Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Guest posting: What A Jamul Casino Would Mean for Local Cyclists

I average around 200 miles per week on my bicycle, riding in and out of the city of San Diego. Many of those miles are spent on Otay Lakes Rd, Honey Springs Rd, Lyons Valley Rd and bits of SR 94 in Jamul because they are often the shortest and least hilly way for me to take to go visit Black Jack the perpetually hungry donkey, the adorable Beacon Hill llamas, all sorts of cool mountain birds and flowers and a particularly adventurous and friendly pack of house dogs along Mother Grundy TT. 
The mostly shoulderless Otay Lakes Rd at lower lake.
These roads are mostly sleepy (the busiest of them all, SR 94, is still pretty sleepy compared to anything closer to the coast), but they are all quite unforgiving when anything happens. The more traffic on them, the more chance of things happening, however, and since there aren't many (and in some parts of Jamul, 'any') alternative routes to get to and through the area, when something like a crash or a fire or a stuck giant super semi-truck happens, it really causes problem both for the local residents who are just trying to get home from work (or work from home) and for passing-through traffic like me. 
SR94 east of Jamul Butte.
With the current (and apparently not-very-legal) construction of a casino off SR94 in Jamul that would increase traffic through it and the nearby feeder roads, I have been eying this project with alarm. So many previously cycling-friendly rural roads have been rendered nearly unridable post-construction of a casino (Pala Rd into Pala Mission, Valley Center Rd between N Lake Wohlford Rd and Hwy 76, Wildcat Canyon/Borona Rd, Dehesa Rd in Sycuan area). I wondered what can cyclists like me do about such a project... and so I decided to ask Kim Hamilton, a Deerhorn Valley resident and the editor of the Antlers, the area's newsletter, for a guest blog post on the subject. Here is her response:

A Chance For Cyclists And Drivers To Work Together
(...What A Concept!)
If you have ridden Otay Lakes Road or Rural 94 (Campo Rd) during the last couple of weeks, no doubt you have encountered large numbers of heavy-duty trucks plying the narrow roads. Double yellow lines are no deterrent to wide swings on tight (even blind) curves. In straight sections they push the 55 mph limit in a rush to dump off their tons of rock, dirt, and debris. And we’ve been told to expect this for the next 18 months.

Map of affected area.
The trucks are hauling excavated material from the Jamul Indian Reservation on Hwy 94 and Melody Rd (the Jamul terminus of Proctor Valley Rd). The tribe and their backers have launched a desperate attempt to construct a mega-sized Jamul Hollywood Casino on a tiny 4-acre parcel of disputed land. 
The problems for this big-city construction on this rural site are huge. Most serious for cyclists and drivers are the impacts on two-lane highway 94 (Campo Road) and rural feeder routes like Otay Lakes Rd. 

In a stark turnaround from normal protocol, Caltrans required no road safety improvements before it granted access to Hwy 94 for hundreds of daily trucks along two of the most popular and heavily used cycling routes in South and East County—part of the Great Western Loop that the Campagnolo Gran Fondo, the Olympic Training Center, and hundreds of cyclists use regularly.
One of the casino construction trucks was recently photographed having difficulties staying on the right side of the road on SR94 near Steele Canyon Rd. (Photo: James McElree)
Some history: Over the past two decades, four big-money corporations* bankrolled efforts to build a Jamul casino — to no avail. Tribal members collect monthly payments, but the legal, environmental, and safety issues are huge. The first three backers withdrew, losing millions in the process. The tribe itself is now more than $60 million in debt. A year ago Penn National Gaming came in with some (conditional) financing—and an in-your-face attitude. This is Penn’s first experience in California and they hope the Jamul’s proximity to San Diego might boost depreciating stock prices. So far Caltrans has made sure it hasn’t cost them much: a couple of flaggers and some caution signs. They approved the tribe’s Traffic Management Plan that included not one reference to cycling or cyclists. [*Lakes Entertainment, Station Casinos, Harrah’s Casinos, and Penn National Gaming]

So here lies an opportunity for drivers and cyclists to find some common ground—a chance to prove cyclists and rural drivers can co-exist and share the rural byways. The payoff could be in preserving access and improving safety for us all, and bolstering understanding that roads are for everyone. After all, they are shared public assets.

This Hollywood-themed Casino is no done-deal by a long stretch. San Diego County is suing Caltrans over their approval to allow hauling trucks such unrestricted access to Hwy 94, Otay Lakes Rd, and other feeders. The Jamul Action Committee (JAC) is filing a separate suit, and expects support from the Rural Fire District—with its concerns about increased crashes and a slowed response time to wildfire and medical emergencies. In fact the land itself, JAC argues, was never taken into “trust”— a vital pre-requisite for gambling, and upheld by recent Supreme and lower court decisions. That suit is due to be heard in federal court beginning March 28th.

I encourage the cycling community to stay informed and lend their voice and actions to this fight.  Rural roads are already the most dangerous in California, and Hwy 94 stands at the top of the list for fatalities and crashes. As the lawsuits wind their ways through the court system, it will take some organized action to keep the public informed. A mega project like this has no business being built without the space and infrastructure to keep roads safe. Period.

