person sitting on bench with bicycle

From Words & Deeds Blog

San Diego’s declining traffic during the current crisis provides a golden opportunity to rethink the way we get around.

After all, we’re not supposed to do anything outside the home but essential errands and exercise during the coronavirus suspension of business as usual.

As somebody who already takes a daily stroll, I’ve noticed that, as vehicular traffic has declined, pedestrian use of the less travelled streets in my North Park neighborhood is way up.

Maintaining social distancing has become a distraction, keeping me from getting my pulse up and meaning I get less time to be one with the music I’m streaming.

If only we had more room to walk on the streets….  

Circulate San Diego has put together a coalition asking city hall to take steps to relieve pressure from overcrowded sidewalks.

Their suggestions include:

  • Modifying pedestrian walk signals citywide so no button push is required.
  • Prioritizing Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safe Travel on Crowded Corridors, including 6th Avenue, Mission Boulevard, and University Avenue.
  • Reducing Speeds to 20mph in Transit Priority Areas
  • Encouraging Community Engagement in decision making

The coalition includes the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, the San Diego Mountain Biking Association, BikeSD, Climate Action Campaign, Hammond Climate Solutions, SanDiego350, City Heights CDC, Rise North Park, Rise Up Town, YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County, and Sunrise Movement San Diego.

BikeSD looked for community input for a suggested list of streets to temporarily improve for mixed uses like walking, running, rolling or strolling, along with sending their own letter to the mayor.

They’re asking the City of San Diego to restrict vehicular traffic on selected streets to allow people to bike, walk and run safely on those streets. By rapidly expanding the bicycle infrastructure the city can provide/promote:

  • A safe way for people to move about the city while maintaining proper distancing.
  • An affordable means to access essential services for those most impacted by acute loss of income in the near to intermediate future
  • Outdoor exercise to balance the physical and mental effects of sheltering in place.

It’s not like the city hasn’t already given cars a break. Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s March 16 executive order put the entire city on Sunday and holiday parking rules.

For car drivers this means no payment at parking meters and no time limits in parking spots. Parking is also permitted in yellow commercial zones, but not in red or white zones, or blue zones unless a handicap permit is displayed.

Voice of San Diego recently quoted statistics generated by CalTrans indicating that weekday freeway traffic has dropped by 23%. Transportation accounts for 55% of the total greenhouse gases emitted and tracked by the city of San Diego.

Now is the perfect time, while people’s habits are disrupted to try new things. After all, just about everybody agrees there was no way the city was ever going to meet its climate action plan goals when it came to non vehicular transportation.

Lots of cities are experimenting with new approaches to getting around during the current crisis, including Bogota, Colombia; Boston, Massachusetts; Calgary, Canada; Denver, Colorado; St Paul, Minnesota; and Cologne, Germany. Oakland says it will close 10 percent of its street network—74 miles worth—to vehicle traffic.

Not all these experiments have worked (New York, for instance), but they have provided the opportunity to try new ways of looking at things with little downside.

From the New York Times:

  • Jonathan Berk, a proponent of new urbanism, applauded the efforts in Boston and beyond and said they allow residents to see their cities in a new light.
  • “I’m hoping that as we continue over the next few weeks and months to allocate more now-empty streets to people, it will show people the benefits of a less auto-centric urban environment,” he said in an email. “Showing urban residents what’s possible when you have this ‘blank canvas’ of street space to utilize for walking, biking, running, playing games with neighbors and just enjoying as a new, public neighborhood open space.”

I know there will be hell to pay with all the curmudgeons on Next Door for changing traffic patterns, but since they already generally think we’re going to hell in a hand basket, I think we can live with it.

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Doug Porter
Doug Porter was active in the early days of the alternative press in San Diego, contributing to the OB Liberator, the print version of the OB Rag, the San Diego Door, and the San Diego Street Journal. He went on to have a 35-year career in the Hospitality business and decided to go back into raising hell when he retired. He won eight (soon to be nine!) awards from the Society of Professional Journalists in for his daily columns in the San Diego Free Press over a six year period. Doug is a cancer survivor (sans vocal chords) and lives in North Park.


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