In my seven months on the City of San Diego’s Mobility Board, I have been generally impressed that our city is considering all options to solve its transportation woes while addressing environmental concerns.
But after the board’s Dec. 4 vote to remove at least 430 parking spaces along North Park’s 30th Street to make way for bike lanes, I have begun to wonder: In our zeal to carve out limited road space for bike lanes, are we stifling community voices and ignoring evidence that we may be doing more harm than good?
The board’s 8-2 decision was made despite compelling public testimony about the potential neighborhood impact from residents who told us their concerns have largely been ignored by the city. The most poignant comments came from small business owners who are fearful of losing their customers and ultimately their livelihoods.
As a small business owner myself, I fully understand those worries. Too few products and services — groceries and dry cleaning for example — can be transported or accessed on a bicycle. And while bike advocates have presented studies that bike lanes have helped small businesses in other cities, San Diego’s hilly terrain makes bicycling more arduous than in flatter metropolitan areas.
But my greatest concern as a Mobility Board member is that the numbers we’re seeing in regional transportation plans don’t add up to sound policy and fiscal responsibility.
The San Diego Association of Governments has allocated $279 million in public funds for 70 miles of bike lanes. That is an outrageous $4 million a mile for a project that is already way behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.
Instead of spending money on roads that desperately need to be fixed, SANDAG and City Hall are catering to the 1% of San Diegans who use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, instead of the 99% who drive or utilize transit.
It’s time to rethink the city’s approach to implementing its Climate Action Plan. Strategies grounded in common sense have a better chance of achieving our goals than a far-fetched social engineering project.
As technology progresses, employers are beginning to utilize more options for telecommuting and teleconferencing, which naturally will reduce the number of daily commuters. Let’s invest in developing phone apps to connect people living and working in similar locations so they can organize carpools.
Let’s expand the FRED shuttle service financed by private development to move people the critical first mile/last mile from home and work to mass transit stops. And finally, let’s invest in smart adaptive stoplight technologies that will cut down the time we spend waiting at traffic signals.
Technology always dictates transit. Future modal advances, like autonomous vehicles in designated lanes, will increase efficiency, safety, vehicle speed and road capacity. Drones will replace vehicles for package delivery, and people commuting to work by air is not out of the question. We’re already seeing car manufacturers shift their research and development from cars with internal combustion engines to new electric vehicles that will practically eliminate carbon emissions.
It’s time to focus on new ideas with huge potential. We should stop trying to force people out of their vehicles by removing parking spaces (which won’t succeed) and misspending hundreds of millions of dollars on a misguided vision (which will deplete our limited transit funds). And we should not penalize the disabled, senior citizens, and others who cannot readily bike long distances.
Innovation is the future of transportation, and no region should understand that better than the innovation hub that is San Diego. We showed the rest of the world that bold thinking can transform the medicines we take and the electronics we use. Let’s apply that same spirit to become a model of how we move people around.