Here’s how the cycling community can help:
1) Register for email updates at: They won’t share your info with anyone else. 
2) Contact your county and state reps and share a cyclist’s perspective about Hwy 94 and Otay Lakes Roads would be impacted by casino traffic.
3) Consider joining together with rural drivers, pedestrians, and others to demonstrate the implications of thousands of trucks, cars, and buses added to Hwy 94.
4) Check out JAC’s Facebook Page:
This needs to be a shared fight with a positive outcome for all travelers, riders, and drivers.
Thank you for this opportunity to reach out.

Alpine - Viejas Grade - Descanso and road rashes

Apologies for having neglected the blog a bit! After a slow slump work suddenly picked up to a frenzy pace the past couple of months and the few exploration rides I did make have been going a bit stale in my photo folders. [Right click fotos and open in new tab for full size]
Looking east on I-8 from Willow Rd/Alpine Blvd overpass. Viejas Mountain in left background.
Unseasonably warm and dry winter weather is now old news as March is knocking on the door, but back in mid-December it was still something of a surprise. After a weekend of high wind in the East County my friend Tim and I took a Tuesday off and carpooled up to Alpine Creek Shopping Mall on Tavern Rd in Alpine for a morning road cycling trip to Cuyamaca Peak. To get to Descanso from Alpine by bicycle without taking the long detour to Japatul Valley we had two choices, of course; taking the direct route by riding on the shoulder of I-8 to Hwy 79 (bicycles are allowed on this stretch of the freeway) or the more adventurous unpaved climb across the saddle between Poser and Chiquito Mountains on scenic Viejas Grade Rd. We opted to go east on Viejas Grade and return via the freeway.
A chimney is all that's left of one of the houses along Viejas Indian Reservation.
Now... isn't this a deluxe busstop shelter?
Heading east on Alpine Blvd before most of the business opened up for the day gave quite a nice warm up ride (it is mostly a gradual climb) and all our warmers were taken off by the time we crossed the freeway on W Willow Rd. At the Y-intersection we veered left onto Viejas Grade Rd and headed for the foothills to the north of Viejas Casino. The two-laned road is nicely paved blacktop there, though shoulderless. Residues of the last wild fire that passed through the area are still visible from the pavement; blackened dead trees, mostly cleaned up remains of a couple of burnt houses. We made a few turns to stay on Viejas Grade Rd and took a 'look around' break to admire one of the two or three covered busstops along the road. I, wondering out loud why we can't have as nice busstops in the city. I mean... these are really nice shelters with benches and even came equipped with a bike rack!
Viejas Grade Rd, dirt portion... with my little slide evidence on far left.
After a couple of miles pavement ends just as the climb starts.The dirt road is wide and well-graded, however, quite firm enough for my 25 mm Gatorskin tires to handle. There are a few sections where the top is looser than others and fosters attentive bike handling. It is quite fun, though skidding along on that alternating with the bumpy washed out sections of the road where any loose top had been blown off by the weekend's vicious wind gusts were pretty hard on the tires. I wouldn't have liked to descend down this road on my road bike, but climbing it's 4.4 miles of 5% grade slope was a fun challenge. The most important things, of course, are to look ahead and plot out a good line to follow (spot the firmest bit of the road from afar and aim for them) and to lay off from braking. I was having quite a good time filming and photographing as we climbed, and got myself into a not-so-nice little wheel-sucking slide in the process. Old mountain-biking instinct came to my rescue, though, and I pedaled my way out of it without having to put a foot down.

Lucky for me, Tim is a wonderful bike touring partner in crime and enjoys stopping to take in the view as much as I do. The view southwest from Viejas Grade Rd is pretty smashing from various bends as we snaked our way up the WE flank of Poser Mountain. Beautiful Viejas Valley where the casino lies framed in by Viejas Mountain to the west, and all the prominent peaks in the coastal range looks rather different when seen from the east. It is still easy to pick out McGinty Mtn and Lyons Peak, however (if you squint you can still see the latter' fire lookout towers). I'm afraid we were a noisy pair and scared the local birds into hiding, though I did spot a couple of bluebirds and at least one meadow lark.
Collection of road signs at the top of Viejas Grade.
After a while we topped out and took another 'sight-seeing' break looking around the eclectic collection of road signs and railroad ties at the crest of the road... and couldn't help wondering how they were collected. Viejas Grade remains unpaved for a further mile or so beyond the crest, so we made a careful descent until we got to the black top. A few spunky local horses tried to race us down the hill, and a couple of black-headed Steller's jays escaped into tree canopies before I could fish out my camera.

