“I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best” – President George W Bush, 2006
“It was my call (to remove the planned protected bike lanes from University Avenue)” – SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos, 2015
It’s been over a month since SANDAG killed the long-planned protected bike lane on University Avenue in Hillcrest to preserve street parking. Here are some good summaries of just what happened:
The takeaway from these features is that after a years-long process of public input, SANDAG cancelled all public meetings and instead met privately with the California Strategies lobbyist hired by the Hillcrest Business Association for $20,000. Several HBA members, including President Johnathan Hale, Executive Director Ben Nicholls, Director Cecelia Moreno and former Director Eddie Reynoso all insisted that the lobbying was only to keep the Washington off-ramp to University open. Yet lobbying disclosure forms from Todd Gloria’s office indicate California Strategies was indeed fighting to preserve all parking on University also.
Think about that for a second: San Diego County taxpayers, who pay the TransNet sales tax that funds SANDAG, were completely shut out of SANDAG’s planning process for the Uptown Bikeway. Instead, a private business association (who actually receive funding from the city, though none of those funds were used for lobbying), claimed ownership of our public on-street parking, and have now permanently put the safety and lives of bicyclists on University at risk – all for their own private gain.
How does something like this happen? The Uptown Bikeway was supposed to help address several things beyond safety: the city of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan goals for increased bike mode share; state greenhouse gas emissions goals; and decades of SANDAG ignoring bike infrastructure. In my opinion, the blame primarily lies with the culture of the senior staff at SANDAG, namely Executive Director Gary Gallegos.
Gallegos is the former director of the San Diego Caltrans division, an agency that has largely ignored all non-auto modes for decades. He’s been executive director of SANDAG since 2001, during which time the agency has continued to under-fund alternative transit modes in favor of endlessly widening freeways and roads. Their current 2050 regional transportation plan continues this trend, exceeding state greenhouse gas emissions targets seven-fold, and has been successfully defeated in court twice with the state of California as one of the plaintiffs. Yet SANDAG has chosen to continue this court battle (using taxpayer funds), even as the state made these emission targets official last week. Gallegos appears to be stuck in the past, ignoring state law and trends of younger Americans using alternative transit modes. And why wouldn’t he, after serving much of his career in Caltrans, an agency devoted to building and maintaining our auto-centric culture. He is San Diego’s Decider, issuing executive orders to buy a toll road unmentioned in SANDAG’s regional plan, or gut a long-overdue bike facility. Gallegos is charting a course backwards that’s incredibly harmful to our city, our children and our climate.
Oddly, even the author of our city’s draft Climate Action Plan, Todd Gloria, voted to continue SANDAG’s costly-yet-pointless court battle above. KPBS concluded that SANDAG’s regional transportation plan hinders the city’s Climate Action Plan goals. So if a SANDAG board member (and Transportation Committee chair) as progressive as Gloria on transit and the environment can’t go against senior staff recommendations, who can? This suggests that SANDAG board members fear rejecting SANDAG staff recommendations, because funding for their district could be killed as retaliation.
Thus, once the Hillcrest Business Association successfully lobbied Gallegos in private to kill the bike lane on University in favor of parking, the fix was in. When bike advocates finally were granted a meeting with Gallegos recently, he declared that the decision to keep the status quo there was his decision alone. There was no way the SANDAG Transportation Committee board members, who are appointed by elected officials, could vote against the senior staff recommendation to do nothing for the majority of University (where they actually call sharrows a Bikeway!). Well, all but one board member: Mike Nichols of Solana Beach, who expressed concern over a long-planned and badly-needed set of bike lanes being removed for parking, when abundant off-street parking already exists in the area. Two weeks later, when SANDAG staff recommendations for Smart Growth Incentive Grants were announced, Solana Beach’s project had been rejected.
I don’t know how to fix SANDAG’s broken senior staff culture (term limits for senior staff?), but it would be unfair to blame SANDAG alone for the gutted Uptown Bikeway. Lower-level staff working on the project certainly fought for it. Unfortunately there was a lack of political courage – nothing new for our city – from our elected representatives, including Gloria and Ron Roberts. No effort was ever made to bring stakeholders from both sides to the table and find a compromise for the consensus SANDAG said they needed. Instead the “win-win” “compromise” was to simply remove the bike lanes from most of University for parking, or exactly what the HBA lobbied for.
