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Thanks for all the great comments so far! I think this is going to be an interesting conversation today.
I’ll do a couple of entries as we go along trying to hit some of the common themes to the comments. So far I’m seeing items about safety, the need for a public education/advertising campaign, and a lack of enthusiasm for bicycling from our officials and from the public as some of the big points.
I’ll tackle the safety question first, since that’s the one that ALWAYS comes up when anyone talks about bicycling.
Safety is obviously a big concern. No one wants to see another rider get injured or die in San Diego County. And there are a lot of places in the county that feel really unsafe to ride. I’d definitely echo the comments about Friars Road that a couple of posters have mentioned. A lot of Friars Road is scary for most people to ride on, particularly the areas near the freeway interchanges. You can ride a bike through there, and if you have the skills you can do it with a minimum of risk, but if we expect more people to get out of their cars, we’re going to have to provide them something less frightening than that.
The good news is that in a lot of places, we’re already working on providing people options. On Friars at the 163, for example, the City of San Diego, working with the San Diego River Conservancy and the San Diego River Coalition is planning to build a bike path under 163 on the north side of the river, just south of Fashion Valley Mall. That will provide an alternative for bicyclists who don’t want to dodge the cars at the Friars/163 interchange. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s a multi-million dollar project, and it won’t be going to construction until 2009 at the earliest.
But facilities like these, as nice as they are, aren’t going to solve the safety problem. And, frankly, the safety problem tends to get a little more press than it deserves. We do a lot of stuff more dangerous than riding our bikes every day, usually without a second thought. How many people have said to themselves ‘I’m not going to drive my car today because I might get killed.’? I’m guessing not very many. But a couple hundred people will die in their cars this year in San Diego County. How many people are going to put down that cheeseburger at lunch today because it might kill them? Not many. But about 5000 people will die of coronary disease this year in San Diego County.
So why do safety concerns stop people from riding? The difference between getting in your car and getting on your bike isn’t the absolute risk (it’s pretty close to the same for driving and for riding, depending on how you look at the numbers), but the vulnerability that bicyclists feel when they are out there. I think the fact that our safety is sometimes in someone else’s hands is what makes us nervous. How can I trust that the driver is going to be paying attention and will see me? Separate facilities will make some people feel safer, and they provide a nice place to ride, but they come with their own risks. If we’re looking to make bicycling 100% safe we’re going to have to do some other things. Like education campaigns, which I’ll write about next.