SANDAG’s regional bikeway program delayed a year, $79 million over budget

Andy Hanshaw, executive director San Diego Bicycle Coalition, rides past a large mural along the Bayshore Bikeway in Chula Vista. The large mural by Guillermo “Memuco” Munro is one of eleven large wall murals painted by various artist along the bike route.
Andy Hanshaw, executive director San Diego Bicycle Coalition, rides past a large mural along the Bayshore Bikeway in Chula Vista. The large mural by Guillermo “Memuco” Munro is one of eleven large wall murals painted by various artist along the bike route.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune

A $200 million plan to build 77 miles of bike lanes and pedestrian improvements throughout the San Diego region by 2023 is now behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

Top planning officials with the San Diego Association of Governments — which took up the ambitious project in 2013 — said that unforeseen delays in project approvals and rising construction costs are largely to blame.

In all, SANDAG now expects to construct 70 miles of bike lanes by 2024 at a cost $279 million. Officials said they hope to complete the remaining 7 miles at some point in the future.

“We’re committed to the entire program,” said Linda Culp, principal planner at SANDAG working on the Regional Bikeway Program. “The reality of it is, things happen.”

The agency has so far spent more than $123 million on the program — having completed 8.8 miles of lanes, with 16.1 miles under construction and another 44.7 miles in the design phase.

The 70-mile program includes 33 separate projects, such as upgrades to the Bayshore Bikeway, Coastal Rail Trail, Inland Rail Trail and a host of lanes within the city of San Diego.

Many of the proposed lanes would be protected from car traffic using either concrete curbs, parked cars or plastic bollards. Some are paths completely separated from road networks. A number of the projects include traffic circles and overhauled pedestrian crossings with flashing lights.

Culp said that despite the delays and rising costs, the program represents a major win for the region, especially for cities committed to addressing the climate crisis.

“It’s giving people another (transportation) choice,” she said. “It’s addressing climate action plans that all the local jurisdictions have. I think that’s a good-news story.”

Delays appear to be largely the result of disagreements over how the projects should be designed — with SANDAG staff, city planners and neighborhood residents struggling to come to consensus. Tensions seem to be the highest in urban neighborhoods where projects threaten to displace parking.

Prior to the Regional Bikeway Program, the agency had constructed less than 3 miles of bike lanes.

Beyond the loss of parking, neighborhood residents have expressed concerns that bicycle routes are being planned along busy corridors that are unsafe for riders. They have also questioned the use of traffic circles.

“We’re not against the bicycle stuff,” said Talmadge resident and engineer Ralph Teyssier. “We just want safe lanes, and SANDAG hasn’t been able to create one yet.

“They have people who don’t know what they’re doing,” he added. “They should not be in the business of designing bikeways on our streets.”

At the same time, some bicycle advocates have criticized city leaders, especially those sitting on SANDAG’s 21-person board, for allowing SANDAG’s bicycle projects to be repeatedly redesigned in order to please residents.

“The elected officials are catering too much to the small number of voices who oppose important bicycle projects,” said Colin Parent, executive director of nonprofit Circulate San Diego.

“It’s worth noting that a lot of this is on Mayor (Kevin) Faulconer,” he added. “If he wants to see this happen, he has to really step up and take leadership.”

Faulconer, who has pledged to increase bicycle ridership as part of the city’s climate plan, declined to comment for this story.

Fifty-one of the 70 miles of bike lanes planned by SANDAG are located in the city of San Diego. Of the nearly 9 miles so far completed, about 3 miles have been constructed in the city, including a small segment of the Bayshore Bikeway and a path along state Route 15 that connects Kensington and Mission Valley.

The lack of progress on the bikeway network is part of a broader issue facing many cities under pressure to rein in greenhouse gases. Reshaping auto-centric Southern California has proved complicated and politically fraught.

Experts have said that installing bike lanes at the expense of parking is a prime example of how cities can discourage car travel and help make rail systems more viable. That’s especially the case because safer bike routes can help commuters more easily access transit stops.

However, as state officials have called for limiting driving, local governments across California have balked at the difficult process of making neighborhoods denser and more dependent on walking, biking and transit.

Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said he remains optimistic that the lanes planned for the San Diego region will eventually materialize and lead to a significant rise in ridership.

“We’re not letting up on this whatsoever,” he said, “and we will make sure the city stays true to their commitment to do their part for the regional bike network.”

The next SANDAG bikeway project expected to be completed is a 3-mile stretch of the Inland Rail Trail between Vista and San Marcos. The agency then plans to finish the 2-mile Rose Creek section of the Coastal Rail Trail along Interstate 5 in the city of San Diego.

— Joshua Emerson Smith is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune