Today's front page, above the fold color picture story in the Union-Tribune.
Citing safety, border officials order bicycle riders into pedestrian lines
By Leslie Wolf Branscomb and David E. Graham
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
April 4, 2002
Bicyclists will no longer be allowed to cross the international border from Mexico into the United States alongside automobile traffic, as they have been doing by the thousands since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Traffic safety concerns prompted the decision, officials said yesterday. Now hundreds of bicyclists who have become used to quickly crossing the border will have to walk their bikes through pedestrian checkpoints.
U.S. Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials said they want to avert potential accidents as bicycles, buses and cars jockey for position in the crowded traffic lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
"We're putting bicycles out there with vehicular traffic, and that's not a good combination," said David Murphy, Assistant Port Director for U.S. Customs at San Ysidro. "We don't want anybody to get run over by a car."
/*According to the California Vehicle Code, we ARE vehicular traffic! The safety argument is specious, given the glacial pace of traffic through the border crossing.
The change takes effect at 6 a.m. Monday.
"They're going to be processed as pedestrians," said INS district director Adele Fasano, adding that bicyclists will have no "special access."
There might be a bike lane some day, Fasano said, adding "ultimately that's the solution." But there is no plan for that now, she said.
In the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks, when the agencies were criticized because tightened security caused long border waits, Fasano said in a public forum that bikes were a welcome, innovative solution that could assist workers, students, shoppers and travelers.
The policy switch was immediately decried by bike riders and business owners, who predicted serious economic impacts because it would take their employees longer to get to work.
"We have a lot of commuters that ride their bikes across from Tijuana and take the trolley to their jobs in San Diego," said Johnny Muñoz, president of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. "So it's not just the border that will be affected; it will be businesses all throughout the county."
Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, said yesterday that he will ask that the decision be reversed. "The INS is like a bunch of Keystone Cops," he said. "They have no idea what they're doing and no notion of what the community wants."
/* Right-on, Bob! He has called a press conference at the San Ysidro border crossing, tomorrow at 09:30. Stay tuned ...
While northbound motorists have endured longer waits since September, bicyclists have been able to make the trip fairly quickly, with an inspector checking riders' credentials in a process that can often take less than a minute.
Daily bicycle crossings, which used to number 100 to 200 a day, grew to as many as 2,500 a day after Sept. 11, said U.S. Customs spokesman Vincent Bond. Many bike riders cross the border during the morning commute, as early as 4 a.m., when it is still dark, he said.
Though there have been no collisions reported, there have been some near misses, Bond said. "It's a recipe for disaster," he said.
The daily bicycle traffic is now down to about 800 to 1,000 crossings a day as people return to their cars, but it's still too much to be safely handled, Bond said.
Bicyclists were weaving among cars, impeding traffic and bringing complaints from motorists, Murphy said. The Mexican Consulate also complained about the hazard, he said.
For the past week, officials tried having the bike riders use the bus lane, but that was even worse, Murphy said.
"All it would take would be a simple mistake, and someone could be run over by a bus," he said. Murphy said they also worried about children and senior citizens getting off buses and being confronted by speeding and sometimes reckless bicyclists.
The only alternative would have been to set aside one of the 21 available traffic lanes for bicycles, but that would make the wait for vehicles even longer, Murphy said.
/* Or it just might encourage more people to ride their bikes instead of driving their cars, which is precisely what we should be doing as a society.
In order to assist with the additional pedestrians, the Customs Service will have its agents help INS inspectors process border crossers, Bond said.
Vehicle traffic dropped to about 30,000 crossings a day after the terrorist attacks, but it is back up to about 45,000 a day with a maximum wait of about 90 minutes, Bond said.
Muñoz, manager of a Nike outlet store in San Ysidro, said he believes the wait at the border is usually about two hours. He said the Chamber of Commerce and the San Ysidro Business Association will call on local, state and federal officials to have the policy reversed.
"It will affect us very badly," predicted San Ysidro businesswoman Berta Gonzalez. "I think they should be more organized and talk to the community before making such decisions," she said. "We will help them find solutions to this problem."
"I think it's a mistake," said San Diego City Councilman Ralph Inzunza Jr., whose district includes San Ysidro. Inzunza, who regularly visits relatives in Tijuana, said the wait is usually two to three hours, and worse on weekends. He said he has never had a problem with bicyclists interfering with traffic.
"I don't think Washington is in tune with what's going on here,
unfortunately," Inzunza said.
Yesterday, bicyclists were dismayed and angry that the most efficient method of crossing the border is being quashed.
"I think it's lousy. Where's their head?" said Moises Montes of Imperial Beach.
Gonzalo Anell and Karla Sanchez, Chula Vista residents who rent bikes in Tijuana at Border Bikes USA, say they want to meet with senior INS and Customs officials to make the case for a bike lane.
Xavier Guillen, of Tijuana, who crosses on his own bike to work in a nutrition center, agreed. "Because it's a road, they ought to have a bike lane," Guillen said. "We should fight for it."
Fasano disputed a common complaint among bicyclists that the INS lacks a sense of urgency in expediting border crossings. "That's obviously incorrect," she said, adding they're working to make it as efficient as possible.
/* Yeah, right! */