Let’s not kid ourselves about the fact that our elected representatives need to look out for their own political fortunes first. Several members of the HBA donate significantly to Gloria’s campaigns, and when they declare they own our public street parking, so be it. This is exactly why I could never be a politician, because doing the right thing can often be damaging to your career.
Removing public street parking for alternative transit and increased safety is something many cities are doing. San Francisco and Seattle have removed hundreds of spaces for buses and/or protected bike lanes. Isn’t it more important to get more people to their destination on time safely, via the greater carrying-capacity of multiple transit modes, than setting aside this space solely for the publicly-subsidized storage of private vehicles? Apparently in San Diego, the answer is no.
On a personal level, the loss of the protected bike lanes is deeply disappointing. Hillcrest is a community where I first came out and it’s long been a special place for me. I’ve picked up trash from their streets during community clean-ups, despite not even living there. I attended Uptown Parking District meetings to contribute ideas to mitigate any lost parking from the Bikeway. I’ve promoted HBA events and new Hillcrest businesses on my blog as its business district has declined over the past several years. Yet I was questioned by both the President of the Uptown Parking District and the Hillcrest Business Association about my activism in their community, since I didn’t live there. It didn’t matter that I wanted to travel to their businesses safely by bike and make streets safer for others; since I wasn’t a resident, my input was suspect and invalid. Meanwhile, HBA senior members Hale, Moreno and Nicholls also all live elsewhere.
The Uptown Bikeway was an opportunity to set Hillcrest apart with something really unique: the only protected bike lanes in a commercial district in San Diego. It could help draw back younger residents who have long written off this now decidedly-unhip neighborhood, and moved on to more interesting districts in North Park, Little Italy and East Village. And with the first multi-million dollar investment ever from SANDAG in the neighborhood, the placemaking opportunities were huge. Yet the anti-bicyclist vitriol that I witnessed from many community members was astonishing. Maybe it really is true that the long-oppressed (in this case, the Hillcrest gay community) often become the oppressors. To be fair, some community members, such as Hillcrest Town Council President Luke Terpstra, did try to find compromise.
Finally, the most amusing part of this saga has to be the contortions from HBA Executive Director Ben Nicholls. Even to the bitter end he was telling the bike community that he supported Transform Hillcrest, the alternative bike lane plan that preserved most parking – while secretly agreeing to SANDAG’s plan to gut the bike lanes. Bike advocates were even trying to sign on to a letter of support for Transform Hillcrest with the HBA until it got bogged down on – you guessed it – parking. The fact is that the HBA never budged on “giving up” one street parking space, despite the addition of hundreds of on and off-street parking spaces that have (or will) come online in the area. This is precisely why the HBA opposed the original SANDAG plan and the western segment of Transform Hillcrest. But this statement in the comments of the SD City Beat article has to be the king of all Nicholls-whoppers:
Forget the “good compromise” part – how exactly is status quo on most of University a compromise? The “private closed door meetings” from Circulate SD and SDCBC were a single desperate, last-minute meeting with SANDAG Transportation Director Muggs Stoll (on the Memorial Day holiday no less) to the HBA’s successful lobbying of executive director Gallegos to gut the bike lanes. Nicholls’ ability to contort truth is breathtaking, but no more so than his laughter during the SANDAG Transportation Committee meeting while speaker after speaker begged for safe bike lanes (middle image below; from the Parking Over People Facebook page):
Changes are coming to El Cajon Boulevard, and Voice of San Diego summarized them in a recent article. “Give us all of your density”, said the president of the Boulevard Improvement Association, reflecting the decades-long desire for more housing and retail along the corridor. That’s certainly looking like it’s going to happen, with about a “dozen” mixed-use projects on the way.
