By John P. Anderson
On Tuesday evening, October 20th, the Bankers Hill Community Group gathered for a meeting featuring a presentation by Brian Genovese on the extension of the 4th and 5th Avenue bike lanes in Uptown that were created earlier this year. Mr. Genovese is a Senior Engineer with the Transportation Department of San Diego. He referred to the City’s 4th & 5th Avenue bike plans as an ‘interim bike plan” since it may be replaced or enhanced in a few years by a SANDAG bicycle corridor project in the Uptown area that is currently in the planning stages.
The 4th and 5th Avenue bike lanes are part of the City’s Master Bicycle Plan that was created in late 2013. This plan calls for San Diego to double the size of its bike system. To make timely progress toward this goal, Mr. Genovese noted the city is focusing on ‘immediate action treatments’ – 4th and 5th Avenues fall into this category. These are projects that can be implemented quickly and with a low amount of cost.
In May the first portion of these bike lanes opened from Cedar (Interstate 5 overpass) to Laurel. To create the lanes the left-most travel lane, the #1 lane in traffic engineering terms, was repainted and converted from a motor vehicle travel lane to a bicycle lane. The bike lane has a painted buffer zone on both sides to give additional safety from parked cars and travelling cars. Before the travel lane was converted traffic counts were conducted and analyzed and it was found there was excess capacity (or ‘reserve capacity’) on 4th and 5th Avenue and that a lane reduction would not have an impact on motor vehicle traffic. Mr. Genovese noted that as the bike lanes are extended these traffic studies will be conducted again to ensure there is not a negative effect on motor vehicle traffic. The conversion or removal of a travel lane in this manner is called a ‘road diet’. The project completed in May was the first road diet in the history of the City of San Diego.
The bike lanes are situated on the left-hand side of 4th and 5th to avoid conflict with bus routes and stops which are on the right side and to coordinate with the future SANDAG project.
A number of times throughout the presentation a couple of items were stressed:
- There has been no parking removed, there is no parking removed in the current extension, and there are no plans to remove parking in the future
- There will not be a negative impact to vehicle traffic flow due to the bicycle lane installations
The City is now looking at extending the bike lanes from Juniper north to Upas. This stretch is being looked at currently because the city is coordinating with underground pipe work and resurfacing to reduce noise, cost, and inconvenience to the neighborhood and road users. I applaud the city’s ongoing efforts to coordinate between departments and use infrastructure dollars responsibly. Currently only 5th Avenue has undergrounding work scheduled, so it is likely that extensions will not occur to both 4th and 5th Avenues at the same time. 5th Avenue will be extended first and 4th Avenue at a later date unless work schedules or other factors change.
Mr. Genovese also noted that in addition to being part of the Bicycle Master Plan increasing the amount of bike lanes in the city also is part of the Climate Action Plan. This plan calls for the city to increase the ‘mode share’ of bicycles to increase from the current roughly 1% to 6% by 2020 and 18% by 2035. In Mr. Genovese’s words we need attractive facilities to make bicycling an option for people that do not currently ride. Our current lanes, “basically riding in the gutter, is not going to accomplish those goals”.
Also noted was that the city is revising the crosswalk policy currently in place and will be moving to a new striping design, continental markings, going forward. When crosswalks are repainted they will use this new pattern. To install crosswalk markings where not currently present requires a request and approval separate from the repainting process.
An attendee to the meeting also distributed a misleading document labelled “Bike Law 101” which appeared to inform those at the meeting about a handful of laws regarding biking. No name or organization was on the document and it was next to the official meeting agenda which to me gave it an air of authority which was also misleading. One of the items noted on this document stated that “when a cyclist is traveling slower than the posted speed limit, and there is a marked bicycle lane, the cyclist must ride in the bike lane”. This is not correct and I was glad this question was asked to Mr. Genovese during the presentation. He noted that the document at the door was not his and answered the question regarding riding in a bicycle lane: If there is a marked bicycle lane it should generally be used by bicyclists if it is not blocked with debris or obstructions. Additionally, when making a turn off of, or onto, a street with a marked lane a bicycle may be outside of the bicycle lane until it is safe to transition. Also, if a bicycle is going at the speed of traffic any traffic lane may be used. Separately noted was that on a one-way street a bicycle rider may ride either to the far left or far right of the street.
I hope that whomever distributed the “Bike Law 101” document at this meeting will refrain from doing so in the future, or consult a traffic engineer or bicycle law expert to review and correct the misleading portions. Misinformation like this can be extremely damaging and increases friction between people with different opinions on bicycling. We don’t need to aggravate what can already be a contentious subject with misinterpretation and incorrect statements.
The 4th and 5th Avenue bike lanes are a small but extremely important project. For the first time in our city’s history we are reducing the size of a street and implementing what are likely the largest bike lanes in the region. It is also important because there is not a ‘loser’ here. Automobile parking and traffic are not negatively affected and those riding bikes have a much safer option that was previously unavailable. There is less conflict between types of transport as a result of the bike lanes and it represents a small baby step toward a greener transportation future. Big or small, a victory is a victory and this is one for all of us living in San Diego and particularly those in Uptown that can enjoy a safer, quieter, friendlier neighborhood on a daily basis as the result of small forward steps like this project. I look forward to more good work by the City of San Diego in this vein.