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Serra Mesa bike lanes are out of control

Road diets don't always work

Work on the 30th Avenue Bikeway was completed in the summer of 2021, but the controversy triggered by the road diet was only beginning.
Work on the 30th Avenue Bikeway was completed in the summer of 2021, but the controversy triggered by the road diet was only beginning.

Two years ago, in late March 2022, the city of San Diego added bike lanes to Gold Coast Drive in Mira Mesa. It was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of similar road reconfigurations taking place in urban areas around the country to reduce reliance on the car and encourage alternative forms of transportation, including bicycles.


In the case of Gold Coast Drive, what had been a two-lane roadway saw the double yellow pavement line in the center of the street, separating eastbound and westbound traffic, eliminated. White lines were painted on either side of the now-single-lane road, creating “advisory bike lanes” so-called because cars could veer into them in the face of approaching traffic — provided, of course, there were no bikes to be seen.

A week after the reconfiguration, city crews came out and redid the work, restoring the street striping to its original design. The single traffic lane was too narrow for cars moving in opposite directions, and residents protested to the city that they feared a rash of head-on collisions.

Mayor Todd Gloria personally visited the area and dispatched a letter of apology to residents – although he pled mea culpa not to allowing a stupid design, but to not explaining the concept to residents beforehand. Because of the uniqueness of the design, he wrote, “we owed it to the community to spend time with them, to explain what was going to happen, how this works, and we did not do that. That failure is something I regret and something we’re gonna fix.”

Even so, plans to build advisory bike laness in other parts of the city, including on Evergreen Street in Point Loma, were subsequently scrapped.

Advisory bike lanes are the latest tool urban planners around the country are using to reduce society’s dependence on the car as the primary way to get from here to there. It’s a variation of what’s known as a “road diet,” which more typically involves converting a four-lane roadway into two lanes, with bike lanes on either side, or else creating a wide center lane for left turns. Road diets have historically proven to be controversial and divisive, with proponents arguing that the driving force is public safety and critics maintaining it’s a misguided war on cars fueled by climate change concerns.

Either way, the concept is to slow speeds on roads to make them safer, and more conducive, to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. As the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration says on its website, “a road diet, or roadway configuration, can improve safety, calm traffic, provide better mobility and access for all road users, and enhance overall quality of life.”

Peder Norby is a former San Diego County planning commissioner and Carlsbad city council member, who for 25 years consulted on Coast Highway 101 issues for Encinitas and Carlsbad. He is a strong advocate of road diets from a public safety perspective.

“Public safety is everything,” he says. “It’s the number one thing we do as cities.” Norby maintains that studies have shown consistently that slower speeds — the end goal of road diets and other “traffic calming” tools such as speed humps and roundabouts — lead to fewer accidents, and less severe injuries and deaths in the accidents that do occur. “There can be a big difference between hitting someone on a bike at 55 miles per hour and hitting someone on a bike at 30 or 25 miles per hour,” he says.

Norby also maintains that the proliferation of electric bikes in just the last few years has increased the urgency to slow traffic on roads, particularly near schools. “We had an exchange student eight years ago and she rode my wife’s e-bike to Carlsbad High,” he says. “She was the only one. Today, you see hundreds of e-bikes parked outside virtually every high school. And while motorists might see these e-bike riders as annoying little mosquitos who are in their way, if you’re a planner, you have to adapt to societal changes.”

Norby says that while public safety is the number one driver of the move to slow traffic and build more bike lanes, it’s not the only motivating factor. “For every person who rides an e-bike to school,” he says, “that’s four trips that parents aren’t making in their cars: driving to school, driving back home, and then doing it all over again when school lets out. And that’s going to have a big impact on both congestion and pollution.”

Still, Norby concedes there are times when road diets can be too severe. “If you go from two lanes to one on a road where there’s already too much traffic, it won’t work and you shouldn’t do it,” he says. “And with bikes, it would be great if they were all completely separated from cars, but when you start putting up physical elements like these verticals you see in some parts of North County, that can be difficult for drivers to adapt to.

“It’s both a science and an art, and the art is about coming up with the right solutions for your community. I look at some of the stuff that’s going on in North Park, where they’re taking away parking in the belief that if you’re within a half mile of rail, you’re not going to drive. That’s simply not true. My experience and intuition tell me that if you have a 200-unit building, at most 20 percent, 25 percent of those people are going to use rail, with the rest still relying on their cars. It’s never a binary choice; it’s putting everything on the table and coming up with the best solution, with the understanding that no solution is ever perfect. No solution will ever solve 100 percent of the issue. But there are better solutions and there are worse solutions.”

