SANDAG is preparing to implement bicycle improvements to Pershing Drive in the near future, creating a safe and functional route from North Park and surrounding communities to Downtown. This is part of the $200M SANDAG bicycle corridors program which has yet to stripe a single foot of bike lane in the nearly 3 years since being announced. The first project, running through Hillcrest, gutted the most important segment – an east-west connection to North Park – at the last moment as detailed in this film by Dennis Stein.
Pershing Drive is very different from University Avenue; it lies in a park rather than popular communities. Pershing Drive is currently a fantastic bicycle connection in many ways. It runs through the middle of Balboa Park’s open space area. Heading into town it offers gorgeous views of Los Coronados islands, Coronado Bridge, and Downtown. It connects the densely populated neighborhoods of Uptown and Mid-City to Downtown. However, it is also very intimidating to bike on. The painted lanes are adjacent to high-speed roadways with speed limits of 45-50 MPH (and we all know that 5-10 above that is the likely reality). Heading into Downtown, cyclists need to cross two separate onramps to Interstate 5, while drivers are ramping up to Interstate speeds. Both onramps lie behind curving corners with limited visibility.
I’ve been writing about the dangers of biking on Pershing Drive since early 2014 and serious injuries continue to accrue.
So how do we best create a functional, safe and protected bicycle corridor on Pershing Drive? Following are a number of specific ideas for what this project should look like. We should start with context and a general guideline. This project lies in the heart of Balboa Park – it should connect with and enhance the park, not take away from it. A guideline that should lead any transport project is to put people first – and that means pedestrians first, bicycles second, public transit third, and private automobile fourth. This is the hierarchy of preference used by the City of Chicago Department of Transportation and one that San Diego should adopt.
The Pershing Drive bicycle corridor should establish a two-way bike lane and two-way walking / running path adjacent to the Balboa Park golf course on the south / east side of Pershing Drive. The entry point would be located at Redwood & 28th. By siting the path on this side of Pershing the major friction points of the I-5 onramps are avoided (which fall under CalTrans purview and would be very difficult to address). It also presents the opportunity to put those biking or jogging in a shaded and enjoyable place along the roadway.
- Connect the two halves of Bird Park at the north terminus of Pershing Drive (at 28th Street) and direct traffic either east on Redwood or north on Arnold. This will add parkland and avoid much of the backup that results from the awkward and overly large intersection now present at that location.
- Reduce speeds for the entirety of Pershing Drive from the current 45-50 MPH to 35 MPH maximum and 25 MPH within 1,000 feet of the terminus at either end.
- Add a path for those biking, walking, or jogging along the south side of the Naval Hospital to add a connection from Golden Hill and South Park to Balboa Park, as well as a connection for those traversing the improved Pershing Drive bicycle corridor.
- Create dedicated and protected space for running / walking / jogging as well as for bicycling. Pershing Drive runs through the heart of Balboa Park and the context of this project matters. We should seek to improve the park as a whole with any project lying inside it. The space for biking and jogging should be protected by a concrete barrier or other substantial method.
- Reduce Pershing Drive to one travel lane in each direction. There is one through street that intersects Pershing Drive currently – Florida Drive / 26th Street (the road changes names at the intersection). Other than this street there are only entry points for service yards and parking lots at the Velodrome and the Morley Field frisbee golf course. This matters because a prominent reason for back-up on a street can be waiting for an opportunity to turn. That option is very limited on Pershing Drive, greatly reducing the need for additional traffic lanes.
- Establish trees on both sides of Pershing Drive as protective barriers for the bicycle lanes (on the south / east side) and for the running paths on the opposite side of the roadway.
- Establish vines on the high fences adjacent the Balboa Park golf course and a tree line inside the fence on the golf course to provide shade for the bicycle path, better utilize the irrigation on the course, provide privacy for golf course users, and improve the aesthetics of the road for drivers.
- Utilize a maximum lane width of 10 feet for all travel lanes on Pershing Drive. Any additional space should be reverted to parkland and narrower traffic lanes will decrease the incentive to speed on the roadway.
- To connect the Pershing Drive bicycle corridor to adjacent neighbors add additional bicycle infrastructure on adjoining streets. These include: close Florida Drive to vehicle traffic to restore Florida Canyon while incorporating a biking and walking path. Add a painted bike line going up 26th Street into Golden Hill – the current road width does not appear to have sufficient space for a lane on both sides and the high speed differential going uphill warrants a lane before one descending onto Pershing or Florida.
Additional details will follow this post, including street sketches and other visuals. The important thing is to gather community support for real improvements now, and to do so in a constructive way. This is not about bikes vs. cars – it’s about taking real action about public health, climate change, quality of life, park space. In general, it’s about making the project area better for all San Diegans. We cannot afford to let basic, functional bicycle infrastructure get axed in a program specifically designed to create bicycle infrastructure, as happened in Hillcrest.
I would love feedback and criticisms or additional suggestions regarding Pershing Drive. Please drop them in the comments, social media, or email. Thank you.