Landis Street bike lane
A rendering of the bike lanes planned on Landis Street between North Park and City Heights. Courtesy SANDAG

 [symple_heading style=”” title=”By Steve Rodriguez” type=”h3″ font_size=”” text_align=”left” margin_top=”30″ margin_bottom=”30″ color=”undefined” icon_left=”” icon_right=””]

Much has been made of our city government’s decision to remove parking spaces on North Park’s 30th street in favor of bike lanes, as well as the San Diego Association of Governments‘ decision to spend over $279 million for 70 miles of bikeways. These decisions are seen as important steps to addressing environmental concerns, formulated with the hope these bikes lanes will further encourage more people to rely on cycling for their daily transportation.

Seen in this light, the addition of new bike lanes resulting from the nearly completed Route 163-Friars Road interchange project might appear as one more hopeful symbol of San Diego’s transportation expectations. A more cynical perspective, however, could lead one to believe these bike lanes are just a clever attempt to tamp down our country’s once bold transportation expectations—expectations that once enticed us with futuristic visions of flying cars and jet packs.

The huge San Diego road construction project near Fashion Valley has been going on for over two years. My fellow local residents are now happy to see new and reconfigured lanes, an improvement in traffic flow, and safer conditions related to exit and entrance ramps. Caltrans has high hopes this major investment will pay impressive dividends for the many Mission Valley drivers who are destined to face Calcutta-like population density numbers in the coming years.

But what can be interpreted as the most glaring example of governmental high hopes is the inclusion of green bike lanes in this construction project. Bright new bike lanes now traverse the segment of Friars Road that crosses over Route 163, allowing for easier commuting (if you are a cyclist brave enough to maneuver through this busy area). Additionally, a shiny new green strip of a bike lane also peels off north from Friars Road to adjacent Ulric Street, a route that runs up a steep incline for about a mile into the heart of the neighboring Linda Vista community.

Based on what I’ve seen, the introduction of this particular bike lane going up Ulric Street is very aspirational in nature, for the number of cyclists who can actually pedal this strenuous uphill stretch is negligible. Bothering to paint a green bike lane that goes up the steep Ulric Street incline is like posting a “be nice and polite” sign at an Oakland Raiders fan gathering. It’s well intentioned, but it shouldn’t lead anyone to build up expectations. Chances are great you will be disappointed in the ultimate outcome.

Apparently, San Diego biking masochists have better ways to spend their time than cycling up Ulric Street.  After all, who in their right mind wants to torture their thighs and lungs in such a manner? In the last few months, the only bike I’ve seen going up this street more closely resembled a burro or llama, packed down with large, hanging bags of aluminum cans. The owner of the bike can periodically be seen walking alongside his two-wheeled beast of burden, slowly trudging up the hill, perhaps headed toward a Linda Vista recycling center.

Now, I’m not saying there won’t ever come a time when a growing number of cyclists will make Ulric Street a popular bike transportation corridor. There’s always the chance a colony of fit Europeans preparing for the Alps leg of the Tour de France will take up residence in Linda Vista. But until such an unlikely phenomenon occurs, I don’t expect to see many people utilizing this widow (or widower) maker of a bike lane.

In light of my observations regarding the dearth of cyclists currently willing to scale Ulric Street, I am led to put forth a more practical reason behind local and state governments’ aggressive push to build bike lanes. I’m not one for government-related conspiracy theories, but I contend it might just be a diversionary tactic, designed to take our minds off the fact the partnership between government and technology has not delivered the goods it long ago promised.

Back in the early 1960s, my generation of kids were promised a future that included the use of individual jet packs for commuting. We often saw jet packs demonstrated at world fairs and at football half-time shows.  As young Baby Boomers, we all enjoyed watching the popular animated Flintstones show, but it was the Jetsons cartoon characters that made us look forward to a cool, promising commuting future—a future that featured everyday Americans like George Jetson and his boy Elroy routinely using jet packs to travel to and from their daily destinations. In summary, we were all primed for the anticipated jet pack world of tomorrow.

Unfortunately, we are no closer to the use of jet packs than we were fifty-some years ago. Instead, all we get as a lowly consolation prize are fancy looking green bike lanes. “Fossil fuels suck, so go pedal up Ulric Street,” the new bikes lanes so much as tell us. “Your thighs will feel the burn, but no one said the future is going to be easy.”

We Baby Boomers know the truth. They once told us the future would be easy…not to mention super cool.

It doesn’t take a futurist to tell us commuting up Ulric Street could be so much easier while strapped into an environmentally-friendly, Consumer Reports safety-certified jet pack.

Steve Rodriguez is a retired Marine Corps officer and high school teacher who last taught at Olympian High School in Chula Vista.