Sandi Banister, a retired San Diego radio executive who lives in Kensington, has mixed feelings about road diets. On certain wide roads with little traffic, she’s fine with adding bike lanes, even if it means narrowing the roadway for cars.

But over the last couple of years, she says, “I think it’s gotten a little out of control. The other day, I was giving a friend of mine a ride in Serra Mesa, on Mission Center Road, which they made into a single-lane road. It was backed up when it was two lanes, and now, my friend tells me, it gets backed up all the way to Aero Drive. Meanwhile, the bike lanes are empty.”

She pauses, then adds: “It’s crazy. And I don’t remember voting for bike lanes. Did the citizens of San Diego vote for all these bike lanes?”

No, Sandi, they didn’t. Road diets are part of the “smart mobility” — alternately known as “complete streets” — movement now sweeping the country, which strives to make all public roadways as safe as possible not just for cars, but also for bikes and pedestrians. Road diets are promoted by politicians and enacted by city traffic engineering departments, often with little or no public input.

In the San Diego mayor’s race, incumbent Todd Gloria came under fire from two primary opponents about exactly that. Both Larry Turner, the police officer and former U.S. Marine who will square off against Gloria in November, and unsuccessful primary challenger Geneviéve Jones-Wright bashed Gloria for his aggressive championship of road diets and bike lanes during a February candidates forum in Rolando.

“When the city of San Diego decided to put in bike lanes, they didn’t talk with community members,” Jones-Wright said, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune story.

On Tamarack Avenue east of El Camino Real, the road was narrowed from two lanes in each direction to just one, with the remaining traffic lane significantly narrower than the bike lane and buffer lane.

Of course, Gloria isn’t the only politician who has jumped on the road diet bandwagon. Prior to her 2022 election to the California State Senate, Catherine Blakespear was mayor of Encinitas and chair of the San Diego Association of Regional Governments (SANDAG). She was one of the key instigators of the Leucadia Streetscape project, an ambitious $65 million reworking of the northernmost 2.5 miles of Coast Highway in Encinitas. One of the most significant modifications in the project is reducing the number of traffic lanes from four to two between A Street and La Costa Avenue. Work began in January 2021 and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2026. Other modifications include bike lanes, wider sidewalks and better drainage.

In 2021, Blakespear told the Reader, “Congestion [on our freeways and roads] is created in the last 5 percent to 10 percent, and if we can even get just 5 percent of commuters to ride their bikes instead of drive we would reduce congestion and people would enjoy themselves and their lives much more than sitting in traffic for hours. Having a car as the only option is just really not what we want as humans.”

Last December, the San Diego City Council officially adopted its first-ever Complete Streets Policy, which, according to a city news release, “reflects and guides the city’s commitment to provide a safe, comfortable and accessible transit circulation system that meets the mobility needs of everyone… ‘Complete Streets’ refers to a concept that roadways should be designed with all users in mind, not just motorists. Making travel convenient and accessible for people of all ages and abilities, regardless of their mode choice, continues to be a citywide priority.”

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But Blane Adessa, a 65-year-old real estate appraiser who lives in Encinitas, isn’t convinced San Diego’s elected politicians are acting in the best interests of their constituents. “The same politicians who wanted building moratoriums a few decades ago are now over-building our wonderful county,” says Adessa. “It seems like their efforts are to make it ridiculous to drive your car. Even now, before tourists get here and with the thousands of new homes and accessory dwelling units that our elected representatives are approving, we have to wait for traffic signals to cycle twice to get through many intersections.”

Joe Donnelly, a 58-year-old sales executive in San Marcos, is an avid mountain bicyclist. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he even managed a mountain bike team for UC Cyclery, a big bicycle shop east of La Jolla. “In my younger days, most of my training was on the road, all over North County,” he says. “These days, I avoid the road. A third of the drivers are high, half are texting, and the others are speeding.” And while says he’s all for more bike lanes, but not if it means reducing the number of lanes reserved for cars. “The idea of converting drive lanes to bike lanes, in the belief that this will lead to a big shift in people using their bikes instead of their cars for transportation rather than recreation, is a utopian dream for planners who don’t live in the real world — especially these enormous bike lanes that are as wide as, or even wider than, car lanes,” Donnelly says.

