Nearly a year ago, San Diego did something drastic: It adopted a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035. National praise poured in.

But when the plan was being written in 2014, city staffers said one of the plan’s main goals wasn’t based on anything and that they didn’t think the city had any real chance of reaching it, according to emails released by the city as part of a public records request.

Three high-ranking staffers dismissed the idea that by 2020, 6 percent of people living in certain areas would commute by bike, and that 18 percent would by 2035.

Linda Marabian, deputy director of traffic engineering for the city, told a group of city planners that the targets were arbitrary – they “did not come from anything measurable or related to actual increased ridership,” she wrote in an email.

“I do not want to have to defend or explain why we did not get even close to a measure that is not based on anything,” Marabian wrote.

At the time, about 1 percent of the city biked to work. Marabian suggested dropping the targets to 3 percent by 2020 and 9 percent by 2035. That way, the city could just say it would triple bike commuters by 2020, and triple them again 15 years later.

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“My triple assumption is based on what other City’s (sic) have been able to accomplish and something somewhat realistic and aggressive,” she wrote.

As it turned out, the city didn’t need to change anything to follow her advice. The plan’s goal applies only to people who live within a half mile of a major transit stop. In those areas, the percentage of existing bike commuters is closer to 2 percent.

Starting at 2 percent instead, Marabian’s call to triple the number by 2020 and again by 2035 happens to work out with the targets the city was already using.

Senior engineer Brian Genovese wrote in another email that without any policy changes, the city expected there to be no significant increase in bike commuting by either 2020 or 2035.

Nancy Bragado, the city’s former deputy director of planning, chimed in a few days later to say the City Council and mayor wanted aggressive targets, even if staff couldn’t provide data supporting that they were realistic.

“We should also add more explanation that these are ambitious targets that will require significant city council actions as well as widespread public participation,” Bragado wrote.

For San Diego bike commuting to boom as envisioned, the city would need to do things like change community plans to allow more dense housing near job centers, build more bike lanes with physical separation from cars to make would-be cyclists feel safer or decrease parking requirements on buildings to discourage driving.

One year in, the city is ahead of schedule on the Climate Action Plan’s overall emissions reduction goals. But the city has a mixed record following through with decisions that would substantially increase bike commuting.

Last year, the city adopted new community plans in four urban neighborhoods, Golden Hill, North Park, Uptown and San Ysidro. The city acknowledges none of those plans make good on its goal for bike commuters.

The City Council has approved a plan to build nine miles of bike lanes throughout downtown, although it’s only partially funded so far. Cycling activists told KPBS last week they were growing impatient with the city’s progress building bike infrastructure, especially after engineers folded on a plan to build protected bike lanes on El Cajon Boulevard in the face of neighborhood opposition.

A spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer declined to comment for this story. Marabian told KPBS the city was ahead of schedule on its 6 percent goal for 2020, and is looking for ways to speed up building everything included in its bike master plan, an outline of various types of bike projects citywide.

But in another 2014 email, Genovese said building everything in the city’s existing bike master plan still wouldn’t be enough to meet the city’s goals.

“It is my opinion that these goals can only be achieved by a connected system of protected bikeways, which is not part of the current bike master plan,” he wrote.

    This article relates to: Bike Plans, Bike Policy, Climate Action Plan, Climate Change, Environmental Regulation, Government, Must Reads, Science/Environment

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0529.

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    In a presentation of its strange negative ideology to SANDAG Directors, the effectiveness of impeding use of the public favorite auto mode, Active Transportation achieves 0.1 percent.**

    Example objective is to eliminate 50% of demand for autos travel, ~60 million passenger-miles, AT would contribute 60 thousand. Assuming 75% from  bikes, is 45 thousand.

    That's equivalent t to about 2 miles of autos one typical freeway lane.

    At a conservative 40 p-m per gallon that's 1,125 gallons saved.

    SDForward shows autos save over 2.5 million gallons daily.

    Bike share of thee is ~0.045 %.

    Does that justify $2 billion or so  transportation funds for widespread bike trails?

    **For comparison the $40 billion new and improved mass transit would give 10% of reduction desired. Big item is work at home,33%, and financial penalty for owning and driving autos, 25.3%.

    Productivity loss would be ??

    Daniel Smiechowski
    Daniel Smiechowski subscriber

         I am very upset. I repeat that I am very upset. I saw this coming as I am elected to the Claremont Planning Group and have voiced concerns at many public forms except nobody paid attention. We have a so called bike lane to nowhere in Claremont where at least one person has died and multiple people injured. Councilmember Cate told me this fiasco cost taxpayers at least $120,000 !!!  My God!!!  What about the homeless? I am a fifty year resident of D2! Think twice if you feel I don't know my onions!  I am one of San Diego's original Ironmen and have been on a bike since 1959. I have travelled the world with my bike, have a second home in France and practically sleep with my bike but this plan is plain stupid! Clairemont is not North Park! Clairemont folks are still stuck in what Peter Navarro labeled as the Plant 19 mentality. These folks for the most part do not know what a bike is let alone ride a bike. And it ain't changing folks!  The City is wasting precious resources with this nonsense in Clairemont. I AM A CANDIDATE FOR COUNCIL D2!!  WILL YOU SUPPORT ME? God bless, Danny   Photo: 1993 Danny

    Richard Bagnell
    Richard Bagnell subscriber

    This fantasy of bike travel in the plan is very funny.  With our aging population, I predict that by 2020, we will have more bike lane symbols painted on the roads than bike riders........

