Get out of gridlock

by Carolyn Chase


oads are for people, not just for people in cars. But increasingly, "car-aholics" are moving to force other smaller or slower users (such as bicyclists, pedestrians, other smaller vehicles) off of public right-of-ways. In the rush to deal with the inevitable congestion caused by urban sprawl development and poor transportation planning, car users demand more lanes, and the pressure can literally push others off the road. Some recent Caltrans suggestions include gobbling up shoulder and outside-lane space that bicyclists need to share the road.

Motor-only roads are not the answer! It's another step down the road where the biggest, most powerful users get the right-of-way and everyone else - including emergency needs - can get the shaft. If you happen to have the bad luck to stall on a bridge or area without a shoulder or breakdown lane, then too bad. Collisions into stationary vehicles are, by the way, a major cause of highway fatalities.

San Diego has a generally good record of installing and providing bike lanes and road space that cyclists and others need to be able to share the road. Let's not go retrograde in the rush to solve our other failures to control development and transportation planning.

Residents and tourists of all ages find that San Diego provides a great climate along with interesting places to bicycle. Bicycling is the most energy efficient form of transportation known. Bicycling improves the quality of life in communities by reducing traffic congestion, noise, and air and water pollution. Increasing numbers of businesses have installed secure bicycle parking, showers, and guaranteed rides home in case of emergencies. Electric bicycles are coming on to the market to provide assists along San Diego's famously hilly terrain.

In 1994, the federal government created an interagency task force for bicycling and walking. It told its members to think of more and safer ways for cyclists and walkers to get around. Task force member John Fegan works full time on bicycle and pedestrian issues at the Department of Transportation, promoting trails and road designs that are good for biking: wide shoulders and lanes for cyclists on roads and striped bike lanes along highways.

"Motorists feel that bicyclists may not belong on the road," Fegan said. "We're trying to say they have a right to be on the road and provide facilities for their safety." The Clean Air Act has encouraged more federal funding for bike trails, bike racks and other programs that help cyclists and, in turn, cut car exhaust.

Most car trips are less than seven miles. Substituting a bike for short trips makes so much sense, for so many reasons. Health wise, biking provides aerobic exercise at any level of effort you choose, instead of being slouched in a car seat. Environmentally, the only better option is walking. There is no fossil fuel used, no poisonous cold-start emissions, no noise, etc. Economically, the direct costs to operate, insure and maintain a standard car are averaging over 45 cents/mile - that's $3.15 for that seven mile trip or $375/month for the average car owner! The indirect costs of car use and abuse is far higher to all of us, including global climate change.

Better bicycles are available now at very reasonable prices, especially compared to the costs of car purchase/ownership. "Town bikes" adult "tri-cycles" for short trip errands come with easy-to-use gearing, reliable braking, fenders to keep you dry and the bike clean, chain guards so you don't have to change clothes to ride, great lighting systems, sturdy locks and racks, and baskets or trailers to carry home almost anything you'd put in a car.

Finally, bicycling is refreshing FUN! The motion, balance, breeze, the opportunity to be outside experiencing the best route to be found, is a great release. Bicycling brings people out of their metal boxes (cars) to be _in_ the community, not just passing through behind glass and metal skins.

The number of people cycling to work and for other errands is on the rise. They do it to stay fit, to be ecologically correct, to save on parking and to swap expensive car stress for a little bit of fun. How can you join in? The month of May is "Clean Air Month" as proclaimed in the American Lung Association of California's efforts to promote air quality. May is also "National Bike Month" as proclaimed by the League of American Bicyclists to encourage bicycling as a means of transportation and recreation. May 21st is "California Bike Commute Day" throughout the state and "Bike to Work Day" in San Diego.

You probably already have a bicycle. Pump up the tires. Get it tuned by a friend or your neighborhood bike shop. Ride around the block - then do it twice the next day. Find a competent bicyclist to learn from. There are plenty of bicycling clubs with rides geared for beginners and the Sierra Club has a Bicycling Section.

Bicyclists share the roads using the same rules, with the same rights as all other drivers of vehicles. There are bicycling skills to be learned just as there were when you learned to drive a car, or to surf, hike, swim. The book _Effective Cycling_ by John Forester and the courses based on it offered by the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, can help you. You can learn techniques for bike choice, handling, braking, gear selection, dealing with traffic situations, and tips on where to be on the road. The SDCBC hotline (619)685-7742 is available 24 hours per day to provide information on events and classes and for bicyclists to report problems or request assistance. The San Diego Regional Bike Route Map provides information about bike paths, lanes and suggested routes. To register for Bike to Work day or request the free Route Map call: (619) 237-POOL.

Carolyn Chase is editor of the San Diego Earth Times,, and Chair of the San Diego Sierra Club. She can be reached at . Credit and thanks to Jim Baross, Jr.,, Chair of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition for providing the insights and facts for this column.