According to the Federal Highway Administration website, “the focus of roadway projects during the 1950s and 1960s was on system and capacity expansion, not contraction. Whenever and wherever traffic volumes on a section of road outgrew what a two-lane road could accommodate efficiently, the next step in roadway design in most cases was to increase the cross-section to four lanes…Consequently, four-lane roadways became the norm throughout the country.”

The first known lane reduction project, according to the FHA, took place in Billings, Montana in 1979. Seventeenth Street West was converted from a four-lane undivided highway to a three-lane highway, with the center lane reserved for cars turning left and also acting as a buffer between the two traffic lanes. But road diets became increasingly popular in the 1990s, the FHA says, with roadway reconfigurations taking place in Iowa, Minnesota and Montana, and the urban centers of Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon.

Back then, public safety was the primary motivator. A 2005 study in Iowa concluded that road diets led to a 25.2 percent reduction in crashes per mile of roadway, and an 18.8 percent decrease in the car crash rate.

In San Diego, the southern stretch of La Jolla Boulevard that runs through Bird Rock is believed to be the first local example of a road diet. According to the Project for Public Spaces website, “the high volume of traffic along the Boulevard had been causing safety and air pollution problems. Local residents of the community were concerned about the high speeds and congestion during peak traffic hours, and had issues with crossing the street. The width of La Jolla Boulevard divided the neighborhood, which was also suffering from a lack of usable public space, a lack of parking, and struggling local businesses.”

The Bird Rock Community Council began meeting with city representatives in 2003 to discuss potential changes, and ultimately decided on reducing the number of traffic lanes from five to two, adding medians and installing five roundabouts at key intersections. Construction began in 2007, and the city subsequently reported a 90 percent decrease in car accidents and a 30 percent uptick in retail sales at neighborhood businesses.

The next major road diet took place four years later, up on La Costa Avenue in Carlsbad. In a split vote, the Carlsbad City Council in March 2011 approved a plan to slim down the heavily trafficked road between El Camino Real and Rancho Santa Fe Road from four lanes to two lanes. The outer lanes would be reconfigured for parking and bike lanes.

The road diet split the community. One resident told the San Diego Union-Tribune it was time to end La Costa Avenue’s status as “a four-lane freeway,” while another, in a Forum opinion piece, called the council vote a “knee-jerk reaction” and said, if anything, the road “should be widened … with traffic lights and adequate speed enforcement, not put on a public relations fad diet.”

In May 2014, the Streetsblog USA website reported that the city of San Diego “has completed its first road diet,” adding buffered bike lanes along Fourth and Fifth avenues on Banker’s Hill between Laurel and Elm streets. (The La Jolla Boulevard reconfiguration in Bird Rock came before the “road diet” term was coined.)

The following year, the community of City Heights got its first road diet, slimming down Fairmount Avenue, between Redwood Avenue south to Home Avenue, by a lane in either direction and adding buffered bike lanes.

More road diets followed, both in the city of San Diego and in several of the county’s other towns, including Carlsbad and Encinitas, before the most ambitious road diet yet was developed in 2019 in North Park.

The 30th Street Bikeway, as the project is known, called for the re-striping of a 2.4-mile stretch of busy 30th Street, between Adams Avenue and Juniper Street. Traffic lanes were narrowed, and upwards of 450 parking spaces were removed in order to accommodate protected bike lanes. Bicyclists were shielded from motorized traffic by either plastic posts or parked cars.

Work on the project was completed in the summer of 2021, but the controversy triggered by the road diet was only beginning. Merchants along the busy thoroughfare complained of a loss of business because their customers could no longer find parking, and a group called Save 30th Street filed suit against the city. The suit was ultimately decided in the city’s favor in a December 2022 appellate court ruling, despite the plaintiffs arguing that since the road diet was put in place, no fewer than 34 retail establishments had gone out of business.

William C., a small business owner who lives in Allied Gardens, argues that road diets not only impede traffic and parking, but also amplify rather than mitigate air pollution. “Our council and mayor — and SANDAG — want to reduce the carbon footprint of San Diego, but it has become obvious that road diets actually increase carbon emissions,” he says. “During high-traffic hours, one can easily see that reducing lanes for automobiles means all these vehicles are forced to use fewer lanes, which, in turn, means a longer time spent on the road getting from place to place. With this increased time on the road comes an increased output of carbon dioxide. And other than holidays, this is happening five days a week, 52 weeks a year. Added together, that mans a lot of pollution put into the atmosphere that wasn’t there before.”

