San Diego Sued for Putting in a Bike Lane

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Before (above) and after (below) a road diet and new bike lane on Fifth Avenue. The street still has two travel lanes after the road diet. Top: Google Streetview. Bottom: from a tweet from Councilmember Todd Gloria

A lawsuit filed last week in San Diego [PDF] claims that the city did an inadequate CEQA analysis for a recent road diet and new bike lane on a stretch of Fifth Avenue.

The city’s Bicycle Master Plan calls for a bike lane on that section of the street, and lists it as a priority project. A recently completed water main repair there, followed by repaving, gave the impetus to restripe it and, in the process, the city removed one lane of traffic and added a wide, buffered bike lane.

Fifth Avenue is part of a north-south duo of one-way streets that connect downtown San Diego to Balboa Park through San Diego’s urban core. Together, they comprise one of the main corridors for bike access to downtown, with other parallel routes interrupted by steep canyons. They are also part of a planned “downtown loop” [PDF] which is being set up in anticipation of the bike share launch, now scheduled for next month.

The section that is subject to the lawsuit is between Laurel and Upas streets, a nine-block segment that connects to Balboa Park, the zoo, and several museums, just north of the downtown bike loop. Although from the photos above there is clearly plenty of room on the street, at peak times it can get congested.

For some people, that is an argument for a road diet, which can slow down and smooth traffic, allowing bicyclists to ride with at least some illusion of safety. But for others, the congestion is an argument to leave the bad design in place.

The lawsuit was filed by Leo Wilson on behalf of the Bankers Hill Community Association–not to be confused with the Bankers Hill Community Group, which currently celebrates the new bike lanes on its website. The suit claims that the bike plan calls for narrowing traffic lanes to squeeze in a bike lane while preserving all three existing lanes, and that removing a lane should require a new CEQA analysis.

The city won’t comment on pending litigation, but the lawsuit quotes San Diego Senior Traffic Engineer Brian Genovese as saying that the new striping is exempt from CEQA because the project is included in the adopted bicycle plan.

It’s depressingly reminiscent of the 2006 lawsuit against San Francisco’s bike plan, which caused the city to delay putting in any bike facilities, including bike racks, for four years while it completed an expensive Environmental Impact Report that came to the same conclusions the city had reached without the report: that bike facilities do not create a significant environmental impact.

This lawsuit makes claims similar to those in the San Francisco suit, saying that traffic congestion will worsen, and that vehicles will be diverted to other local streets.

Unfortunately, the state’s Office of Planning and Research has not yet completed its guidance on S.B. 743, under which vehicle congestion will be removed from the list of environmental impacts that need analysis.

The city is trying to do what the state mandated in its Complete Streets Act [PDF] that requires cities to “plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, seniors, movers of commercial goods, and users of public transportation, in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan.”

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