We’re backpedaling here! La Jolla’s lack of bike infrastructure could hinder city ‘Climate Action Plan’


One more bike on the road is one less car, so the new City of San Diego “Climate Action Plan” calls for a 6 percent bicycle commute by 2020, and an 18 percent by 2035. Currently, the number of San Diegans who commute to work by bike is 1 percent.

To see how bike-friendly La Jolla is (and in honor of National Bike Month in May), this reporter went on a bike ride with Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition. His brother, John Hanshaw, who frequently bikes the streets of La Jolla, came along for the ride.

We met at 8:45 a.m. May 19 at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters café, 5627 La Jolla Blvd. “This is a really great place to start our conversation and our tour because of the improvements they’ve made (in Bird Rock), not just with the bike lanes, but with the whole traffic calming roundabouts and pedestrian crosswalks. They really enhanced the area for the safety of everyone,” Andy said.

The conversation centered on how beneficial it is to have a bikable and walkable community. “You are increasing property values with amenities like bike lanes and crosswalks, where people want to walk and bike more, and also by slowing traffic, people can actually see businesses better. When you get people biking and walking, business improves. We know because we have seen the economic data,” Andy said.

We started off north on La Jolla Boulevard to find that the bike lanes are disrupted before the roundabouts. “We are running out of bike lane,” John announced. We turned right on La Canada to access the Fay Avenue Path.

The route is a mostly paved, separated, multi-use pathway that runs from Via del Norte to Nautilus Street. The corridor is under scrutiny from a group of citizens who took safety issues to the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation (T&T) board in February with plans for making the path safer “for everyone.”

Resident Sally Miller told the La Jolla Light that said she doesn’t want to see an increase in the volume of bikers along the path. “I don’t want it to become a bicycle freeway, I want it to be safe for seniors walking their dogs, mothers pulling their strollers, and not just for bicycles,” She added that the No. 1 safety issue along the path is the presence of dogs off their leashes.

With help from the T&T board, path improvements were requested to the city, including a change in the signage and the installation of curb ramps for the Via del Norte and La Canada entrances, currently missing. “We are satisfied with these changes, that’s what we wanted,” Miller said. T&T chair Dave Abrams said at the May 18 meeting that he had the impression the projects could be docketed on the board’s agenda, along with the cost estimates, within the next few months.

Andy, who didn’t know about the Fay Avenue Bike Path before, said it was a good ride. “It’s safe and separated, that’s why it’s good. It has low visibility. I don’t think many people are aware of it, so if they had some signage to the path, that would be better.”

Right off the path exit onto Nautilus Street, the Hanshaws admired the plentiful bike racks across the street from La Jolla High School. “I hope they have bike parking inside, too,” Andy said.

Crossing over to Fay Avenue, the bike path turns into a “Bike Route.” There are a few bike routes in La Jolla, where bikes and cars share the space. Some are located in back streets where there is less traffic, but others — like the Fay Avenue — are right in the middle of a very busy road.

More often than not, the only designation of a bike route is a rectangular green sign with a bike on it at the beginning of the street. For the most southern block on Fay Avenue, that is the case. To the north, road users encounter “sharrows,” which are share road signs painted with a bike and two arrows on the pavement.

At this point, Andy explained that the “sharrows” are positioned on the exact spot where the bike is supposed to ride, separated enough from what’s called “the door zone” (the space necessary for a car door to open).

“The flipside is that you are putting the bicyclist in the middle of the road, and many people don’t feel safe riding there, so what happens is the bicyclist just rides close to the cars, because that’s sort of how they’ve been taught to ride, but not consciously thinking that a car door can open at any moment, and that’s dangerous,” Andy said.

After Genter Street, the Bike Route goes west to Girard Avenue, north to Pearl Street and finds its way to Bluebird Lane. It continues on a stretch of Prospect Place to Coast Boulevard, and circles back surrounding the Village. “There aren’t any bike lanes within the Village … My wife and I ride to the Village and there we chain our bikes because it’s dangerous to ride there,” John said.

He added that he likes to ride along the “Scenic Route,” which goes from Coast Boulevard to Pacific Beach along the coast. “But for job commuters, you really need a short and flat route,” he said.

The mayor’s “Climate Action Plan” proposes building 50 miles of “new or improved” bike lanes along the city to increase the percentage of bike commutes. La Jolla Light contacted city Public Information Officer Arian Collins to find out if any of those bike lanes will be placed in La Jolla.

“At this time, it’s not known where all of the 50 miles of new or improved bicycle lanes will occur,” she responded in an e-mail. Collins explained that the “bikeway miles” are predicated by the locations where street resurfacing will occur. “The majority of streets get resurfaced by the Street Preservation Program, which determines their locations by the pavement condition, as well as the economic efficiency, to preserve its condition. In addition, not all streets that get resurfaced are Bicycle Master Plan routes, which means only a portion of those streets coincide with planned bikeways that can be improved or created,” she wrote.

When we got onto Prospect Street, Andy noticed it had recently been re-paved and the street lines re-painted. “They forgot the bike lane,” John laughed.

A few bike lanes exist in La Jolla. Bike lanes are those where the space for bike riders is marked with paint on the road or a physical separation. But the ones in La Jolla lack the separation, and Andy pointed out that for bike lanes to be safe, they need that separation.

On May 20 San Diego celebrated “Bike to Work Friday.” The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) organized 101 pit stops, which from 6 to 9 a.m., offered a free T-shirt, bike tune-ups and breakfast. Employers all over San Diego agreed to encourage bike commuting. In La Jolla, save for UC San Diego and the SurfRider Foundation, the pit stops were completely absent.

Andy said employers should encourage their employees to commute by bike because “a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce. Employers need to think about adding bike parking for their employees, bike security, showers and lockers.”

Our ride ended in front of the La Jolla Light at 565 Pearl St. Afterward, Andy concluded, “We noticed there is zero bike parking in La Jolla’s commercial district. La Jolla is an ideal place to ride. It just needs some bike lanes.”

Community activist Melinda Merryweather, who makes it known that she has bicycled in La Jolla for the past 40 years, told the Light, “We’re not a bike friendly place at all. Getting in and out of La Jolla through Torrey Pines is dangerous … I think biking is terribly important. I go to other cities and I see that they are very aware of it, and it is a good thing.”

Do you think La Jolla is a bicycle-friendly place to ride? Answer La Jolla Light’s Poll of the Week below and share your views by e-mailing