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The cycling push...and pushback

Can we address the topic without discussing the non-quantifiable? Aesthetic and “moral” considerations (such as exercise, lack of noise) are continually proffered in favor of bikes, but what about quantifiable analyses of financial impacts? “It’s difficult because it’s such a knee-jerk reaction,” replies O’Toole. “On one hand, the policies that planners promote make streets more automobile-hostile than bicycle-friendly. For example, one policy you see frequently is taking a street that has four automobile lanes and turning it into a street with two or three automobile lanes and two very wide bike lanes. That makes it more apparently bicycle-friendly, and it’s definitely more automobile-hostile, since you can’t put as many cars there, but look at the data — where are auto/bike accidents actually taking place? They’re not taking place where a car overtakes a bike and hits it from behind; the vast majority happen at intersections. So, when you give bicycles a new lane, you might be putting more cyclists out there because you’re giving people a feeling that they’re safer, but they’re not safer. You end up with more accidents and fatalities because you haven’t solved the real problem; you’ve only solved an imaginary problem. Government is adopting policies like this without looking at the numbers and asking, ‘What really works?’ They’re just doing it because some urban planner told them to do it.”

Although local opposition to the mobility plan has been given short shrift, it exists. In an online response to a pro-bike Union-Tribune article, “Keith P.” wrote, “Even though San Diego’s climate is more amenable to cycling than that found in most places that are jumping on the bike lane bandwagon, this is still a ridiculous overreach. Cycling is something that 98 percent of the citizenry avoids and is mostly a trendy thing for under-30s at the moment. The cost estimates are equally ridiculous — maybe add a zero to the figure of $62 million and you will get close. Painting lines on pavement is not enough for the cycling lobby and once the inevitable crashes start to ramp up they will be screaming for protected lanes and side guards on trucks, making costs skyrocket. Be prepared for huge pushback from people when their parking spaces get taken away, when car traffic worsens because lanes are removed, especially when they see few if any cyclists actually use the bike lanes. Happy co-existence between cars and cyclists is a pipe dream. The one thing that should absolutely be mandatory is some sort of registration placard on bikes to help ID them when the inevitable reckless cycling resulting in property damage to cars and personal injuries to pedestrians starts to occur more frequently.”

Once upon a time, development patterns were aligned with automobile usage, but as O’Toole notes, “We stopped building for the automobile beginning in the 1970s; we haven’t been building new highways. Urban planners have a mantra, ‘You can’t build your way out of congestion,’ so they don’t even try. Instead, they come up with alternatives. ‘Let’s have light rail, buses, and bike lanes.’ But there’s very little evidence that these alternatives change anybody’s habits. As cities have grown, there are just as many, or more, single-occupancy vehicles as before on a percentage basis. Sacramento even wrote in one of their regional plans, ‘We’ve had these policies for 25 years now but they haven’t had any effect on people’s travel habits; we’re still seeing urban sprawl, nobody’s riding our light rail. So what are we gonna do now? We’re just gonna do more of the same.’”

When it comes to American transportation history, O’Toole speaks of epochs. “There have been four different time periods. Before 1890, most urban development was oriented around foot travel. Between 1890 and 1920, streetcars; from 1920 to 1980, automobiles. Since 1980, it’s still been oriented around cars in much of the country, but in places where urban planners have a lot of power — which are basically the coastal states — it’s been increasingly oriented toward alternatives to the automobile…unsuccessfully.” And that includes not only the hipster bike, but the déclassé bus.

Ever notice the forlorn buses of San Diego? Largely empty, they cruise our streets with — at most — a handful of riders, who appear to be old, crippled, and poor, people for whom an hour trip to travel 15 miles is not the last resort, but the only resort. According to O’Toole, San Diego’s transit ridership figure is 12 riders per 40-seat bus, a level that’s boosted by the 18-rider average in longer-distance commuter buses. (The national average stands at 11.)