Road diets, he adds, also increase “the daily stress and unhappiness of many of the people who use those roads. Making a commute longer during peak driving times greatly adds to stress. This is especially true when drivers and passengers need to get to their destination and look at the empty bus/bike lanes, and there are no buses or bikes in sight. A very small percentage of citizens bike on the major roadways, and statistics involving cars and bikes can be misleading when they use ‘cars’ versus bikes. Cars often carry a group of friends or couples or a family. So when comparing road use, in order to be accurate, the statistics need to account for the people in cars versus the people on bikes. When that is done properly, the number of people riding bikes to get to a destination is extremely small compared to the number of people using a car to get to their destination. Additionally, it is very inconvenient for seniors to do their shopping and errands using a bike. It is very inconvenient to move a whole family from one place to another on bikes.”

More controversy followed a major road-diet initiative up in Carlsbad that began in the fall of 2023 and is continuing into this year. The Safer Streets Together Plan, approved by the Carlsbad City Council in September 2022, calls for 16 miles of major east-west roadways to be reconfigured. According to the city website, the move is being undertaken “to balance the needs of all roadway users” and consists of “narrowing, and in some cases reducing, car lanes and expanding bike lanes and buffer areas between bike and car lanes.”

In the northern part of the city, Carlsbad Village Drive, between Appian and Chatham roads, and Tamarack Avenue, between Skyline Drive and Carlsbad Village Drive, are being taken down from four lanes to two. In the southern part of the city, the same fate awaits Poinsettia Lane between Carlsbad Boulevard and Avenida Encinas. And several other roadways are being slimmed down without any lane reductions to accommodate wider bike lanes.

The road diets have met with mostly negative responses on Nextdoor, the social networking site for neighborhoods. And in a lengthy post on the Wake Up Carlsbad Facebook page, local Steve Linke, a former city of Carlsbad traffic commissioner, argues that “the ongoing narrowing of arterial street lanes in Carlsbad likely will decrease safety. Over the next couple of months, the vehicle lanes on major portions of Carlsbad’s east-west arterial streets will be narrowed from their general current width of 11 feet to as little as 10 feet—with 9 feet also mentioned as a possibility. For reference, large vehicles can be up to 10-1/2 feet wide. These narrowed lanes will have been done to major portions of Olivenhain Road, La Costa Avenue, Poinsettia Lane, Cannon Road, College Boulevard, Tamarack Avenue, and Carlsbad Village Drive, and there is evidence that the city may have similar plans for Palomar Airport Road, Rancho Santa Fe Road, and perhaps others…”

Linke maintains that instead of reducing speeds, the narrower lanes “are likely to lead to driver error, with more encroachments into adjacent vehicle and bike lanes – and the likelihood of increased collisions and injuries.”

But whether or not that’s true, road diets are not going away, or even slowing down. The next big road-slimming project will be the stretch of the Coast Highway that runs through Oceanside, San Diego County’s northernmost city. According to the city of Oceanside’s website, “the plan envisions creating a ‘road diet’ – meaning that vehicle travel lanes will be reduced in some areas to promote safety and increase space for pedestrians and bicycles. Mid-block crosswalks, roundabouts (at select locations), and streetscape features will create space in the public right-of-way for bicycle facilities, improved sidewalks, and additional landscaping.”

The California Coastal Commission gave the project its blessing in February, four years after the plans were initially submitted. The delay was due to a series of community meetings to gather opinions and tweak project plans. The latest plans call for the entire stretch of Coast Highway to be slimmed down to one lane in either direction, and the replacement of traffic signals with roundabouts for up to 12 intersections. The city hopes to finalize the design by the fall of this year; construction is scheduled to begin as early as 2025, “pending the allocation of funds,” according to the city.

Peder Norby knows about as much about the Coast Highway as anyone, given his years of consulting for Encinitas and Carlsbad. And yet he is hesitant to weigh in on Oceanside’s plans for its stretch of the Coast Highway because he is not privy to the traffic counts and other data that helped city engineers draft those plans.

“Generally speaking about Highway 101, it’s not a four-lane road with 40,000 cars going 70 mph anymore,” he says. “But I can’t really offer my opinion on what I think they should do, other than to say that what’s worked somewhere else, like Leucadia or Cardiff or Solana Beach, may not work in Oceanside. You can’t take a cookie-cutter approach. One size does not fit all.”

