A discussion with SANDAG’s Board of Directors last week about 11 miles of urban bikeways included a lot of elements we have become familiar with: business and property owners present to argue against parking loss; bicycling and walking advocates present to speak in favor of safety and connectivity to get around without a car.
The discussion at hand was not about approving the bike lanes per se, rather accepting an exemption of the proposed bike lanes under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Perhaps not surprisingly, the 11 miles of proposed bikeways fit CEQA criteria to be exempt from environmental mitigation, largely because there are no negative environmental impacts associated with the project.)
Following public testimony, Councilmember Todd Gloria spoke in support of the project and gave the Board some perspective that propelled the project forward, even amidst fears of parking loss. He made some excellent comments that bear repeating.
- The Project Nets a Parking Gain – Business representatives from the Hillcrest Business Association and California Restaurant Association were present to argue against the loss of 23 parking spaces in one stretch of 5th Avenue. Councilmember Gloria made the point that even with this parking loss, SANDAG staff had worked with the community to create an additional 55 spaces on adjacent or nearby streets. As a result, there would be 55 new parking spaces as a result of this project. In his own words, “In exchange for the loss of 23 parking spaces, we get 11 miles of protected bikeways and the ability to grow this community and get more investment.”
- Promises Made, Promises Kept – Since the regional sales tax measure TransNet was approved by voters, SANDAG staff and Board members have repeatedly voiced their commitment through the years to keep the TransNet promise and build the projects identified in the tax measure. Councilmember Gloria aptly pointed out that SANDAG had bonded $200 million against TransNet to get these bikeways and others constructed. “We’ve drawn down $200 million to get this done and we haven’t put a shovel in the ground. We need to do something sooner rather than later.” We’ve typically heard this argument to defend SANDAG’s goal of building more highways and it was wonderful and SMART to make the same argument for the bike lanes. Fellow advocates, PAY ATTENTION.
- They Will Rally Against Parking Loss on A Different Street Next Time – There’s no denying that adding bike lanes and complete streets means change to the existing street; it’s a tradeoff. One year ago, Hillcrest Business Association and other businesses advocated to SANDAG to discontinue a protected bikeway on University Avenue. It resulted in a bikeway with a gap, a partial bikeway on University Avenue to offer a compromise for lost parking. Fast forward one year later they were making the same ask for 5th Avenue. Councilmember Gloria responded, “If we delay in any way today,” tomorrow it will be another ask, next week another, next month another, and so on.
- Money Available to Find More Parking – The Hillcrest and Uptown neighborhoods are included in the Uptown Community Parking District, a district dedicated to “improve availability and supply of parking for residents and businesses, by re-investing its portion of parking meter funds with fiscal responsibility.” It is one of only three similar districts in the City. Councilmember Gloria noted the Parking District has $6 million in savings which it can apply to creating more parking.
Across the Country, Cycling is Getting Safer as More People Ride
Interesting to note the SANDAG meeting comes on the heels of a new report released last week by NACTO that shows riding a bike is getting safer as cities build better bike lane networks. In five of the seven cities surveyed, the number of injuries and deaths declines, even as bike ridership rates increased. All seven cities invested in high-comfort bike facilities. It’s time for San Diego to do the same, and SANDAG’s Uptown bike network is one of the best things happening to get us there.
NACTO Report: Equitable Bike Share Means Building Better Places for People to Ride
Thanks to Councilmember Gloria’s leadership last week, San Diego could join the ranks of these other cities. Friday’s Board action certified the project’s exemption from CEQA and will move the project into final design. Construction is expected to begin sometime in late 2017.