Up first is H.G. Fenton’s project at Florida Ave, which will replace the long-vacant San Diego Sound & Lighting warehouse and the debatable LGBT historic site next door (its demolition permit “error” sadly wasn’t the first time that’s happened). Fenton has also purchased the Kars to Go lot at 3441 El Cajon for $3 million. I also heard a rumor that the block housing Pomegranate and Flavors of East Africa has been bought up. Further east in City Heights, the Talmadge Gateway Project gets another hearing in front of the KenTal Community Planning Group this month (many of whom are “out of our comfort zone” on El Cajon). Back at the corner of Park, the Lusti Motors lot seems like a prime candidate for a very tall project, given the relaxed height restrictions there. And further south on Park, Jonathan Segal is apparently planning an 8 or 9 story mixed-use building at the vacant lot at Polk. Other development/land-use items:
– The new Sempra building looks about done across from Petco Park and has some interesting design features compared to most of the bland boxes going up around it:
– Quartyard has added some art to its shipping containers; I recognize this artist from the utility boxes along University in North Park:
– We did a brewery/tasting room ride in North Park two weekends ago and the number of people on bikes there seems to grow larger every time we visit. The new bike corral on Adams at 30th across from Soda and Swine is getting good use already:
…Speaking of bikes, come join us on Saturday August 1st as BikeSD rides from Balboa Park to La Jolla by way of the beach (after-party at Panama66):
You can also support BikeSD via the proceeds from the Modern Times Festival of Dankness at Waterfront Park on August 22nd. Modern Times has been a big supporter of improved bike infrastructure in San Diego, not to mention making some of the best beer in town.
…Back in North Park, we haven’t made it to Breakfast Republic in the former Western Steakburger spot yet but the interior design and patios look really cool… Heaven Sent Desserts is on the move a few doors down from their old location at 30th and University, not sure what’s going in there… Crazee Burger has opened in their new location on 30th, does that mean construction will be starting up soon on the mixed-use project at their old spot?… We stopped in to Park and Rec in University Heights on a quiet Sunday evening recently, the front bar area is interesting and my cocktail was delicious. Still waiting to see what they do with Lei Lounge next door… Chi was handing out samples during Taste of Adams Avenue, guessing that means this new pescetarian restaurant from the Plumeria Folks between the Heights will be opening soon…. Javier Plascencia’s Bracero opens in Little Italy Thursday… Caffe Primo has opened in East Village and is a cafe in the morning and Italian restaurant at night. The 80-seat outdoor patio is the most appealing part for me but I’m an alfresco junkie…. Vietnamese spot Sovereign Kitchen opened Friday with “Iron Chef Vietnam” Michael Bao Huynh in the kitchen; we ate next door at take-out/sister location Food Shop where we enjoyed our healthy-yet-tasty noodle dishes:
– A new connection from the trolley to the airport will open in October, as an improved sidewalk and crosswalk will lead to the airport rental car shuttle nearby. It’s still a far cry from a direct rail connection to the airport that nearly every other major city has, and it will probably stay that way. The Airport Authority has long been unwilling to contribute funds to an intermodal facility nearby to serve multiple travel modes, opting instead to spend $316 million on one mode (cars) with their new rental car facility, roadways and parking lots:
Our airport’s director actually said, “We focus on operating this airport, not surface transportation”. The $316 million expenditure above ($240 million for the garage alone) indicates otherwise – they choose to focus on auto transportation over public transit (at a time when younger residents are increasingly using the latter), while disregarding our city’s Climate Action Plan goals of reduced emissions. Imagine if LAX’s director said they don’t focus on surface transportation? Instead they’ve actively purchased land around the airport to help make their challenging light rail plan come together.
– The Environmental Health Coalition spoke at my workplace recently about the health challenges facing children in lower income neighborhoods adversely affected by air and other pollution types. I asked them if any new state cap and trade funds earmarked for pollution-impacted communities had been approved, and they mentioned National City. Later that day Streetsblog published an article saying funding for this National City Westside Transit Oriented Development had been approved (along with funds for Chula Vista BRT).
The EHC has also been successful in getting elected officials to ask SANDAG to modify the planned Route 94 freeway widening and/or consider a rapid bus stop for Sherman Heights residents. Not to be outdone by the airport authority director, a Caltrans spokesperson dropped a whopper of their own when discussing the SR-94 project:
“I think in this region, we’ve always looked at providing choices for travelers, and doing projects that benefit everyone, and not necessarily penalize a certain type of user over another one,” said Gustavo Dallarda, Caltrans corridor director on the project.
Since Caltrans’ founding in 1972, the vast majority of its annual budgets have been devoted to building, widening and maintaining roads and freeways, with comparatively little spending on alternative transit. As a result, the “choices” Dallarda refers to are almost always poor options, unless you’re driving a car. For example, it’s been 15 years since we were supposed to receive a bike lane and freeway-median buses on SR-15, yet these are only getting off the ground now. Caltrans again rejected funding the bike lane this year, so SANDAG stepped in with funding. Meanwhile SANDAG funds for the Mira Mesa Boulevard BRT were redirected to the freeway-median stations when they went over budget – not from Caltrans.