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Work on the 30th Avenue Bikeway was completed in the summer of 2021, but the controversy triggered by the road diet was only beginning.
Work on the 30th Avenue Bikeway was completed in the summer of 2021, but the controversy triggered by the road diet was only beginning.

Two years ago, in late March 2022, the city of San Diego added bike lanes to Gold Coast Drive in Mira Mesa. It was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of similar road reconfigurations taking place in urban areas around the country to reduce reliance on the car and encourage alternative forms of transportation, including bicycles.


In the case of Gold Coast Drive, what had been a two-lane roadway saw the double yellow pavement line in the center of the street, separating eastbound and westbound traffic, eliminated. White lines were painted on either side of the now-single-lane road, creating “advisory bike lanes” so-called because cars could veer into them in the face of approaching traffic — provided, of course, there were no bikes to be seen.

A week after the reconfiguration, city crews came out and redid the work, restoring the street striping to its original design. The single traffic lane was too narrow for cars moving in opposite directions, and residents protested to the city that they feared a rash of head-on collisions.

Mayor Todd Gloria personally visited the area and dispatched a letter of apology to residents – although he pled mea culpa not to allowing a stupid design, but to not explaining the concept to residents beforehand. Because of the uniqueness of the design, he wrote, “we owed it to the community to spend time with them, to explain what was going to happen, how this works, and we did not do that. That failure is something I regret and something we’re gonna fix.”

Even so, plans to build advisory bike laness in other parts of the city, including on Evergreen Street in Point Loma, were subsequently scrapped.

Advisory bike lanes are the latest tool urban planners around the country are using to reduce society’s dependence on the car as the primary way to get from here to there. It’s a variation of what’s known as a “road diet,” which more typically involves converting a four-lane roadway into two lanes, with bike lanes on either side, or else creating a wide center lane for left turns. Road diets have historically proven to be controversial and divisive, with proponents arguing that the driving force is public safety and critics maintaining it’s a misguided war on cars fueled by climate change concerns.

Either way, the concept is to slow speeds on roads to make them safer, and more conducive, to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. As the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration says on its website, “a road diet, or roadway configuration, can improve safety, calm traffic, provide better mobility and access for all road users, and enhance overall quality of life.”

Peder Norby is a former San Diego County planning commissioner and Carlsbad city council member, who for 25 years consulted on Coast Highway 101 issues for Encinitas and Carlsbad. He is a strong advocate of road diets from a public safety perspective.

“Public safety is everything,” he says. “It’s the number one thing we do as cities.” Norby maintains that studies have shown consistently that slower speeds — the end goal of road diets and other “traffic calming” tools such as speed humps and roundabouts — lead to fewer accidents, and less severe injuries and deaths in the accidents that do occur. “There can be a big difference between hitting someone on a bike at 55 miles per hour and hitting someone on a bike at 30 or 25 miles per hour,” he says.

Norby also maintains that the proliferation of electric bikes in just the last few years has increased the urgency to slow traffic on roads, particularly near schools. “We had an exchange student eight years ago and she rode my wife’s e-bike to Carlsbad High,” he says. “She was the only one. Today, you see hundreds of e-bikes parked outside virtually every high school. And while motorists might see these e-bike riders as annoying little mosquitos who are in their way, if you’re a planner, you have to adapt to societal changes.”

Norby says that while public safety is the number one driver of the move to slow traffic and build more bike lanes, it’s not the only motivating factor. “For every person who rides an e-bike to school,” he says, “that’s four trips that parents aren’t making in their cars: driving to school, driving back home, and then doing it all over again when school lets out. And that’s going to have a big impact on both congestion and pollution.”

Still, Norby concedes there are times when road diets can be too severe. “If you go from two lanes to one on a road where there’s already too much traffic, it won’t work and you shouldn’t do it,” he says. “And with bikes, it would be great if they were all completely separated from cars, but when you start putting up physical elements like these verticals you see in some parts of North County, that can be difficult for drivers to adapt to.

“It’s both a science and an art, and the art is about coming up with the right solutions for your community. I look at some of the stuff that’s going on in North Park, where they’re taking away parking in the belief that if you’re within a half mile of rail, you’re not going to drive. That’s simply not true. My experience and intuition tell me that if you have a 200-unit building, at most 20 percent, 25 percent of those people are going to use rail, with the rest still relying on their cars. It’s never a binary choice; it’s putting everything on the table and coming up with the best solution, with the understanding that no solution is ever perfect. No solution will ever solve 100 percent of the issue. But there are better solutions and there are worse solutions.”

