San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), a regional transportation organization, approved an historic $200 million for bicycle paths in the region. SANDAG hopes to complete 77 miles of new bicycle facilities within the next 10 years. That averages out to $2.6 million a mile.
There’s one short downtown section that looks like only three or four miles, and is budgeted at $23 million. But according to a group called Great Streets San Diego, they should be spending a lot more. In their blog, a writer named Walter Chambers says, “This is truly historic for San Diego, and a major step for bicycle transportation. It has been praised by nearly all local bicycle advocacy groups and alternative transportation groups. GSSD applauds this move too. But let’s put SANDAG’s $200 million / 77 miles in 10 years in perspective:”
“Chicago has set a goal of 662 bicycle miles by 2020 (7 years) – an increase of over 400 miles of bike facilities. New York City has added over 200 miles of new bike facilities in the last 3 years. Minneapolis plans to add 240 miles of new bikeways in 20 years. Portland approved $613 million for 662 miles over the next 20 years. So while San Diego should pat itself on the back for making a big leap (relative to its past spending), let’s remember, we are still very, very far behind. Nothing short of a “Manhattan Project” for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit programs will bring us up to world-class status in 20 years. We do want world-class status – don’t we?”
Well, does San Diego really want world-class bicycle status, Mr. Chambers? If that’s what it costs? When will somebody stick a broom in the spokes of municipal bike mania and launch its leaders over the handlebars into the real world? The fact is, people who commute by bicycle in San Diego make up one per cent of the population, and they want much more than their fair share of San Diego’s asphalt budget.
But Chambers does a great job of making it clear how deeply the bicycle lobbies have burrowed into the budgets of American cities. In my home county, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority recently announced a $350 million fantasy plan that would create a 1,060 mile bike network. This would quadruple the number of bike path and bike lane miles in Sonoma County, making it one of the most cycling-friendly places in the nation.
Sonoma County is already one of the least car-friendly places in the country. There are over thirteen hundred miles of roads, and the county admits 2/3 of them are failed or failing. Once a road fails, restoring it costs almost a million dollars a mile. And the county’s road repair budget is only $16 million this year. At that rate, Sonoma County roads will be just fine by the time our grandchildren have Alzheimers.
Officials acknowledge there is little chance the whole network will be completed anytime soon. But they claim that making a wish list that includes every one of the 977 segments in the proposed network helps secure funding when the opportunity arises.
“Bike projects are different than other projects,” said Janet Spilman, deputy director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “They are largely opportunistic. It’s a good idea to keep the list fresh.”
Ken Tam, a park planner with Sonoma County Regional Parks, gave further evidence of the frightening ways local government wonks think about other people’s money. “Without having a project identified in a planning document, the county cannot proceed with a project,” said. “In order to qualify for state and federal funding, it’s got to be in a document.”
Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, explained this mindset even more bluntly. “Everything is thrown in there to make sure that when there’s money we can grab a project off the list,” he said.
What was not mentioned anywhere was the total cost to prepare this document, but I’m sure it could have fixed a lot of potholes.