The California Coastal Commission has stopped bike lanes on the deadly Point Loma road

The California Coastal Commission has stopped bike lanes on the deadly Point Loma road

On October 30, a 41-year-old woman was riding her bicycle on West Point Loma Boulevard when an SUV driver hit her from behind. He survived, but was hospitalized with a broken pelvis.

The collision occurred on a stretch of road where city officials planned to install protected bike lanes earlier this month following a resurfacing project. But those plans have hit a roadblock with the California Coastal Commission, a state regulatory agency tasked with preserving coastal access.

Outside of San Diego’s coastal zone, recent laws and court decisions have given the city broad authority to install bike lanes on almost any street with little or no red tape, even if such projects require the elimination of parking or the reduction of the number of lanes.

But Point Loma’s blocked bike lane shows how the Coastal Commission, and the laws that create it, can make sustainable transportation infrastructure more laborious and expensive to install near the coast than elsewhere in the San Diego.

Stephan Vance, an Ocean Beach resident and board chairman of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said the commission is putting bureaucracy ahead of common sense.

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“We’re going to be reasonable about what we’re going to do to preserve the beach access, and at the same time protect the safety of people traveling regardless of where they’re going in town,” Vance said.

The Coastal Commission argued that it was simply enforcing state law, and that city officials had enough time to get the commission’s approval for the bike lanes.

“The commission strongly supports bike lanes as an important form of public access,” Kate Huckelbridge, executive director of the Coastal Commission, told KPBS in a statement. “We remain committed to expediting this project and working with the city to get it approved quickly and in accordance with the law.”

But it’s unclear if the city intends to resume the bike lanes anytime soon.

The road is back this month between Nimitz Boulevard and Adrian Street. Instead of delaying the project to accommodate the requests of the Coastal Commission, the city chose to keep the original street design. That configuration forces cyclists to share a lane with drivers — many of whom take the 40-mile-per-hour speed limit as a suggestion rather than a mandate.

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Vance said plans for protected bike lanes on West Point Loma Boulevard were requested several years ago by the Peninsula Community Planning Board. Residents are frustrated by the speed of the corridor and lack of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

At least two people have died in road crashes in the past two years, according to the city’s crash data. A pedestrian also suffered life-threatening injuries in the crash on October 10.

“People here want to be able to walk and bike, to cross the street safely,” Vance said.

City officials decided to redesign the street to preserve nearly all of the street parking, using it as a barrier to protect cyclists from traffic. The so-called “road diet” could also reduce the number of lanes in each direction from two to one, slowing traffic and reducing pedestrian crossing distances.

The problem: San Diego’s Local Coastal Program (LCP), a land use document that cannot be changed without Coastal Commission approval, designates West Point Loma Boulevard as a 4-lane road. Commission staff told the city if it wants to reduce the number of lanes, it must analyze the circulation impacts and apply for an LCP amendment.

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“Resurfacing and restriping is a simple thing for the city to do,” Vance said. “But if you start throwing in other bureaucratic processes, then it becomes a whole ball game and it’s much more difficult for the city to do projects like this.”

Coastal Commission staff say they are approving bike lanes faster than in the past, pointing to examples in Encinitas and Imperial Beach that took just three to four months. But that doesn’t include the time cities spend on the front end before officially submitting a bike lane project for commission approval.

However, commission staff say San Diego officials are aware of the process and should budget their time and resources accordingly.

“We met with the city over a year ago, and offered several options to move forward with this and other bike lane projects,” Huckelbridge said. “But they didn’t follow through.”