t always work in the future: we love our historic single family homes, but also recognize that adding density to allow more people to live in our neighborhood is a good thing and will help support new businesses and restaurants.  We admit to owning a car, but want a walkable, livable neighborhood that welcomes bikes, scooters, busses, and any other alternative means of getting around.  We love our longtime residents, but welcome the hipsters and the kids and anyone else that wants to join us.

Why embrace change? Because there is a better way to live than driving everywhere and excluding people with the hope of preserving the status quo. Anyone who has experienced the charm of an old-world European city or strolled a bustling main street in a major city knows that we can do better than parking lots and freeways.

Perhaps most importantly, change is inevitable. We cannot hope to preserve the status quo and live in an attractive neighborhood. If we don’t build more housing in our popular neighborhood, flippers will buy up our old homes and duplexes and sell them to the highest bidder, driving up prices and driving out our families, artists, and elderly residents on fixed incomes. Too many people who have become our neighbors have been forced to leave when the rent goes up or the new baby is born.

At the same time, as more people start to live here, getting around by car will get even more difficult. If we don’t want to be jammed with traffic and enter into death matches over parking spaces, we have to make it easier and safer to walk, bike, or scooter around town. This has the added benefit of being more fun! We enjoy some of the finest weather in the world, we should be outside enjoying it as much as we can. It helps that Uber and Lyft and the shared bikes and scooters making it easier and cheaper to get around. We also need to push to make our public transportation more dependable and nicer to use. We realize not everyone wants to, or is able to, bike and walk and bus. And that’s fine.  All we are asking is for the choice to get around how we want to in a safe, enjoyable way.

It’s normal to be apprehensive about change, but past experience has shown that the fear is often unfounded. It wasn’t so long ago that the naysayers were claiming that the new South Park Target would ruin the neighborhood, but they now happily shop there with the rest of us. Rather than opposing all change, we can participate in the process to ensure that the change benefits both the current residents and future residents we will someday call neighbors.

Our neighborhood should be the best in San Diego. To make our neighborhood as successful as it can be, we need to work together to push the City to support our needs. As individuals alone, it’s far too easy for the city to ignore us and either maintain the status quo or listen to more organized groups. Too often the city assumes we are resistant to change and doesn’t seek our input before making decisions or deciding the leave things as they are.

Change is hard and the burden will be on us to push for that change. Too often a few voices in opposition are able to claim they represent everyone and fight for the status quo. We recognize the challenge, but we are willing to try things out to see what succeeds even if we fail sometimes.

The good news is that the city is starting to embrace change. There is some funding for needed infrastructure for neighborhoods that accompanies the change. If we can convince the city that we won’t frustrate attempts to create a new city, perhaps we can attract the needed funding.  Moreover, by accepting change, we can get ahead of it instead becoming solely reactive, forced into poor choices in the future.

This is not a professional organization. We don’t know what will work or how to get there. Some may call us naive. But the only way to find out is to get started trying. Interested in joining? Here’s what you can do.

  1. Sign up as a supporter.
  2. Add this website to your bookmarks.
  3. Share with your family and neighbors.