It’s Time for Livable Streets in San Diego

The following appears in the Op-Ed section of the San Diego U-T on March 14th.

Mayor Filner announced this week the initiation of San Diego’s biggest block party: CicloSDias. Stretching from Barrio Logan to City Heights, the 5.2-mile route opens the street to people walking, biking, playing, sitting and just enjoying their streets without the fear of vehicle traffic.  Best of all, it’s free for all who want to join. Why CicloSDias, and why is it important?

San Diego arguably has some of the best weather in the United States. We love being outdoors. As a result we rank near the top in the country for fitness and healthy living. On a beautiful day we jump in the car and head to the beach, to the park, or for a hike. However, with a lack of good, safe bike lanes and sidewalks, riding a bicycle through the streets of San Diego or simply walking remains a challenge that many are unwilling to risk. And there’s good reason: San Diego also ranks among the highest in the nation for pedestrian and bicycle deaths. 

It's time for Livable Streets, - even in Balboa ParkIn the 1950s and 60s streets seemed to epitomize America’s optimism, progress, and the freedom of mobility. However, the prioritization of one mode – driving – reduced the freedom and safety of other modes such as walking, biking, and transit. More driving has also increased green house gas emissions and reduced the amount of daily exercise for children and adults. In 2013 there is a new paradigm. Cities around the country are making their streets safer for everyone. They recognize that streets are a city’s living room – a place where people walk, bike, meet, talk, and people watch. Many of these cities already hold their own Ciclovia (literally meaning bike path) events.

Now, San Diego must play catch-up, and that is what Mayor Filner has promised to do with the announcement of CicloSDias. Stating that CicloSDias is just a start, Mayor Filner rededicated himself to the goals of making San Diego a more livable, walkable, bike-friendly city at Monday’s press event.

Supporting this effort is the Livable Streets Coalition, – a collaborative effort among eight organizations representing thousands of San Diegans – BikeSD, City Heights Community Development Corporation, Congress for New Urbanism, Great Streets San Diego, Move San Diego, San Diego Bicycle Coalition, Urban Green and WalkSanDiego. Speaking with one voice for the first time, the Liviable Streets Coalition has encouraged the Mayor to adopt a strong Vision and Plan that sets 5 major goals to be accomplished in the next 5 years. Among the goals are 555 miles of new bike lanes, 55,000 new street trees, reducing bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities by 5%, increasing bike ridership to 5%, and yes, implementing CicloSDias. 

Livable streets benefit businesses, spur economic growth, and help create an environment that attracts young, talented, and educated people to San Diego. When New York put in a new protected bike lane, local business revenues adjacent to the route increased 49% – 16 times average neighborhood growth in the city. In our very own neighborhood of Bird Rock, the transformation of La Jolla Boulevard helped yield an average 26% increase in sales tax dollars among 97 businesses.

Our streets are the most valuable public space the City has to offer. Walking and bicycling is not only good for our health, it promotes local shopping and reconnects people to our neighborhoods in a way that the isolation of a car can never do. In the words of Mayor Filner, referring to biking, “It’s great for our psyche, it’s great for our bodies, it’s great for our souls, it’s great for our city.”  

This letter was a joint effort among the organizations of the Livable Streets Coalition.

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