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SLO cyclists get new lanes

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San Luis Obispo cyclists won a major victory on the night of July 19.

The San Luis Obispo City Council approved two bicycle lanes on a section of Johnson Avenue that runs below the Union Pacific railroad bridge. The area is well known for being dangerous for cyclists who sometimes use the sidewalks to avoid the swift-moving traffic. Cars and trucks have also had issues traveling on the road as it sweeps and curves under the bridge. There have been more than 90 accidents in the area since 1999.

Currently, the road is four lanes wide as it passes beneath the bridge and allows shortcut-seeking drivers to use Pismo and Buchon streets to quickly get downtown. Because of the high speeds at which most vehicles travel on that section of Johnson and the useful exits along the road, homeowners on the two side streets have been known to find cars that didn’t quite manage the turns in their front yards. The neighborhood has become the second highest accident-prone area in the city.

“Who’s going to pay the price for excessive traffic?” asked Dave Kirkendall, a Pismo Street resident near Johnson, who had the battle-hardened look of someone who lives on a fast-moving thoroughfare. “Will it be the motorist who will lose a few minutes or will it be the neighborhood and its loss of safety?”

City traffic engineers wanted to reduce the four lanes down to two thru lanes, one turn lane, and two bicycle lanes. They believe the change would slow down traffic and make the surrounding neighborhood more safe and livable.

Bicyclists turned out in force for the meeting, saying they desperately wanted to get the bike lanes on Johnson. It’s a risky ride, they said, to dodge cars as they sweep under the railroad bridge on the swift-moving roadway.

Many of the speakers at the meeting were cyclists and strenuously reminded the council of its commitment to a bicycle-friendly city.

If there was one focal point for bicyclist angst, it was Dave Romero, the ex-mayor and living embodiment of 20th century pro-car road values.

The cyclists groaned, grumbled, and hissed throughout Romero’s presentation, especially when he asked for a minute more time than the other speakers, a request that was denied.

“This vital link must operate as efficiently as possible,” said Romero, who added that he had made the trip under the bridge more than 50,000 times and had examined the issues of traffic flow in the area many times as a former director of Public Works for the city. “The changes will do more harm than good.”

Romero’s pleas failed to move the council, especially with the almost universal support of the surrounding neighborhood and the intense pressure from the bicycle mob.

In the end, even Romero seemed OK with the outcome.

“I hope it works; I really do,” he said. “If it doesn’t, we’re in terrible shape.” ∆

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