A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.
A new pedestrian bridge at the San Diego-Tijuana border over Interstate 5 opened in April to much ballyhoo, but Juan Antonio Ramirez of WalkSanDiego points out that as a result, people who take the trolley to San Ysidro have to walk farther to get to Tijuana.
"All this new infrastructure.... It's not pedestrian friendly," Ramirez (right) told a San Diego Association of Governments' (SANDAG) conference on enhancing transit and non-motorized mobility that was held at Caltrans on Tuesday.
Because the new bridge is farther north than the old bridge, which will be torn down as part of the configuration of the new port of entry being built, pedestrians who arrive on the east side of I-5 and want to cross to the west of the interstate to get into Mexico have to walk at least a couple hundred yards farther to get to the border.
However, this is due to change in the fall of next year, when a new pedestrian crossing into Mexico is due to open on the east side of I-5, which would mean that walkers would not have to backtrack to the new pedestrian bridge.
The old bridge (foreground) is farther south the new one (background). At right, a sign on the shut entrance to the old bridge tells people to use the new one.
In the meantime, people taking the trolley who want to walk a shorter distance to Mexico should get in the back cars of the trolley.
Ramírez said that unfortunately, transportation on the Tijuana side of the border is set up to benefit taxi companies and not less-polluting mass transit. "You can take transit, but it's not mass transit, it's mostly taxis libres" that carry one or two passengers, he said. He said people have to walk a long way to get a bus.
Jennifer Williamson, (left) a senior transportation planner at SANDAG, said that when the new San Ysidro border crossing is finished, it will likely be a haul to get to public transportation such as buses or to be picked up on the U.S. side, and they are likely to be in different locations. "It's going to take you a while. You're really going to need to know where you want to go when you get there," she said. The new crossing is scheduled to be finished in 2016. Previous story on border crossing construction.
She said work is being done to acquire property at the Otay Mesa crossing to make life easier for pedestrians seeking access to mass transportation there.
Stephan Vance, (right) a senior regional planner at SANDAG, spoke about bicycle use at the border, citing the "Riding to 2050: San Diego Regional Bicycle Plan." He said efforts are being made to try to get adequate bicycle parking on the U.S. side of the border and to explore the possibility of having a bicycle crossing lane. After the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks slowed traffic at the border crossing, some border crossers switched to riding bicycles: They were allowed to go ahead of other traffic in a vehicle lane. This was halted, however, and bicyclists had to go through the pedestrian lane after there was abuse of the system by entrepreneurs who rented bikes to pedestrians who then were able to cross the border more quickly. Bruce Ward, the assistant director of the Otay Mesa port of entry, also pointed out: "It's dangerous in the vehicle lanes for a bicycle."
Related story: Ward says Ready Lane at Otay Mesa is a success.
Vance said bicyclists are not allowed to cross the new pedestrian bridge, even though they could easily go up ramps for the handicapped. The speed at which bicyclists might travel on the bridge could pose problems for other travelers, however.
Photos: Bicycles are prohibited on the new pedestrian bridge, as seen on the sign in left photo, despite there being a handicapped access ramp that bicyclists could use. The exception to the rule is for Customs and Border Patrol officers, who can be seen on their bikes on the new bridge in photo at right.
This means that for the moment, bicyclists arriving on the trolley must go north up San Ysidro Boulevard to Camino de la Plaza to get over the interstate to be able to go back south to Mexico.
Chris Schmidt, chief of public transportation for Caltrans District 11, lamented that bicycling to and across the border has been made more inefficient, and called for greater dialogue with the federal government to provide better facilities and spaces for pedestrians, bicyclists and those using mass transit at the border crossing.
Rodolfo Argote, (left) the director of land-use planning at the Metropolitan Planning Institute of Tijuana, said he wants to see Tijuana become more bicycle-friendly. He outlined a plan to create a plaza where bikes could be rented along Agua Caliente Boulevard. He said he would like to see it set up so that an American can cross the border on his or her bike — or walk across the border and rent a bike — and follow bike routes. He said there are about 10,000 bicycle enthusiasts in Tijuana who tour the city, many in groups, each week.
Vance also spoke of the pollution pedestrians and bicyclists must endure to cross the border into the U.S.
Jenny Quintana (right) of San Diego State University's Graduate School of Public Health said a recent study shows: "We found that air pollution was higher next to the border, as you might imagine, that is no surprise, but we did document that. We also found that the wind had a great impact in the pollution, that when winds came from the south, or especially when they were very calm winds, the pollution would just build up next to the border crossing and spread to the community of San Ysidro. And we did see a cleaner air when that air was blowing from the west, from the ocean."
She said it would be very important to public health for border wait times to be reduced. She said it is important to separate pedestrians from vehicles crossing the border as much as possible. She said studies have shown that some forms of vegetation used to separate pedestrians from vehicles can also mitigate the problem. She cautioned that studies also have shown that not all forms of vegetation do the trick.
Meanwhile, Baja California environmental protection minister Efraín Niebla Ortiz said this week that Tijuana is one of Mexico's 10-most polluted cities, with 15% coming from vehicles crossing the border. He said 75% of the city's pollution comes from cars, and noted that many of Tijuana's vehicles are older, more-polluting ones. Story, El Sol de Tijuana.
Story, El Mexicano. Jump page.
The SANDAG conference was moderated by social scientist Paul Ganster of San Diego State University. He joked, to laughter, that "the takeaway message is to hold your breath while crossing the border?"
A notice posted near the entrance to the old pedestrian bridge tells people about the new bridge. In right picture, construction work for the new port of entry facility taking place between northbound and southbound I-5.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, when border waits dramatically increased, it was thought that a lot of Tijuana residents would cross the border by bike to save time and commute to work in San Diego on the trolley, and a lot of bicycle parking spaces were built in San Ysidro. After the bicyclists' privilege of being able to weave into the front of the vehicle line was abused by entrepreneurs renting bikes to pedestrians who wanted to reduced their long waiting times, bicyclists were told they had to cross in the pedestrian lanes, thus killing the incentive for Tijuana residents to cross the border by bike. The photo at left shows the bike parking lot as seen from the new pedestrian bridge; Jack-in-the-Box is in the far center background, and the truck is headed onto I-5 off San Ysidro Boulevard. In right photo, a Tijuana resident takes his bike through one of the turnstiles leading into Tijuana south of the new pedestrian bridge.