In Coronado, how does Caltrans increasing speed limits on 3rd and 4th Ave in Coronado “benefit everyone”, when several pedestrians have been severely injured or killed there? These residents don’t appear to agree with Dallarda’s statement:
It seems nearly every line in San Diego’s public transit system ends up downtown at some point – from local routes, to express routes like 150 to UCSD; from the green/blue/orange trolley lines to the new Rapid 215 and 235 routes. So when San Diego Magazine did a feature for their July issue
(not online yet, will post the link when it is) on our city’s public transit system by asking their staff to try it out for a day, I assumed that at least some of them already used it, because the magazine’s office is located at 7th and Broadway downtown. And indeed they do: a whopping 1 person out of 28 on their staff uses public transit to get to the neighborhood best-served by it.
Most days I work at our UCSD satellite office in Kearny Mesa, where it’s no better – of the 100 or so people working there, a co-worker and I are the only two people who don’t drive alone every day that I know of (the area is served by just two transit lines, not dozens like downtown). So the point of this post isn’t to portray San Diego Magazine employees as uncharacteristic of our city, but whether we can learn anything about our transit system – and ourselves – from them.
There were some encouraging experiences, like the user of the new Mid-City Rapid bus and the North Park resident who took the #2 bus. But why did it take a work requirement (the magazine article) to get these folks to even try public transit? Maybe I can answer that one, because I lived in San Diego for a few years before ever even thinking about riding the bus. I was raised in a suburban car culture and carried that mindset with me even after moving into a large – yet sprawling – metro like San Diego.
Other staff statements about their transit experience were a bit more baffling and seemed to result from a genuine lack of knowledge, or worse, were just plain excuses. 22 year-old Chelsea Street of Carmel Valley took the Coaster from Sorrento Valley but said that since gassing her Prius only cost her $5-6/day, “Fiscally, it doesn’t make any sense (to pay $120/month to take the train). I wish it did”.
Considering only the cost of gas is a common mistake when calculating transit costs. In reality, auto travel can cost around 75 cents/mile when depreciation and wear & tear are included. Let’s be conservative and use the federal government reimbursement rate: 57.5 cents/mile. Multiply that by the 40-mile round trip from Carmel Valley to downtown and the travel cost is really $23/day, or four times Chelsea’s estimate.
Then there’s parking. The article never mentions what employees pay to park, or if their employer offers free parking. Let’s say it’s $100/month. So Chelsea is really paying $100+($23/day * 22 workdays per month = $506), or $606/month! That’s 5 times the amount of a monthly Coaster pass from Sorrento Valley to downtown. Even factoring in the cost of the drive from Carmel Valley to the Sorrento Valley train station, it’s still less than half the true cost of driving the whole way. Yet taking the train doesn’t make any fiscal sense?
That’s not the only dubious statement used to justify driving every day. New Executive Editor Erin Meanley Glenny took the #50 Express Bus from Bay Park and had this to say about it:
I think if mass transit is anything but a necessity, people will opt for the car. I love having my personal space and being able to leave items like a gym bag in the car, and I cherish the control and freedom to leave a place exactly when I want, or be able to run an errand, or stop at an event on my way home. I can’t see getting rid of my car permanently.
I think I count as “people” and for me, mass transit isn’t a necessity, but I still use it as part of my travel. This is because I care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic, getting exercise as part of my commute (via walking/biking part of the way), and because our city’s aggressive, dangerous drivers really kill my buzz. I get part of her point about personal space, especially since my legs are too long to fit behind most bus seats. But the freedom part is confusing… how is sitting in soul-sucking traffic “freedom”, exactly? I run errands and stop at events on my way home all the time by transit or bike. And who said anything about getting rid of your car permanently just because you ride the bus once in a while? That’s a false choice in my opinion.
But the most revealing statement was when Erin scoffed, “What a waste” that only 11 of 45 seats were filled on the bus. She’s riding a dedicated Express Bus (resulting in 11 less vehicles on the freeway) to her central San Diego neighborhood that refuses to allow any increase in density (because traffic), but it’s a waste? There’s almost an animosity toward transit in her statements. Could this explain why the nearly all-white staff of a magazine that endorsed Carl DeMaio for mayor never rides public transit – because they consider themselves too good to ride with the poors? To be fair, that sentiment would hardly be unique to the employees of San Diego Magazine.