Auto traffic in and out of downtown on the 5 on a Wednesday afternoon

Should the private sector proceed from the standpoint that the car is here to stay? “In a city like San Diego,” opines O’Toole, “if the planners gave you a choice, you’d probably build a traditional suburban development, a master-planned community where developers put in the infrastructure (including all the streets and roads) building what they think people want. It’s very difficult to build that in San Diego County anymore because the land-use planners won’t let you. The political climate makes it impossible to build car-centric in urban San Diego, difficult but not impossible in other parts of the county. It’s hard and time-consuming to get the permits and expensive to buy the land, which in turn makes it expensive for home-buyers.”

Old habits die hard, says O’Toole. “It’s wishful thinking. You hear about the Millennials having a huge change in behavior — they don’t want to drive, they want to live in apartments — but when you account for the crappy economy of the last eight years, they’re really no different. And most of them do live in suburbs. Polls continually show that 80 percent of Americans aspire to live in a single-family home with a yard; I don’t see any changes in that. Let the market rule and let people decide for themselves. Let the private developers build what they think the market will bear. You’ll see some density, some new urbanism — but about 80 percent of it will be what we call a traditional suburb. Make sure that they pay all the costs for their choices and aren’t being subsidized.”

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MichaelValentine Aug. 24, 2016 @ 10:44 a.m.

In a world where we have had three record heat years world wide this clown urges more use of the automobile.


2Wheeler Aug. 25, 2016 @ 10:53 a.m.

Automobile infrastructure doesn't even come close to "paying for itself". Motorists are heavily subsidized by ALL taxpayers since more than half of the taxes for building and maintaining roads comes from the general fund.

And let's not forget the free subsidized parking everywhere...giant parking lots that are rarely full; all that land set aside for the free use of motorists when they get to their destination.

Cycling is only more dangerous than driving because of...wait for it...motorists hitting and killing them.


DaidyCat Aug. 25, 2016 @ 10:39 p.m.

This article's facts just don't stand up. I'll start by saying that as LOW INCOME HISPANIC WOMAN, I walked & rode my bike to work because I couldn't afford to buy a car until I was 25 yrs old until I could afford to get a car. Here are some REAL statistics:

1: The more bike lanes that are built the more people do ride their bikes. New York and Washington D.C., bike commuting doubled from 2008 to 2013. US Census - NYC and DC, protected lane pioneers, just doubled biking rates in 4 years. The average protected bike lane sees bike counts increase 75% in its first year alone.

2: Bike lanes REDUCE the amount of accidents. One of many stats is "New York City's protected bike lane on 9th Avenue led to a 56% reduction in injuries to all street users, including a 57% reduction in injuries to people on bikes and a 29 % reduction in injuries to people walking & 84% reduction in sidewalk riding. "

3: It does NOT increase traffic. They shorten crossing distances, control turning conflicts & reduce traffic weaving, NYC's protected bike lanes reduced injury rates for people walking on their streets by 12 to 52 percent.

4: NOT true only young, white "Hipsters" ride bikes: "The median age of frequent riders were between ages of 46 and 64 in 2000." • Race: "People who indicated they are multiracial or a race outside of the choices given by the Census (Hispanic or Latino, White alone, Black or African American alone, Asian alone) had the highest bicycle commuting rate at .8%. Hispanic or Latino workers had the second highest rate at .7%." (From http://bikeleague.org/content/new-cen...">http://bikeleague.org/content/new-cen...

May 2014). More Stats: From http://bikeleague.org/content/new-cen...">http://bikeleague.org/content/new-cen... May 2014): • Education level: People with graduate or professional degrees bicycle to work at a rate of .9%, followed by people who did not graduate high school at .7%. • Commute time: The average bicycle commute time is 19.3 minutes & most bicycle commutes were between 10 to 14 minutes long. • Regional differences: Rates of bicycling to work tended to be highest in large cities, this was particularly pronounced in the Midwest. In other regions there was not a large difference between rates in medium and large cities. • The number of people who commute to work by bicycle increased about 60% over the past decade according to new data from theU.S. Census Bureau. • During the years 2008-12, about 786,000 Americans commuted by bicycle, up from about 488,000 in 2000, the Census says. That jump is the largest percentage increase of all commuting modes tracked by the 2000 Census and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey.

