State Route 56, a 9.1 mile point-to-point trail running from Carmel Valley to I-15, is closed.
As roads have emptied under the coronavirus shutdown, new turf has opened up for bicyclists. More people are turning to bikes to get outdoors – or just to get around.
"We have increased in business since the beginning of the outbreak," says Chris Garcia, co-founder and general manager of SD Wheel Works. "More bicycle repair labor hours, children’s bike sales, and electric bike sales."
But while the bike shops were allowed to stay open as essential businesses, the city was busy shutting down trails. Florida Canyon Trails, Cowles Mountain, Mission Trails Regional Park; too many to name.
On April 20, Mayor Faulconer announced that a limited reopening of some city parks will begin on Tuesday. Group activities won't be allowed, parking lots will remain closed, and social distancing continues. Open trails within open space parks will be accessible, except for Cowles Mountain and Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Trail.
Bike advocates are still sorting out which ones, but say it appears to open up areas such as Florida Canyon in Balboa Park, Mission Trails Regional Park, Otay Valley Regional Park, Black Mountain Open Space park, Marion Bear Park and many canyons.
The approach to the closures was too sweeping to begin with, says Susie Murphy, the executive director of the San Diego Mountain Biking Association. "Parks, open spaces and trails are all different even within one agency or jurisdiction." Dirt trails are unlike bike lanes in roads, concrete bike paths or wide community sidewalks.
Many people, including government employees and elected officials "want to lump these very different amenities into one bucket."
Murphy sent a letter to the city last week on behalf of the cycling group, asking for a "soft opening of some trails, parks and open spaces" as the Covid-19 crisis wears on.
Not all are good candidates. In non-Covid times, the full range of users pack places like Cowles Mountain; one the city is keeping closed. It's especially bad where trails are narrow but jammed, as with "the hundreds of hikers usually taking selfies on Potato Chip Rock."
The letter sought an approach more aligned with the county's, which involved closing parking and other facilities to encourage hiking and biking, but not congregating.
Park closures impact people who use those trails for commuting. Many use Penasquitos Canyon as an east-west dirt commute alternative between Poway and businesses around UCSD, Torrey Pines and Carmel Valley, she says. And Balboa Park is a major cycling artery for people who commute all over downtown.
Each jurisdiction makes its own decision to open or close its parks, based on ability to maintain safe public spaces and social distancing by users, according to the county parks website.
But social distancing hasn't been easy as people flock to whatever outdoor spaces they can use.
"The closure of many trails, particularly the complete closures by the city of San Diego, has caused trail users to disperse to the few areas still open, which has caused overcrowding," Murphy says.
And for biking, the six-foot rule is now outdated. For social distancing, cyclists should not be within 30 feet of a rider to the front, says Darryl MacKenzie, a USA Cycling licensed coach.
Frustrated cyclists have vented on forums about the closures, how they've squeezed people onto previously uncrowded paths. One closure that has upset riders is the SR-56, a 9.1 mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail running from Carmel Valley to I-15.
"My bike riding is completely destroyed. All the trails are closed, my one road route (SR-56 path) is closed," said one rider. "I’m so ready for this to be over."
Some commute on that path, another unhappy rider said.
Coach MacKenzie, who keeps a list of open routes on his Facebook page, sees no reason why SR-56 isn't on it. "I have heard no one offer a reason why it should be closed."
In North County, where the coastal terrain may seem more spacious, there are fewer cars "but more pedestrians and runners in the cycle paths and using crossing lights," says Norval Lyon, president of the North County Cycling Club.
While the restrictions have been fewer here, there's no escaping coronavirus. A favorite bike route through Camp Pendleton has been closed by the military. Riders could use the I-I5, but State Park San Onofre/Trestles is closed, effectively blocking the route through to Orange County. "It would be nice to be able to use the SR-56 path but there are other routes for road cyclists via Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley Road."
The club has had to suspend group rides. How will they decide when to reopen? "A key signal will be the relaxation or removal of social distancing," he says, which he expects will be done in stages, such as allowing restaurants or theaters to re-open provided only half the seats are used.
"We will review the situation when the first state and county relaxations are announced."