The funniest-yet-saddest part of the article was 25 year-old Sydnie Goodwin, who drives her car each day from K St. downtown to Starbucks, parks it, then drives again to the magazine’s 7th and Broadway office. While millennials across the country have established a clear trend of living in walkable neighborhoods near work and using alternative commuting modes, San Diego Magazine’s millennials are opting to drive 0.7 miles of walkable neighborhood instead. Is the magazine giving away parking or something?
I appreciate San Diego Magazine writing this feature, and pointing out the lofty goals of SANDAG and the city to increase alternative transit use. It’s the best way to significantly decrease emissions to address climate change, while also decreasing traffic congestion. Contrary to what Ms. Meanley and others say in the article, using public transit doesn’t mean you have to give up your car, but rather just realizing it exists, maybe even sometimes as a viable option.
Mass transit usage one day a week by a majority of San Diego commuters would have numerous, significant positive impacts. But as another magazine staff member pointed out, why doesn’t MTS offer smartphone payments and/or the ability to load cash onto Compass Cards to help make this happen? Apparently that’s something for every other major metro to offer, just not San Diego.
The new Pinnacle tower in East Village is currently the only high-rise for blocks, a lonely skyscraper seemingly set adrift from the rest of the downtown skyline. There’s a second Pinnacle tower coming next door, but otherwise this area is a sea of vacant lots ringed with the tents of the homeless (or the what-could’ve-been 6-story buildings replacing them). That’s about to change with a proposed 21-story tower from architect Carrier Johnson at 460 16th St:
The project also includes another, 6-story, building. 368 residential units are planned along with nearly 20,000 SF of commercial space… Over at 7th and Market, a Ritz-Carlton and Whole Foods are planned as part of this Cisterra project:
…The I.D.E.A. District, a 35 block area of East Village proposed to be a work/live/arts/innovation center, got a possible kickstart with news of a potential UCSD co-laboratory there, possibly in the old Central Library… Over at the Courtyard, there’s a vote next Tuesday on three different designs for the East Village Green park proposed for the District between 13th, F, 15th and G Streets… Also at the Courtyard, they’ve started booking music events for this fun space, with personal favorites Cut Copy doing a DJ set there on Sunday July 5th.
– A major upzoning was approved by the city council for Grantville around the trolley station there, converting largely industrial lots to mixed-use residential and commercial. I like that the San Diego River will have adjacent parks added to it with the potential for outdoor dining overlooking it. And kudos to the Chamber of Commerce (wow that feels weird to say) for acknowledging the greenhouse gas benefits of the transit-oriented plan versus building these 8000+ units in the exurbs:
Meanwhile, criticism of the plan was strong here on the Nextdoor Kensington page – because of fears of increased traffic in our neighborhood. Never mind that not a single one of these units will actually be built in Kensington – residents here oppose *any* development, anywhere, apparently.
This same me-first mentality pervades the Kensington-Talmadge planning committee, which somehow gives the former Uptown Planners board a run for their NIMBY money. During last week’s meeting, members voted to:
The irony of the nearly all-white, elderly KenTal planning board sitting in the new YMCA, plotting against the interests of the diverse gym-goers outside the room, was a bit much. Remember, these are the same folks who wanted to turn the ground floor retail planned for the Talmadge Gateway project *away* from El Cajon Boulevard, so it would serve their community instead. Our communities deserve planners who consider the economic future of the city, including the impacts of climate change they helped create – not just their own parochial parking and traffic issues. This lack of leadership extends to our elected leaders on major challenges facing the city:
Ultimately, the City Council sits in judgment on development issues such as One Paseo, but there are challenges of greater import that deserve greater attention from councilmembers.
These issues are the Chargers stadium, Convention Center expansion, aging infrastructure (deteriorating water mains and sewer pipes, in particular), desalination or other means of assuring drinkable water, preserving the city’s quality of life for future generations, and formation of a San Diego-Baja California regional economy where goods, labor and traffic flow freely to harness an economic engine of enormous potential.
The difficulty of addressing these issues effectively is no excuse for not trying. The temptation for city councilmembers past and present has been to give up on big picture items and instead argue less important issues parochially. It is easier and the results are visible more immediately, before the next election occurs.
As voters, however, we expect the officials we elect to be leaders, capable of making tough choices and developing a vision, goals, strategies and priorities for the good of the community at large. Instead, what we get are local policy debates that frequently boil down to little more than assertions not backed up by credible research or made by “experts” whose views are predictable.