Sandi Banister, a retired San Diego radio executive who lives in Kensington, has mixed feelings about road diets. On certain wide roads with little traffic, she’s fine with adding bike lanes, even if it means narrowing the roadway for cars.

But over the last couple of years, she says, “I think it’s gotten a little out of control. The other day, I was giving a friend of mine a ride in Serra Mesa, on Mission Center Road, which they made into a single-lane road. It was backed up when it was two lanes, and now, my friend tells me, it gets backed up all the way to Aero Drive. Meanwhile, the bike lanes are empty.”

She pauses, then adds: “It’s crazy. And I don’t remember voting for bike lanes. Did the citizens of San Diego vote for all these bike lanes?”

No, Sandi, they didn’t. Road diets are part of the “smart mobility” — alternately known as “complete streets” — movement now sweeping the country, which strives to make all public roadways as safe as possible not just for cars, but also for bikes and pedestrians. Road diets are promoted by politicians and enacted by city traffic engineering departments, often with little or no public input.

In the San Diego mayor’s race, incumbent Todd Gloria came under fire from two primary opponents about exactly that. Both Larry Turner, the police officer and former U.S. Marine who will square off against Gloria in November, and unsuccessful primary challenger Geneviéve Jones-Wright bashed Gloria for his aggressive championship of road diets and bike lanes during a February candidates forum in Rolando.

“When the city of San Diego decided to put in bike lanes, they didn’t talk with community members,” Jones-Wright said, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune story.

On Tamarack Avenue east of El Camino Real, the road was narrowed from two lanes in each direction to just one, with the remaining traffic lane significantly narrower than the bike lane and buffer lane.

Of course, Gloria isn’t the only politician who has jumped on the road diet bandwagon. Prior to her 2022 election to the California State Senate, Catherine Blakespear was mayor of Encinitas and chair of the San Diego Association of Regional Governments (SANDAG). She was one of the key instigators of the Leucadia Streetscape project, an ambitious $65 million reworking of the northernmost 2.5 miles of Coast Highway in Encinitas. One of the most significant modifications in the project is reducing the number of traffic lanes from four to two between A Street and La Costa Avenue. Work began in January 2021 and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2026. Other modifications include bike lanes, wider sidewalks and better drainage.

In 2021, Blakespear told the Reader, “Congestion [on our freeways and roads] is created in the last 5 percent to 10 percent, and if we can even get just 5 percent of commuters to ride their bikes instead of drive we would reduce congestion and people would enjoy themselves and their lives much more than sitting in traffic for hours. Having a car as the only option is just really not what we want as humans.”

Last December, the San Diego City Council officially adopted its first-ever Complete Streets Policy, which, according to a city news release, “reflects and guides the city’s commitment to provide a safe, comfortable and accessible transit circulation system that meets the mobility needs of everyone… ‘Complete Streets’ refers to a concept that roadways should be designed with all users in mind, not just motorists. Making travel convenient and accessible for people of all ages and abilities, regardless of their mode choice, continues to be a citywide priority.”

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But Blane Adessa, a 65-year-old real estate appraiser who lives in Encinitas, isn’t convinced San Diego’s elected politicians are acting in the best interests of their constituents. “The same politicians who wanted building moratoriums a few decades ago are now over-building our wonderful county,” says Adessa. “It seems like their efforts are to make it ridiculous to drive your car. Even now, before tourists get here and with the thousands of new homes and accessory dwelling units that our elected representatives are approving, we have to wait for traffic signals to cycle twice to get through many intersections.”

Joe Donnelly, a 58-year-old sales executive in San Marcos, is an avid mountain bicyclist. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he even managed a mountain bike team for UC Cyclery, a big bicycle shop east of La Jolla. “In my younger days, most of my training was on the road, all over North County,” he says. “These days, I avoid the road. A third of the drivers are high, half are texting, and the others are speeding.” And while says he’s all for more bike lanes, but not if it means reducing the number of lanes reserved for cars. “The idea of converting drive lanes to bike lanes, in the belief that this will lead to a big shift in people using their bikes instead of their cars for transportation rather than recreation, is a utopian dream for planners who don’t live in the real world — especially these enormous bike lanes that are as wide as, or even wider than, car lanes,” Donnelly says.

