At a gathering at Stone Brewery on Feb. 16, members of the San Diego County Bike Coalition met informally to discuss reuse of an existing structure, the 20-by-80 foot Building 191. The structure was the 191th building constructed at the former Naval Training Center.
Located on dedicated city parklands, now-vacant Building 191 straddles a major spur on the San Diego bike path system.
“We've been thinking for a long time of having this hub,” said Andy Hanshaw, SDCBC's executive director. “We see it as a place for people not only to engage with cycling, but to learn more about it.”
New SDCBC member Elizabeth Thibodeau noted the effort to create a new regional cycling hub is all about “promoting healthy, safe riding for everybody. If we want to get people out of their cars and on a bike – they need to feel safe.”
Many other communities, including Long Beach, Calif. and Vancouver, Canada, have created physical spaces serving as bicycle centers. Why not San Diego?, asks the SDCBC, a nonprofit, which is prepared to act on behalf of the local cycling community to acquire, rehabilitate and operate Building 191.
SDCBC board member Richard Opper noted a new cycling hub would “enhance cycling culture,” encouraging people to “get on bikes and use them.”
But Opper added there are hurtles to be cleared in creating a regional cycling center.
“This is an old maintenance shed the city was just going to mow down because they didn't have the funds to turn it into something: It's just sitting there,” he said. “We're saying we'll raise the money, fix it up.”
Opper though admitted Building 191 will be challenging to convert given its relatively small size and long, narrow configuration.
“Which is why we've come up with the idea of adding porticos and decks around the outside, to help make the building usable without moving hallways in the middle of the building,” said cycling enthusiast Ron Miriello.
Miriello said a new cycling center would connect to Harbor Drive and the Bayshore Bikeway, providing a direct and safe bike path to downtown and beyond.
“The cycling center would be part of enhancing that network,” said Miriello, noting there's currently no place in San Diego for bike enthusiasts “to share and get together short of a club.”
Miriello said the maintenance building could be utilized by a combination of nonprofit and for-profit cycling entities.
“This could be meeting space for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (which sponsors cycling in a triathlon), industry experts and the bike coalition,” he said. “It might also have historical spaces, where people could see how cycling has affected us during the last 100 years.”
“A museum – yeah,” chimed in Thibodeau, adding, “We're looking for a place to have a race, or training races.”
Pointing out Building 191's “fortuitous” location, Miriello described the game plan for redeveloping it.
“The first step is securing the building,” he said. “The next thing is getting funding.”
Miriello added the coalition is “pretty confident” a number of funding mechanisms are available to make the Liberty Station cycling center a reality.
Miriello talked about another benefit of a centralized cycling hub.
“We really want to build up bicycle tourism in this region for visitors and residents,” he said.
Hanshaw said a cycling hub would fit neatly in with the city's Climate Action Plan, which he noted “calls for a 6 percent commuter mode share by 2020, 18 percent by 2035. We've been hovering around 1 percent for years.”
“If we're going to get more people commuting by bikes – we're going to need to get better and safer bikeways,” he concluded adding SANDAG regional planning agency has $200 million to be spent during the next 10 years for bicycle network improvements.