One of the most time and resource-intensive activities San Diegans engage in is transporting themselves and family members to meet every day needs. But what if a major event, such as an earthquake or gasoline price shock were to disrupt the system? Many of us are completely dependent on our cars to get around and we’ve paid the price through our wallets and waistlines. A truly resilient community must offer truly safe and inviting alternatives to the car.
The millennial generation is less inclined to own a car – or turn it into a lifestyle – with many preferring to live where walking, cycling, and transit are easy to use. As a result, cities hoping to attract their talents (and reduce emissions and congestion) have begun building protected bike lanes and safer pedestrian networks. One new form of this is “urban trails” that convert underused street space to distinctive bike/walk paths. And where urban trails have been installed, attractive, mixed-use development has sprung up to take advantage.
The transition to walk and bike-friendly streets can be rocky. In June, a key segment of SANDAG’s planned protected bikeway project, the Uptown Bikeways Project, was removed due to opposition from merchants fearful about losing parking spaces. From other cities, this fear is common but misplaced. Protected bikeways and walkable streets open up communities to a large, underserved population – people in the neighborhood who would love to walk or bike to a local store but instead end up driving to another one with more parking. Locked into car-centric design, they see little choice.
A flurry of recent studies show that making transformative investments in walking and biking is a measurable, winning formula for health, the economy, and community resilience. Monetizing the benefits, a return on investment of 10:1, 20:1, even 100:1 is typical, depending on what’s counted. Once San Diegans experience the type of facilities found in New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and other cities, they’ll wonder why it took so long. But through trial and error, and learning together, we WILL get there.
Article written by County of San Diego Supervising Air Resources Specialist and Live Well San Diego Champion, Andy Hamilton