According to the Federal Highway Administration website, “the focus of roadway projects during the 1950s and 1960s was on system and capacity expansion, not contraction. Whenever and wherever traffic volumes on a section of road outgrew what a two-lane road could accommodate efficiently, the next step in roadway design in most cases was to increase the cross-section to four lanes…Consequently, four-lane roadways became the norm throughout the country.”

The first known lane reduction project, according to the FHA, took place in Billings, Montana in 1979. Seventeenth Street West was converted from a four-lane undivided highway to a three-lane highway, with the center lane reserved for cars turning left and also acting as a buffer between the two traffic lanes. But road diets became increasingly popular in the 1990s, the FHA says, with roadway reconfigurations taking place in Iowa, Minnesota and Montana, and the urban centers of Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon.

Back then, public safety was the primary motivator. A 2005 study in Iowa concluded that road diets led to a 25.2 percent reduction in crashes per mile of roadway, and an 18.8 percent decrease in the car crash rate.

In San Diego, the southern stretch of La Jolla Boulevard that runs through Bird Rock is believed to be the first local example of a road diet. According to the Project for Public Spaces website, “the high volume of traffic along the Boulevard had been causing safety and air pollution problems. Local residents of the community were concerned about the high speeds and congestion during peak traffic hours, and had issues with crossing the street. The width of La Jolla Boulevard divided the neighborhood, which was also suffering from a lack of usable public space, a lack of parking, and struggling local businesses.”

The Bird Rock Community Council began meeting with city representatives in 2003 to discuss potential changes, and ultimately decided on reducing the number of traffic lanes from five to two, adding medians and installing five roundabouts at key intersections. Construction began in 2007, and the city subsequently reported a 90 percent decrease in car accidents and a 30 percent uptick in retail sales at neighborhood businesses.

The next major road diet took place four years later, up on La Costa Avenue in Carlsbad. In a split vote, the Carlsbad City Council in March 2011 approved a plan to slim down the heavily trafficked road between El Camino Real and Rancho Santa Fe Road from four lanes to two lanes. The outer lanes would be reconfigured for parking and bike lanes.

The road diet split the community. One resident told the San Diego Union-Tribune it was time to end La Costa Avenue’s status as “a four-lane freeway,” while another, in a Forum opinion piece, called the council vote a “knee-jerk reaction” and said, if anything, the road “should be widened … with traffic lights and adequate speed enforcement, not put on a public relations fad diet.”

In May 2014, the Streetsblog USA website reported that the city of San Diego “has completed its first road diet,” adding buffered bike lanes along Fourth and Fifth avenues on Banker’s Hill between Laurel and Elm streets. (The La Jolla Boulevard reconfiguration in Bird Rock came before the “road diet” term was coined.)

The following year, the community of City Heights got its first road diet, slimming down Fairmount Avenue, between Redwood Avenue south to Home Avenue, by a lane in either direction and adding buffered bike lanes.

More road diets followed, both in the city of San Diego and in several of the county’s other towns, including Carlsbad and Encinitas, before the most ambitious road diet yet was developed in 2019 in North Park.

The 30th Street Bikeway, as the project is known, called for the re-striping of a 2.4-mile stretch of busy 30th Street, between Adams Avenue and Juniper Street. Traffic lanes were narrowed, and upwards of 450 parking spaces were removed in order to accommodate protected bike lanes. Bicyclists were shielded from motorized traffic by either plastic posts or parked cars.

Work on the project was completed in the summer of 2021, but the controversy triggered by the road diet was only beginning. Merchants along the busy thoroughfare complained of a loss of business because their customers could no longer find parking, and a group called Save 30th Street filed suit against the city. The suit was ultimately decided in the city’s favor in a December 2022 appellate court ruling, despite the plaintiffs arguing that since the road diet was put in place, no fewer than 34 retail establishments had gone out of business.

William C., a small business owner who lives in Allied Gardens, argues that road diets not only impede traffic and parking, but also amplify rather than mitigate air pollution. “Our council and mayor — and SANDAG — want to reduce the carbon footprint of San Diego, but it has become obvious that road diets actually increase carbon emissions,” he says. “During high-traffic hours, one can easily see that reducing lanes for automobiles means all these vehicles are forced to use fewer lanes, which, in turn, means a longer time spent on the road getting from place to place. With this increased time on the road comes an increased output of carbon dioxide. And other than holidays, this is happening five days a week, 52 weeks a year. Added together, that mans a lot of pollution put into the atmosphere that wasn’t there before.”

