I need to express my disappointment in the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission’s actions on Aug. 14.
The commission let a room dominated by one group of outspoken, retired, upper-middle-class residents cloud the vision of what is best for the entire community and made recommendations out of their purview.
Many of these residents acted like misbehaving school children, clapping when they agreed with people, laughing out loud and sniggering when they did not agree without any attempt from the commission to ask that they respectfully follow the rules of the chamber. It was infuriating.
The commission opted to let one representative from one group of neighbors speak for 10 minutes, claiming that he was speaking for the neighborhood, then the 14 people he represents spoke after him as well and wasted our time repeating the same half-truths and flat-out non-truths.
To top it all off, the commission voted to go against staff’s guidance with a traffic-calming pilot, when staff’s presentation clearly showed this will not get us into the realm of a safe, comfortable, shared-street situation.
I understand the commission is exhausted from voting on housing developments and tough issues that are often against the wishes of the majority of the people in the room at the mercy of our state regulations.
I understand residents are feeling the pressure of a rapidly growing community. That does not mean we should give up our responsibility to the greater community. Given the choice to make personal sacrifice for the greater good, most people will not make the change on their own accord, so it’s up to our leaders to guide us in the right direction, even if the decisions are not popular.
We are facing growing pains here and many people don’t want to face it. We can’t go back to 1970, the world is changing, and the population is growing, so to move forward we must rely on our planning documents and the knowledge of our experts to shape our future. We’re not asking everyone to get out of their cars and on to bikes, but we are asking for a change in how we use our public right-of-way to accommodate all users of the roadway in a safe manner, which may come at the expense of some of the conveniences people are used to. It’s a paradigm shift that must happen.
My fellow SLO Streets for All supporters are mostly young working families with children and time constraints that make it difficult to attend every public meeting. Instead, a few of us went to the meeting to try to dispel the narrative that that the entire neighborhood doesn’t want change and say, “Hey, we live here too and something big needs to happen.”
Apparently we needed to fill the chamber and waste everyone’s time. Our Planning Commission is supposed to represent our entire community and weigh in on matters affecting our planning documents; it was in their purview to accept or deny the recommendation to reclassify the street designation. It was not in their purview to recommend traffic calming without full understanding of the history of this project or to recommend an education program to reach out to cyclists on how to share the road with cars.
Their recommendation was like a slap in the face to those of us advocating for safer streets for all roadway users. We agree bicycle rider education is important and we applaud the efforts of Bike SLO County for their education programs. However, the danger here does not solely lie in the hands of the person riding the bike, more likely it rests in the hands of impatient car drivers who don’t realize they are maneuvering deadly weapons.
And while accidents may not occur that often, the near misses discourage many people from choosing to ride their bike or walk. Are we here to say that the safety of a child riding a bike or the health of our environment is simply not worth a sacrifice in parking or a few extra seconds on a car commute? I heard many times at the meeting, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” and “It’s not like anyone has been killed here.”
If it’s not broken, then why is the percentage of children who live within a mile of their school who bike or walk there down from 89 percent in 1969 to just 35 percent in 2009? And have you already forgotten that Kennedy Love was killed on Foothill, right at the end of this corridor? Are we willing to wait until more people are injured or killed to make a change?
Here’s to hoping you will open your minds to the changes that are coming and help us make the tough decisions that will guide our happy, healthy community into a sustainable future.
Please consider sending a letter of support for protected bike lanes and safer sidewalks to SLOStreetsForAll@gmail.com. and please write to the council in support of Anholm Bikeway (formally Broad Street Bike Boulevard) Plan, which will be discussed at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m.
Chenin Otto is an Anholm resident, a civil engineer and a SLO Streets for All supporter.
This Viewpoint was updated to correct the percentage of children who walked or bike to school in 1969.