There’s no way I’m taking University, and I’ll tell you why. Buses. Your average pickup truck or Volvo station wagon is frightening enough to ride beside, but buses terrify the squirt out of me.
Let’s look at the difference between a bus and me on a bicycle. I’m five foot seven inches in my black Cons and 206 pounds after a hearty breakfast. My bike is a 1985 Trek that originally weighed, from the factory, a scant 23.7 pounds. A lot of the original components are long gone. It has a different derailing system that shifts gears; for that matter, it has different gears, and wheels, handlebars, and brakes. Some replacement parts are heavier than the originals and some are lighter, but we’re not slaying dragons here, so let’s guess my bike weighs about 25 pounds. Good.
Now. Sitting on the bike, hunched over like a dog with its hind legs perched on an ottoman, I’m probably five and a half feet tall, and combined with the bike, I’m 230-ish pounds. A New Flyer city bus, model number C40LF — the bus of choice by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System — is 40 feet long, 11 feet high, 8.5 feet wide, and without even one passenger weighs 28,875 pounds. Fully loaded it can weigh as much as 39,630 pounds. That’s twice as large as my apartment and over 170 times heavier than my little steel bicycle and me.
Also consider, a city bus swerves intermittently into the bike lane, stops to pick up riders, then swerves back through the bike lane into the street, past the cyclist, only to return a minute later, swerving past our hero toward the curb to pick up more riders. There are two bus routes from 36th Street to First Avenue, at the far end of Hillcrest, and the kind receptionist at San Diego’s transit phone service, 511, assures me that the wait at a bus stop on University will be no more than 10 to 15 minutes.
So, spread out in ten-minute intervals are two bus lines diving through the bike lane, 15 tons of metal, rubber, and glass each. When dealing with a bus, a cyclist becomes Bugs Bunny, desperate and sweating, trying diligently to escape the conveyor belt in a canning factory. Giant smashing things, choppers, and flaming ovens conspire to grind me into potted meat, label me, and set me on the shelf as hasenpfeffer.
No thank you. I’ll ride up 36th, cross University, and turn left down a quieter street with only light pickups and passenger cars as the hazards that fly up my rear at 35 miles per hour.
I pull left through the intersection at 36th and Orange Avenue and breeze down freshly laid pavement. Orange Avenue has brand-new asphalt, dark and smooth, quite in contrast to the neighborhood, which offers the sight of two-liter soda bottles that have been inexplicably tossed onto the roofs of the houses, opened envelopes on the sidewalk, and destuffed plushy toys strewn across dead lawns.
The City started renovating the streets after it was found that San Diego had one of the worst road-maintenance records in the country. In 2001, 2003, and 2007 the County Grand Jury evaluated city streets — not all of them, only 1250 miles out of the 2800 miles, about 45 percent. The grand jury found the streets to be in “a deplorable situation.” I got that from San Diego County’s own website, sdcounty.ca.gov. I like the wording of it, “deplorable situation.” It sounds so bleak.
Anyway. Mayor Sanders allocated $13 million to repair the streets. That sum exceeds the funds budgeted for street repair in the previous seven years combined. Don’t get too excited. The $13 million will repair about 100 miles. But it’s a start.
Stretches of Orange Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, and University, all around my neighborhood of North Park and into City Heights, are apparently included in those 100 miles of road budgeted for repair. Blackie the Bicycle and I thank you, the Fine City of San Diego, My Beloved Home.
I shift Blackie the Black Bicycle of Justice and Good Times up a gear and pick up speed, and I cross the 805 freeway on a bridge where Orange Avenue becomes, for no deducible reason, Howard Avenue, and I’m heading toward the heart of North Park, 30th Street. Thirtieth Street is the only major street that connects Broadway with Adams Avenue without interruption. It is the quickest route to get from Golden Hill — via a little jog at Fern Street — to University Heights. Adams and University Avenue cross 30th, and the three of them distribute traffic from as far as Kensington and La Mesa across an urban spiderweb all the way to Hillcrest and as far south as Logan Heights.
And none of those roads has a bike lane. In fact, there isn’t a dedicated bike lane — where bikes enjoy right-of-way, separated from vehicle traffic — in all of uptown or downtown except for TWO walking bridges that span a few dozen yards each. And I’m heading toward one of them.
There’s a walking bridge that crosses Washington Street and an on-ramp of the 163, located at what appears to be a dead end on Vermont Street. Now, to get there you’ve got to wiggle your way around the quiet residential streets lined with Craftsman houses that parallel El Cajon Boulevard, and you’ve got to get to the west side of Park Boulevard. If you’re a coffeehouse-and-food person, you’ll recognize that area as where Cream coffeehouse and El Zarape Mexican restaurant serve the hungry and undercaffeinated. You’ve got to get to the west of those; on any route you take — Adams, Monroe, Madison, El Cajon, whichever — there’s a little hill to get up that peaks at Park Boulevard.
Keep going. Push into the unassuming neighborhoods around Campus and Meade. I take a left on Maryland. I’m pleased to find I’ve taken the correct turn, despite my lack of a map. I’m reassured of my decision by the clickety sound of a freewheeling hub behind me.