The following article was posted on July 21st, 2011, in the
New Times - Volume 25, Issue 51
SLO cyclists get new lanes
BY ROBERT A. McDONALD
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 vehicle 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
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