What is San Luis Obispo doing to its streets?

March 22, 2023
T. Keith Gurnee

T. Keith Gurnee

Opinion by T. Keith Gurnee

In recent years, the City of San Luis Obispo has spent millions of dollars reconfiguring many of its streets to accommodate protected bike lanes. In the process, the city is essentially “tagging” its streets with garish and unsightly “road graffiti” that is impairing the functionality of our circulation system while diminishing the livability of our neighborhoods.

Driven by the all-powerful bike lobby that dominates the Alternative Transportation Commission, the city has been making a joke of its streets. With their exclusive bike lanes and the veritable pantheon of visual clutter that adorns them, it’s a bad joke at that.

With swaths of bright green paint bounded by bright white lines, these bike lanes beg the question: has the city cornered the market on green paint? Throw in some bristling, shiny white plastic pylons and black and white striped lumps bolted to the street, the city has been transforming its roadways into an embarrassing mess that is an insult to our senses.

How are these so-called “improvements” negatively affecting the safety and convenience of our road network? For example, take the following:

1. Installing protected bike lanes along downtown Higuera and Marsh streets required reducing the number of travel lanes from three to two lanes, thereby constraining the loading zones for truck deliveries. On Higuera Street, delivery trucks often park in one of the remaining travel lanes to load and unload, requiring cars to use only the leftmost lane to get by.

When that loading and unloading takes place, it has essentially turned Higuera Street into a congested one lane road. For cars trying to park on the left side of Higuera creates further congestion and passengers can’t open and exit their right-side doors in the face of oncoming traffic.

2. The new tortured entrance to the post office on Madonna Road won’t allow left turns out onto Madonna Road. Instead, cars must turn to the right out of the post office, drive to a traffic circle a quarter-mile away, and then drive back to make a left turn on Madonna Road. Crazy!

3. Then there’s a bike path in the sidewalk along the north side of Madonna Rd. that puts bikes and pedestrians in conflict with each other. Isn’t riding bikes on a sidewalk illegal?

4. And then there’s the “lovely” entrance to Costco with its painted raised concrete islands which force abnormally wide turning movements into and out of the complex.

5. As for those bike lanes protected by concrete curbs, they’ll probably eventually require special equipment to sweep the lanes free of debris. As of now, they will have to be swept by hand, placing another burden on the city’s maintenance personnel.

What’s inexplicable is the outrageous expenditure of taxpayer’s funds to accommodate the surprisingly few cyclists who actually use these pricey facilities. Yet the city is so proud of itself that it’s sponsoring a celebration of the Higuera/Marsh mess sometime next month. Go figure.

But more has yet to come. The Alternative Transportation Commission has plans to ram exclusive bike paths to wipe out on street parking in a number of San Luis Obispo’s residential neighborhoods. The first one of these is the so-called North Chorro Street Greenway through the historic Anholm tract.

On March 7, our City Council approved $6.3 million – nearly six times the original budget for the project – to build an utterly unnecessary set of exclusive bikeways along the inherently and historically safe Chorro and Broad Street corridors that will eliminate over 90 heavily used on- street parking spaces in the neighborhood. Where will those cars park when this is done?

When this idea came up back in 2016, 74% of the neighborhood overwhelmingly opposed it. Vice Mayor Jan Marx was the only council member who supported the neighborhood. The other four were giddy in approving it.

Part II of this piece will examine the absurdity of this project which amounts to little more than a city sponsored act of vandalism against a peaceful neighborhood.

After all, neighborhoods used to matter in San Luis Obispo. Previous City Councils respected our neighborhoods, but this one doesn’t. Driven by a selfish, single-minded, and powerful special interest group of ideologues determined to impose their will upon the residents of a peaceful neighborhood, this City Council has bought into this zany and fiscally irresponsible idea lock, stock, and barrel.

If this can happen to the Anholm neighborhood, your neighborhood could be next.

T. Keith Gurnee is a former San Luis Obispo councilman who has been involved in local politics for more than 40 years.

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Hey TKG, maybe if you would start taking “bribes,” (sorry, I meant “donations”) from local marijuana moguls it would help you better understand SLO’s modern traffic planning. Besides, it’s the only way you’ll ever get elected Mayor again.

Keith, you speak for so many of us. If the half lit (LED) bulbs understood who actually vote in SLO city elections, they might have a moment of clarity. The percentage of actual long term city residents voting, pales in comparison to the 18-23 year old voters, whom in many cases receive ballots here and in the hometowns they actually call ‘home’. That’s where their families live. What a concept! Students get to vote! And they do! They elected one of their teachers and she is now mayor! Can’t make this crap up.

Funny, Atascadero did similar things on 41 and not a peep. Keith, you have such great insights you should share them by running for public office. Oh yeah, two absolutely crushing defeats.

ATown didn’t create a fiasco with traffic to have their bike lanes. Not like SLO!

Let’s see millions to fix roads or bike lanes…..

I understand that long time SLO residents view the upgrades to parking and bike lanes confusing. However, if you travel to other Cities in the state and around the country, this is the trend in design. SLO is ahead of the curve (as always) much like the no smoking, no plastic bags, etc. policies that became normal occurrences and codes in other cities and states. Reducing number of lanes downtown and side streets also serves to slow traffic which makes it safer. Bikes are evolving too: more stable and electric to accommodate different user needs and small hilly terrain. Change can be hard, until that “change” becomes the norm. And Gurnee, your time has past. You tried to run for Mayor 2x and weren’t elected.