Friday, October 25, 2013

Thoughts On The San Diego Coastal Rail Trail Working Group Meeting

On Wednesday, October 23, 2013, SANDAG held the final meeting of the Coastal Rail Trail Working Group. This is an advisory group, meaning that they can make recommendations to SANDAG, and the City Counil, and all of the other stakeholders, but ultimately have little to no power how things will swing in this crazy town of uplifted politics. Darren and I, of course, attended with some dream that there would be bike paths through canyons and dreamy Class 1 lanes for leisure riding through Rose Canyon, maybe a true "Rail Trail" route. That option, at least in this meeting, wasn't even on the table. (Gotta give it to the hostile Rose Canyon lady, she has shut down any tampering of a trail in canyons, despite the fact that a FUCKING TRAIN can run through there several times a day.)

Alas, this is a hostile group. Generally speaking, the majority of people at the meeting want safe bike infrastructure to get from Rose Canyon, near the McDonald's on the north end of Mission Bay Drive, up to Sorrento Valley and through to Del Mar, while also servicing UCSD. However, the TransNet funds and project goals always include this huge 60% segment of the population of people who might be interested in riding bikes if conditions were safe enough to do so. Generally these meetings and forums are filled with bike commuters who already ride no matter what the conditions, homeowners and renters and parties who will fight to the death if they lose parking and traffic lanes, and advocates for other interests that see bike lanes as the ultimate failure of the world and everything will suddenly collapse if they let those goddamn bicyclists- who run lights, who take over the roads, who have no regard for anyone but themselves- get any part of current roadways.

It is super interesting to sit in on one of these meetings. Living in the urban core of San Diego, I'm right between the intersection of where North Park, City Heights, and Normal Heights converge, and I haven't owned a functioning car in nearly five years. Obviously I've been driven and can drive in these areas, but I feel less bike advocate than I do pro-multi-modal transportationist. Sometimes I need a ride, so a friend or the bus or the trolley suits me. Sometimes I bike and can get in and out of places faster than a car because I'm not chasing parking or stuck in traffic when things break down, like water mains or traffic lights or tragic accidents. And other times, I just walk. Generally speaking, there aren't people at these meetings who represent me, and that is precisely why I show up. I'm not a "cyclist", I happen to sometimes ride a bike, or ride in a car, or ride the bus, or take a cab, or walk, but I am out most every night, and every night I have to decide how to get from point A to point B and safely home again. There is no other choice, then, to show up and speak up at these meetings.

These meetings get really crazy when people speak about their experiences- a mom with toddlers not wanting cyclists in her park, as if she owns it, as if only homeowners have rights to these public open spaces. Even as a self-described cyclist, the same mom can't see the forest for the trees, or in this matter, that in a few years, her toddlers have the potential to grow up where safe bike paths exist, where in a few more years, her kids could have the mentality that running errands means packing up a basket on a bike instead of loading up the Benz to get groceries, or get dinner, or to have a fun night out.

I was incredibly flattered, after attending just four or five of these meetings that a SANDAG rep came over and whispered to me, "YOU really need to speak up. This isn't going well and these people need to hear from people like you." People like me. People like me sometimes don't have transportation choices. People like me ride in bike lanes when it's safe, but will ride a sidewalk when it isn't. People like me will ride with a 6 year old- sometimes on the street, sometimes in bike lanes, and sometimes on sidewalks- to have fun and ride because it can be so fun, so liberating, and a total escape from humdrum life. People like me don't gear up in jerseys on 10-speeds, we ride the bikes we can barely afford or the hand me downs, or the bikes we get from Craigs List. We light up our bikes, and we ride for freedom, for necessity, for fun.

It is incredibly exciting that our culture is changing, however slowly, to accept bikes on the roadways. It is exciting that a hipster on a fixie, a cholo on an undersized BMX, a beach bum on a Cruiser, or average people riding average bikes can maybe be considered when all of this bike infrastructure is finally laid out. It's exciting that California passed a 3 foot law for passing bikes (in effect 9/16/2014). It's reassuring to know that killing a cyclist isn't just an "Oops" and a small fine. Today it is just paint...sharrows and buffered bike lanes and signs to "Share The Road", but maybe all of this will be built out someday, and when I'm old, maybe I can be assured that showing up to these meetings in 2013 means that I'm alive to enjoy a bike in 2023, 2033, and beyond.

The meetings will continue. Follow up about the "Coastal Rail Trail" at the next public meeting sometime before the end of the year. There are projects happening all over the county, too, so READ UP, SIGN UP, and SHOW UP. After all, YOU are paying for all of this. Make it happen. Fight the state when they try to move the TransNet tax money into the general fund, where it is lost forever. Demand multi-modal infrastructure, command attention on your neighborhood needs- sidewalks and curbs and parking and safety-, and VOTE in the special mayoral election. David Alvarez is the guy who still cares about shit like this, while Faulconer and Fletcher hide their special business interests but will go right back to pouring money to developers and hoteliers.

As a final thought, I will say that I was perfectly content spending my twenties into my thirties in a stagnant lifestyle. I had a shitty bike that I sometimes used in necessity, but it wasn't until my mid-thirties that I got a decent bike. With the new bike came a change in lifestyle, freedom, and an entirely new mindset. I suddenly remembered how it felt racing down a hill on a banana-seat bike when I was 10. I suddenly paid attention to the houses and apartments and restaurants and buildings in my neighborhood. I grew a sense of pride in my 'hood and in myself that no job nor paycheck could ever match. And it is contagious. I hope I'm sharing this with you, and you will share it with your friends and family and neighbors and community. If you haven't been on a bike in a while, think about why. And think about how awesome it was when you were young  and got rid of your training wheels and you felt liberated. This is a step further. Get a bike, ride within your limits, jump on a bus and go someplace you've never been. Ride the River Path. Ride over bridges. Ride the streets. Ride Downtown, ride the Bayfront, City Heights and Normal Heights and the Coast and Coronado. It will make you love a bike again. It will make you a better driver. And it will make you love the amazing City of San Diego that you get to call "HOME".

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