Even though there are less bikers than cars, we should still have lanes to help keep them safe & encourage healthier & environmentally friendly lifestyles. It's also as important for low income who use bikes because they can't afford a car.

Cat Ortiz


mikebike Aug. 26, 2016 @ 4:33 p.m.

I just finished cycling across the U.S., for the second time, tourist and commuter, League of American Bicyclists trainer, member Adventure Cycling Association. Many large cities across the U.S. have better cycling infrastructure in place now than San Diego. Many smaller towns have better cycling infrastructure than San Diego. Of the 3,400 miles across the U.S. from Anacortes, WA to Washington, DC I rode approximately 1,000 miles of Rails to Trails, inner city bike paths, and Canal Path bikeways, including all the way from downtown Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC about 320 miles. Whenever I was on a bike path or designated bike route, there were many local cyclists of all ages, sizes, and income levels. They always had a smile on their face, or offered a pleasant "hello". Sadly for him, I didn't see Mr. Toole (author) out there enjoying the outdoors. Bummer for him. Lastly, his data and opinions are misleading.


velo333 Aug. 27, 2016 @ 10:54 a.m.

The assertion that cyclists don't pay for the infrastructure they use is a Neo-liberal fantasy. Sales tax and property tax contribute to the general fund which provides funding for most non-freeway street maintenance. Most cyclists also drive cars. This article is not carefully researched and shows a reactionary anti-cyclist bias.


Ian Pike Aug. 27, 2016 @ 9:26 p.m.

Coming as it does from a guy in a Colonel Sanders costume, the argument that civic planning devolves into a conflict between the vicious, anti-car, cycling "lobby" and the League of Innocent Motorists doesn't make much sense to me. I've heard that false dichotomies are a form of logical fallacy, but what would I know....


jw234 Aug. 28, 2016 @ 8:27 a.m.

What an absurd, baseless article. Not only is it replete with unsubstantiated assertions, many of which are patently false, but the author just parrots the biased opinions of just one guy.

Fact-checking? What's that?

Why is The Reader playing dead and settling for being a soapbox for this character? What happened to this publication's (apparently erstwhile) reputation of investigative journalism?

There's no attempt whatsoever to present balanced viewpoints with representation from opposing sides. There is no, none, zero, nada, nothing, not a word to present the thoughts of urban planners (who are, after trained and experts in city planning), or of bike users (who know a little about cycling), of transit officials, or of environmental people. These sides are all seen through O'Toole's distorted, slanted lens.

This is shameful journalism ... if you can call it that.


JohnERangel Aug. 28, 2016 @ 10:12 p.m.

It would have been nice if there had been some opinions from bus/trolley riders. Seems like we got insulted but not represented. I've been commuting this way for years and I'm not alone. I'm usually surrounded by students, blue collar workers and tourists(especially on the green line). The new trolleys can load a lot more wheel chairs, bikes and strollers than the old models(which have way more comfortable seats), so even if the passenger count isn't high it can still get crowded. As for the 12 people average on a 40 passenger bus, that bean counting, desk jockey,  the author keeps quoting from obviously never rode a bus or trolley during rush hour. Terrible article, almost as bad as the pit bull piece from awhile back.

Uptown4All Aug. 30, 2016 @ 6:51 p.m.

A Time magazine article dated May 12th 2015 lists Portland, Oregon as one of the Nine best cities for bicycling to work. The 2016 Portland Bureau of Transportation lists 7.2% of Portland Population commute to work by bicycle. Roughly 12% use public transportation to commute to work. Remaining is approximately 80% of the population still commuting by car. Possibly the bigger picture for San Diego should be planning for the choices people are willing and are not willing to make. Judging by many of the comments here, the prioritization of one mode over another as the transportation end-all has pitted cyclists and cars against one another. Continuing improvements for alternative modes of transportation along with efficient reality based planning for the 80% auto dependent population would be the broader perspective. Unless there is a magic wand I don’t know about, you can not force people to conform to one ideal. Providing options and encouragement to take alternative modes is highly commended. A “Head in the Sand” approach to how the City will provide as we move forward will not adequately plan for now and the foreseeable future.


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