San Diego, California transportation planners have proposed spending US$2.58 billion to build bicycle paths and improve streets for pedestrians throughout San Diego County.
The catch is that getting to the finished system won’t be quick, and it probably won’t be easy, as this plan calls for these improvements to happen over the next 40 years.
“There is progress but deep in the heart of ‘SoCalAutoCentric’ California the pace is frustratingly slow,” says Jim Baross, interim executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition. He says that like much of Southern California, San Diego is no exception when it comes to how roads have been planned – namely to accommodate if not encourage travel by motor vehicle. “We have been busy paving paradise and only recently and grudgingly are we seeing change.”
Baross believes change is coming about because of concerns about air pollution, rising gasoline prices, car traffic congestion, motor traffic mayhem, and climate change.
Factor in an increasingly obese population, due largely to inactivity, and he says bicycling has been ‘raising the handlebars’ as a potential part of the solution. Prying motorists grip from their steering wheels, however, remains a huge challenge.
There has also been political opposition to this proposal. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) offered his viewed that “bike paths don’t help San Diego.”
Hunter is just one who opposed $2.5 billion budget, which is currently contained in the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, an expansive document from the regional planning agency San Diego Association of Governments.
Baross offered BikeRadar his thoughts on reasons for the opposition. “Cost,” he says. “Most people drive and don’t want to change. We have several decades of building for easy and fast as possible motor vehicle use. Changing this is difficult – physically with infrastructure changes, but also with the mind-set of most people.”
Still the rising price at the pump, the notorious pollution in Southern California and basic congestion have all but made it clear that something needs to be done. And Baross hopes that in addition to the proposed budget that the attitude toward cycling also changes. He says that this is key to changing the paradigm of every road user.
“Bike belong too! Yes, a bicyclist may be ‘in the way’ to establish their right of way,” he says, adding, “public roads are for people, not just people in cars. It should no longer be ok to expect no one but motor vehicle operators to be able to comfortably use public roads. Everyone is paying for these. Everyone should be able to use them.”