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Like many parents, I dread the start of Daylight Saving Time. But my 7-year-old daughter thought she found a silver lining: We now had enough daylight for a bike ride to get ice cream after dinner. Reluctantly, I told her no: It wouldn’t be safe for her to make the ride home at dusk on the busy streets.
Although I knew North Park’s busy streets weren’t idyllic, I hoped they could be even safer than the suburban streets where other kids ride. When my daughter and her twin brother were toddlers, the city passed its ambitious Climate Action Plan premised in part on a goal to dramatically increase walking and bike commuting in urban neighborhoods.
When drafting the Climate Action Plan, the mayor’s staff understood the existing bikeway plans were insufficient to hit the goal. A year later, when the proposed North Park community plan incorporated only those old plans, the city was forced to acknowledge and address the shortcomings.
The city explained it would supplement the existing plans with “additional bicycle and pedestrian improvements in coordination with street resurfacing as feasible.” It committed to “repurpose right-of-way to provide and support a continuous network of safe, convenient, and attractive bicycle facilities” and increase “bicycle comfort and accessibility for all levels of bicycle riders with improvements such as … wider bike lanes and, where feasible, separated bicycle facilities.” The stated goal was to create “complete streets” that are “designed for everyone in mind, for people of all ages and abilities using multiple modes of transit in lieu of auto-oriented streets that are designed to primarily accommodate the automobile.”
In other documents, the city acknowledged these goals would require “space previously dedicated to on-street parking be converted to new high class bicycle facilities” following earlier plans to “judiciously limit or prohibit on street parking where needed to improve safety, or to implement multi-modal facilities such as bikeways.” The City Council later directed staff to “leverage coordination of street resurfacing to take advantage of opportunities for progressive design standards to facilitate safer mobility, including . . . protected bikeways.”
Recently, Mayor Kevin Faulconer highlighted the need for “reducing the number of tailpipes on the road” by supporting “projects that make it easier and safer to get around without a car,” including “installing dedicated lanes so bicyclists can safely navigate city streets without fear.” The city’s focus on Vision Zero, a campaign to end pedestrian deaths, suggested that officials were committed to safe streets.
With all these assurances in mind, I thought the city would commit to prioritizing safety when it redesigned 30th Street, our main thoroughfare, after an upcoming resurfacing project. With a push by Councilman Chris Ward, the city studied the options and concluded it was feasible to add a protected bikeway that would be safe for me, my kids and all our neighbors.
The city just started community outreach last week and hasn’t settled on a specific design. But at the first meeting, I was dismayed when city staff focused on the need to preserve free street parking by proposing a design that was admittedly not a protected bikeway designed for all ages and abilities. This framing directly contradicts all of the city’s adopted policies, but was consistent with past outcomes, from Point Loma to Talmadge. Sometimes, the city itself has a hard time saying “yes” to necessary change when the small segment of the community that attends meetings scheduled in the middle of the day or at family dinnertime comes out to say “no” to the transformation.
The political viability of the mayor’s “YIMBY” vision requires faith that we can build a more affordable, sustainable and equitable city by increasing density in urban areas and at the same time improve the quality of life. But housing and transportation are inextricably linked: If we want to increase the density of our city by upzoning near transit and eliminating parking minimums, we need to change how we design our city to avoid sitting in traffic all day. This new way of thinking will require cooperation and trust: The city cannot expect residents to buy into this vision if the city fails to be a trustworthy partner.
On 30th Street, the city faces a test: Does it want to buckle under pressure to maintain the status quo and preserve parking at all costs, or instead honor its policies and create a visionary showcase for the rest of the city? If we redesign our streets with a primary focus on safety for everyone walking and biking, we can build a sustainable neighborhood capable of accepting more density, boosting our local businesses, and just maybe helping a girl get her ice cream cone.
Matt Stucky is a North Park resident and attorney.