San Diego County Bicycle Coalition’s recent “Advocate of the Year,” Nicole Burgess, hopes to share that very experience with more San Diegans by lobbying for bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and inspiring a bike culture among San Diego’s youth to promote the next generation of cyclists within the city.
Through her work with the San Diego Bicycle Coalition, Bike SD and SAN-DAG’s Bike/Ped Working Group, she ultimately hopes to help transform San Diego into a world-class bicycling city that encourages everyday riding for all.
“You can see everything on a bike,” said Burgess. “You get to just be out there in the fresh air, and it’s exciting and fun. I believe in living in your small communities. I think any community — where you live and go to school — should be a beautiful place to ride.”
With that mantra in mind, the Ocean Beach resident began her grassroots bike-advocacy efforts from within the boundaries of her own community.
Three years ago, for example, Burgess started a bike train for students to Dana Middle School, starting with just her eldest daughter and a few of her neighbors. Over time, that number has grown to around 15 students, accompanied by a couple other parent chaperones who have volunteered their time to ensure the children get to their respective schools safely.
“I’m trying to advocate at the schools because the youth are my leaders,” Burgess said. “It’s their environment. It’s their beautiful earth that they get to enjoy. These kids can be our advocates, and I’m hoping that they will.”
By tailoring her message to today’s youth, she also hopes some teens will bypass investing in a car when they turn 16 because they have experienced the firsthand benefits of biking, particularly in light of the high death toll in adolescents and teens from motor vehicle accidents.
“We have 35,000 deaths a year just from cars,” she said. “You can be in a car and be taken out by a semi every day, but we don’t avoid that car. We think it’s safe. It’s the same thing on a bike — I’m at risk out there. Any day could be my last, but the amount of accidents that happen in a car far exceed those on a bike, where you’re going at a much slower speed.”
To ensure the safety of bikers and pedestrians on San Diego’s automobile-centric roadways, Burgess also helped found the San Diego City Council District 2 Bicycle-Pedestrian Working Group, which lobbies the city for infrastructure repairs and innovative solutions to transform communities spanning from downtown to Mission Bay into a more bicycle-friendly district.
“I believe San Diego has the potential to be a No. 1 bicycle-friendly city and one of the finest places to ride,” she said. “Pacific Beach is a prime example. It has all that bay and it’s so packed. People are all coming to Mission Beach to ride. It’s saying we want it. We have the weather, and we can have class-one facilities connecting our communities.”
In addition to spearheading the effort to get share-the-road (“sharrow”) signs on local roadways — which Burgess says are a useful, but temporary fix — she has also pinpointed much-needed repairs at specific sites within the beach communities, like the three blocks on Nimitz Boulevard between Oliphant and Evergreen streets, which were lined in late December with new buffered bike lanes, thanks to her efforts.
“The bike culture city is here. I can see that the momentum is here,” Burgess said. “In Portland, in the five to eight years they did all their infrastructure in the 1990s, what they spent on that was equivalent to one mile of highway construction. This is San Diego. We have beautiful weather. If Portland can do it, we should be able to increase our mode share to 20 percent.”
In addition to pressing for local projects that she said will help connect communities and boost their local economies, Burgess also envisions a bigger picture for the future of biking in San Diego.
“The city of San Diego is monstrous, and I personally think we need an advisory group for each district,” Burgess said. “My pitch would be to have a bike coordinator for each district in San Diego where they’re working together really implementing what can be done out there. We have thousands of bikers riding this coastline everyday. We need innovative stuff. We have so much money that goes into planning and prioritizing projects. We need to focus on what the community wants and what the community is ready for.”
With many more infrastructure projects to check off her list in the coming year, San Diego will undoubtedly see much more of Burgess in the future. In the meantime, she said, one of the best ways to advocate for the bike movement on an individual level is to simply get on a bike.
“Enjoy your community in 2013 and explore San Diego by bike,” she said.
The District 2 Bike-Ped Working Group meets every fourth Tuesday at St. Peter’s Church, located at 1371 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. The next meeting will take place on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.
For more information or to find out other ways to get involved, email Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org.