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    @Richard Bagnell You're half right.  Most Adults want to drive rather than bike and the population is aging so that biking will be less possible for the majority of the population, in the future.  

    What you have not considered is that those bikeways are going to be repurposed by Seniors.  It is already common in City Heights.  Bikeways will soon be Senior Ways 

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    The City's Climate Action Plan was just a START not the solution.  Here is a copy of my testimony to the Council at the time of the CAP's consideration.


    2411 Shamrock Street

    City Heights, California 92105

    As Leaders, the Mayor and Council can no longer adopt politically correct public Climate Action Plans and then continue to fund and enable the high carbon generating Tourism /Hospitality sector and un constrained development.  The Courts have not supported this “Business As Usual” approach – Sierra Club v County of San Diego

    A serious Climate Action Plan would begin the transition away from the high polluting / carbon generating Tourism / Hospitality industrial sector to cleaner less impact economic base. Illustrative of the CO2 creating economy that our City Leaders fund promote and enable are the San Diego Regional Airport’s nearly 19 million passengers and nearly 200,000 flight operations (See: ) and the  more than 4 million annual visitors each on city land leased to Zoo Global and SeaWorld ( See: ). City leadership must stop funding, enabling, and promoting tourism and switch these resources to other climate friendly businesses.  Budget is policy; stop spending money that promotes harm and fosters climate changing CO2.

    Here are some next steps, past “Business As Usual”:

    1.STAINABILLITY IMPACT ANALYSIS: Require a Sustainability Impact Analysis for each major contractual or budgetary expenditure.  Analysis should cover Climate Change Impacts, Water used, Storm Water generated, Traffic generated, Growth Induced and related items.

    2.ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING AND REFOCUS:  Begin a deliberate restructuring and refocusing of the economic sectors enabled and fostered by City Budget spending.  Select industries based on their climate action plan sustainability and wage potential for residents.

    3.PLAN FOR OCEAN RISE AND FLOODING:  Revise development code and planning documents to begin to move major public and private building investments out of the likely future flood zones.  Require insurances and bonds for structure removal and discontinuation of City services to these areas so that taxpayers are required to pay for flood prone developments.

    4.TRANSITION TO EXECUTIVE AND EMPLOYEE ELECTRIC VEHICALS AND TRANSIT NOW: Adopt policies and plans to provide City reimbursement of Car Allowances and mileage only to Zero Emission Vehicles, beginning with the officials elected in 2016.  Employee parking for non-Zero Emission Vehicles should be phased out over the next 5 years.

    Most native San Diegans would agree that our region has declined over the past 50 years.  Housing is less affordable, water, more polluted, beaches less accessible schools of lesser quality and roads more congested.  City leadership has bought into a vision that enriches developers and promotes growth toward becoming a Mega City, from Baja to Oceanside.  This Noah Cross vision of becoming the Shanghai of California does not  profit our people, but the old developers and is incompatible with a meaningful Climate Action Plan.

    Again thank you and your very talented team for a good beginning.  Adopt it, after further review and revision, as a very first step on a long marathon race to avoid the Sixth Extinction.


     John Stump         

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    So the Climate action plan was implemented with goals city staff did not think were attainable and on top of that  the city is open to lawsuits if the goals are not met.


    Jerry Hall
    Jerry Hall subscribermember

    @Mark Giffin ...and aggressively promoted it nationally as fact. Disappointing at best. Do people actually believe this stuff won't one day be revealed? 

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    "a connected system of protected bikeways" is exactly what the city should be building now, if its serious about encouraging more people to commute by bike. Just painting stripes on some streets, but not others, is no way to ensure people they can commute by bike safely. Dodging cars and trucks on paved streets is not a safe way to bicycle around the city. ,


    It doesn't seem like san diego or CA have studied the lessons of Germany and Denmark, which are scaling back massive investments in solar and wind because of high costs and because their grids can't handle intermittent surges at low demand periods, so they have to pay other countries to take their surplus.

    Arizona gets paid by CA rate payers to take surplus electricity at low demand, the more solar CA produces, the more CA pays AZ to accept that surplus power.

    The climate bill was written by philosophers, not engineers, to financially benefit attorneys.

    rhylton subscriber


    • Texas leads the nation in wind-powered generation capacity with more than 18,500 megawatts; in 2014 and 2015, Texas wind turbines produced more electricity than the state's two nuclear plants. 

    Any climate-change opponent who does not discuss the adoption of solar and wind systems, and their success, in the fossil-fuel state of Texas is guilty of Red Herring propaganda, no matter how clever they try to seem..

    rhylton subscriber

    @BRYAN HERRING That is the type of thing that I was looking for; stubborn facts! Most people think that 7% is substantial. I suppose that they are not very smart.

    estrella de la cort
    estrella de la cort

    Take a look at the numbers. In the addendum for the CAP, the expected accomplishments for each CAP strategy are laid out.
    IF and only if the bike commuting public increases sixfold, (P. 38, CAP.)  by 2020, the ghg reduction will be  31,393 metric tons out of a total reduction of 3,967,915 metric tons total. By 2035, it will be 74,563 metric tons of 9,846,729 metric tons total.
    That's less than 1 percent of the total GHG reduction and it declines over time! 
    That's the story here. 
    Trees do more 50 percent more work than 6 times the current number of bicyclists. 

    rhylton subscriber

    Ah, come on now! City officials or employees taking positions or making announcements that are based on nothing is nothing new.  Look only to the claim that disparities of police-bias disappeared in 2015 and when 2014 data was combined with that from 2015. If that is not enough, look at how high school graduation rates were improved.

    Impolite people call it telling lies. I am impolite.