We opted to descend down Oak Grove Dr instead of continuing on Viejas Grade Rd. Tim had gone on a bit ahead as I stopped to attempt to photograph a kestrel that was hunting near the fork of the road. I soon caught up, however, and opted for an inside line into a fast right curve in order to avoid a series of potholes in the middle of the lane when I saw white patch on the pavement around the corner. Sand! The thing had at least 3/4 of the lane covered, it was a fairly blind curve and I was doing around 30 mph on the inside line. Braking was not an option (the worst thing you could do that would guarantee a skid out) and changing the line at that speed while taking a 90 degree curve was not much of one either, so I weighed down my outside foot, aimed as far left (away from the main patch of sand) as my momentum allowed and mentally crossed all my digits... and nearly made it across when the front wheel suddenly gave way and deposited me on the bumpy and sandy pavement.

It was about as mild a crash as the situation would allow. I'm afraid I didn't manage to tuck in and hold on to the bike, however, and I found myself skidding along with right arm stretched across the pavement acting simultaneously as head cushion and a rather expensive brake pad. It is a wonder how fast acting a painkiller adrenaline is when you hit something hard like that. Nothing really hurt, though the perpetually bored voice in my head did, in the few long and drawn out seconds that I spent skidding across the road, chimed in its sincere hope that an evacuation by ambulance wouldn't be required (when I crashed face first in Pt Loma last year the 8 miles long ambulance ride had cost me $2400... aside from doctors and radiology and emergency room fees) and how I will have ruined another good pair of arm warmers by the time I came to a stop... Then, of course, I realized that I had taken the arm warmers off before we started climbing, so I came to my stop half way across the opposite traffic lane with a mouthful of sand and gravel, wondering if my poor right arm still had any skin left on it. Before I could properly inspect the damages, though, Tim, who had screeched to a stop just beyond the cursed curve, yelled out, 'Car!' So I ditched the thought of damage inspection and the bike and hopped clear off to the high side of the road.
Not from this ride, but same sort of 'sand washed/blown onto road behind a curve on Torrey Pines Park Rd.
The car was carefully driven by a nice local lady, however, and she stopped for Tim to retrieve my bike from the road and even asked if she could help. Luckily for me I didn't hit my head (some dirt swallowing not withstanding), was sure that I didn't break any bone and none of the cut looked too ghastly for my first aid kit to deal with. Tim proved a good medic and we swiftly rinsed dirt and sand off my plethora of road rashes and had the worst of them bandaged up within a few minutes (if you ever crash and end up with open wounds, it's best to clean them while you're still numb, of course).

After straightening out the banged bent right hood and inspecting the frame and wheels for cracks I thanked prudence again for having opted for the sturdy aluminum bike rather than a lighter carbon one, and we remounted and headed on down the hill to the Perkins' Store in Descanso. A couple of nice Avon salesladies were set up in front of the store there and we had a good chat. Perkins' is to Descanso what Lyons Valley Trading Post is to Lyons & Deerhorn Valley, I think. The best place to catch up on local news and stuff. By now my wounds were stinging quite a bit, so I decided to abandon the day's ambitious objective (Cuyamaca Lookout Rd) and head back to town.
Smooth descent on westbound I-8.
Alpine Castle.
We had a nice smooth roll down I-8 westbound shoulder to E Willow Rd exit and through Alpine before making a short (tho hilly) side trip to photograph the elusive Alpine Castle from Eltinge Dr. It was a good thing we turned back! Tim dropped me off at Cal Coast Bicycles on my way home, where Todd the super-mechanic found both of my tires quite a bit beyond moderately flat and the rear derailleur a bit bent. No major repair needed, however. I'm telling you, my Giant Defy aluminum bike performs quite much more than I had expected from a $700 road bike!

As lucky as I was not to bang up my head or come off the mountain with a broken bone, the road rashes were quite awful. It always hurts a lot more on the day after, of course. The first three or four nights were quite terrible. I had managed to spread the road rashes around and there simply wasn't any way I could position myself so that none of them were touching something. I was grateful that we were in the midst of a Santa Ana weather pattern then, though, so long sleeves and blanket weren't required as it would have been much more miserable peeling wounds open every few hours to unstick clothes and bed sheets. My right arm took quite a beating and my right shoulder still hasn't regain its full range of motion, 2 1/2 months later, but it could have been worse. For much of the first week I really wondered if the whole arm wouldn't fall off or go septic on me. The upper arm had lost so much skin and was quite deadened and sore. It got much better once all the road rashes had dried out. Then, of course, the itching began a bit later as the scabs dried off and start attaching their corners to things.
After-ride photo
And here is a series of unappetizing (but hopefully educational) photos in case you're curious about what happens when you get a road rash.
The day after.
One week after.
One month after.
Everything heals in the end and you eventually do regain range of motion and stuff. Just have to put up with the uncomfortable process for a bit. My arm has benefited from arm warmers and coolers to shield the fresh scar from the sun, of course, though my right knee has fared a bit worse. The deep gash is right at the apex of the join and so I have had to let it burn in the sun when out riding since knee warmers keep pulling scab off it and tearing it back up... so that wound still looks pretty hideous in mid-February. It's all cosmetic now, though. The least of my concern. Hopefully I will have enough time to start training again next week for another go at Cuyamaca Lookout Rd before warm weather arrives!

In the meanwhile, here's a little video from the day's ride.