Road diets, he adds, also increase “the daily stress and unhappiness of many of the people who use those roads. Making a commute longer during peak driving times greatly adds to stress. This is especially true when drivers and passengers need to get to their destination and look at the empty bus/bike lanes, and there are no buses or bikes in sight. A very small percentage of citizens bike on the major roadways, and statistics involving cars and bikes can be misleading when they use ‘cars’ versus bikes. Cars often carry a group of friends or couples or a family. So when comparing road use, in order to be accurate, the statistics need to account for the people in cars versus the people on bikes. When that is done properly, the number of people riding bikes to get to a destination is extremely small compared to the number of people using a car to get to their destination. Additionally, it is very inconvenient for seniors to do their shopping and errands using a bike. It is very inconvenient to move a whole family from one place to another on bikes.”

More controversy followed a major road-diet initiative up in Carlsbad that began in the fall of 2023 and is continuing into this year. The Safer Streets Together Plan, approved by the Carlsbad City Council in September 2022, calls for 16 miles of major east-west roadways to be reconfigured. According to the city website, the move is being undertaken “to balance the needs of all roadway users” and consists of “narrowing, and in some cases reducing, car lanes and expanding bike lanes and buffer areas between bike and car lanes.”

In the northern part of the city, Carlsbad Village Drive, between Appian and Chatham roads, and Tamarack Avenue, between Skyline Drive and Carlsbad Village Drive, are being taken down from four lanes to two. In the southern part of the city, the same fate awaits Poinsettia Lane between Carlsbad Boulevard and Avenida Encinas. And several other roadways are being slimmed down without any lane reductions to accommodate wider bike lanes.

The road diets have met with mostly negative responses on Nextdoor, the social networking site for neighborhoods. And in a lengthy post on the Wake Up Carlsbad Facebook page, local Steve Linke, a former city of Carlsbad traffic commissioner, argues that “the ongoing narrowing of arterial street lanes in Carlsbad likely will decrease safety. Over the next couple of months, the vehicle lanes on major portions of Carlsbad’s east-west arterial streets will be narrowed from their general current width of 11 feet to as little as 10 feet—with 9 feet also mentioned as a possibility. For reference, large vehicles can be up to 10-1/2 feet wide. These narrowed lanes will have been done to major portions of Olivenhain Road, La Costa Avenue, Poinsettia Lane, Cannon Road, College Boulevard, Tamarack Avenue, and Carlsbad Village Drive, and there is evidence that the city may have similar plans for Palomar Airport Road, Rancho Santa Fe Road, and perhaps others…”

Linke maintains that instead of reducing speeds, the narrower lanes “are likely to lead to driver error, with more encroachments into adjacent vehicle and bike lanes – and the likelihood of increased collisions and injuries.”

But whether or not that’s true, road diets are not going away, or even slowing down. The next big road-slimming project will be the stretch of the Coast Highway that runs through Oceanside, San Diego County’s northernmost city. According to the city of Oceanside’s website, “the plan envisions creating a ‘road diet’ – meaning that vehicle travel lanes will be reduced in some areas to promote safety and increase space for pedestrians and bicycles. Mid-block crosswalks, roundabouts (at select locations), and streetscape features will create space in the public right-of-way for bicycle facilities, improved sidewalks, and additional landscaping.”

The California Coastal Commission gave the project its blessing in February, four years after the plans were initially submitted. The delay was due to a series of community meetings to gather opinions and tweak project plans. The latest plans call for the entire stretch of Coast Highway to be slimmed down to one lane in either direction, and the replacement of traffic signals with roundabouts for up to 12 intersections. The city hopes to finalize the design by the fall of this year; construction is scheduled to begin as early as 2025, “pending the allocation of funds,” according to the city.

Peder Norby knows about as much about the Coast Highway as anyone, given his years of consulting for Encinitas and Carlsbad. And yet he is hesitant to weigh in on Oceanside’s plans for its stretch of the Coast Highway because he is not privy to the traffic counts and other data that helped city engineers draft those plans.

“Generally speaking about Highway 101, it’s not a four-lane road with 40,000 cars going 70 mph anymore,” he says. “But I can’t really offer my opinion on what I think they should do, other than to say that what’s worked somewhere else, like Leucadia or Cardiff or Solana Beach, may not work in Oceanside. You can’t take a cookie-cutter approach. One size does not fit all.”

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