October 27 – San Diego Union Tribune – David Garrick Reports – Downtown San Diego’s future as a utopia for bicyclists and pedestrians, which could become a model for the rest of the city, will be the focus of a large street festival on Sunday.
Residents will get a sneak peek at what downtown will look like when many vehicle lanes and on-street parking spots are transformed into protected cycling lanes and pedestrian promenades over the next two years. Those changes are part of San Diego’s “downtown mobility plan,” a 30-year blueprint including an ambitious first phase that’s scheduled for completion by 2019. Making the region’s No. 1 employment center bicycle-friendly is considered crucial to boosting bicycle commuting across the city, which is a key part of the city’s climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gases.
More bicyclists commuting to downtown is also expected to increase usage of bike lanes in nearby communities like Hillcrest, North Park and National City, potentially softening a recent backlash prompted by those lanes being largely unused.
Cycling and environmental advocates say downtown needs to be the hub of a regional cycling network of protected lanes that make cycling safe enough for more people to view it as a viable option.
“A lot of great spokes are being built right now, but we need the hub,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of San Diego’s Climate Action Campaign. “People want to see a network. They don’t want to start a ride and be forced to go into a more dangerous situation where it’s not a protected lane.”
San Diego’s plan to make downtown a regional cycling catalyst is modeled on similar efforts in recent years in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, said Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.
“It’s hard to believe we don’t have bike lanes of any kind in the downtown core right now,” Hanshaw said.
But that’s about to change, and Hanshaw’s group is hosting its annual CicloSDias cycling event in downtown this year to highlight the coming changes there. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, several downtown streets stretching from Little Italy to Barrio Logan will be closed to motorized traffic so cyclists and pedestrians can rule the road. The event will include demonstrations of many elements of the downtown mobility plan, including cycle tracks — protecting bike lanes often located between rows of parked cars and the sidewalk.”We’re going to be able to show people what’s coming,” said Hanshaw. “This is a way for people to come see it, test it and visualize it out and have fun with it.”
More bicycle commuting in densely populated neighborhoods is key to the city’s climate action plan, which calls for an increase from about 2 percent to 6 percent by 2020 and then to 18 percent by 2035. But Hanshaw said regardless of climate change, more cycling and walking in downtown are necessary for the area to remain livable. With downtown’s resident population projected to triple and its employment population projected to double, traffic congestion and parking scarcity will become significantly worse without significant changes in commuting patterns.
The downtown mobility plan will make downtown a more appealing place for residents, workers and the businesses that employ them, Hanshaw said. “I think major employers downtown will be very happy with the installation of this network,” he said. More bicycling in urban areas also leads to more robust civic interaction, strengthening ties within communities and across the city, Hanshaw said. “You are likely to see more and do more when you travel on a bicycle than when you are traveling 30 miles an hour in your car,” he said.
A spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer said design work is under way on the upgrades called for in the plan.
“City staff has been designing the cycle tracks for the Downtown Mobility Plan to ensure that the final design provides safety for cyclists while also being aesthetically pleasing to the public,” said the spokesman, Craig Gustafson.
The first phase built will be on J Street between First and 11th avenues, said Gustafson, adding that a timeline for additional projects will be released by the end of the year. In downtown, the planned north-south cycle tracks would be on Pacific Highway, State Street, Sixth Avenue and Park Boulevard. The east-west cycle tracks would be on Beech Street, Broadway, J Street and small parts of B and C streets.
The mobility plan is projected to cost $62.5 million over 30 years. City officials haven’t provided cost estimates for individual phases of the plan.
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