Elsewhere in Kensington, party like it’s 1985 because Kensington Video is back, complete with juice bar (despite a juice bar planned for the eternally-delayed Stehly Farms Market nearby)… Over in Normal Heights, where new establishments actually open, Burnside has replaced the old Greek eatery and has a variety of sandwiches and craft beers available. The fried chicken sandwich and a poutine-like dirty fries with roast beef were highlights.
There’s a pre-4th of July bike decorating and ride at Mona Lizzy’s and Adams Avenue Bikes:
– Two terrific concerts recently with Spoon at the Observatory:
and Sufjan Stevens at Copley Symphony Hall:
I complain a lot here about San Diego but I’m grateful we have such prime venues for artists like these. So I’ll spare you my complaining about SANDAG killing most of the Uptown Bikeway on University until next time.
UPDATE (6/2): The Hillcrest Business Association has endorsed the new bike lane-free Uptown Bikeway proposal, saying it “provides alternative transportation options” and “additional bicycle infrastructure” when in fact it is no different than existing conditions:
June 3, 2015
Honorable Councilmember Todd Gloria
SANDAG Transportation Committee
401 B Street, 7th Floor
San Diego, CA 92101
Re: Revised Scope for Uptown Bike Corridor Project
Dear, Chair Gloria:
On behalf of the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) Board of Directors, please accept this letter in support of SANDAG’s revised scope of work for the Uptown Bike Corridor Project.
HBA representatives recently met with SANDAG to discus the revised scope, and we appreciate SANDAG’s commitment to improving the pedestrian experience along University Avenue while also providing additional bicycle infrastructure along Washington Street and University Avenue. Equally important, it’s our understanding the revised scope will maintain eastbound vehicular access to University Avenue from Washington Street, and it will also minimize the parking loss along University Avenue throughout the Hillcrest business core.
The HBA has always advocated for a balanced plan – one that provides alternative transportation options while still respecting the reality that many customers access Hillcrest businesses by car. We feel both goals are met under the revised scope, and we respectfully ask for the Transportation Committee’s support. As this plan moves forward, the HBA is committed to partnering with SANDAG, the City of San Diego and the respective transportation and community groups to ensure the project is designed well and provides the most significant impact possible for Hillcrest residents and businesses alike.
We look forward to working with SANDAG to ensure that the proposed new infrastructure be installed in appropriate areas of opportunity such as east University Ave. and Normal Street. It is our intention to work with our partners, such as the Uptown Community Parking District, to connect community funds to this project to ensure the best project is created and maintained into the future.
Thank you for your consideration and support of this substantial investment. We look forward to this becoming a reality.
Hillcrest Business Association
UPDATE (5/29): The agenda for next week’s SANDAG Transportation Committee meeting has been posted and all bike lanes have been removed from University Ave. in the new staff proposal. SANDAG board members almost never go against staff recommendations, so it looks nearly certain Uptown will have a $40 million dollar bike lane project with no bike lanes:
As SANDAG and the city heavily promote Bike Month and Bike to Work Day Friday, senior SANDAG staff have presented a new plan that eliminates all protected bike lanes from University Ave in the $40 million dollar Uptown Bikeway project. After the city and SANDAG used an auto Level of Service analysis to reject the Transform Hillcrest plan (which preserved on-street parking by removing travel lanes instead), SANDAG’s original plan remained as the only viable protected bike lane option. But because the Hillcrest Business Association, led by Crest Cafe owner Cecilia Moreno, has refused to “give up” a single on-street parking space (they don’t own them) the HBA’s lobbyist California Strategies instructed SANDAG to keep the status quo. And the status quo is exactly what SANDAG chief and former Caltrans head Gary Gallegos delivered in private to HBA representative Ben Nichols last Friday: the Uptown Bikeway would now become a “pedestrian improvement” project, with sharrows (painted bike symbols) as the “bike facility”.
Bike infrastructure has been neglected for decades in San Diego. Roads, including University Ave in Hillcrest, remain highly dangerous for people on bikes. I was nearly hit by a driver there recently who was performing an illegal turn – ironically, while I biked to an Uptown Planners Special Meeting where its board members rejected the Uptown Bikeway. Meanwhile, cities across the country are implementing safe bike lanes at a rapid clip.
Given the above, it was huge positive news when SANDAG, an agency fighting a state court case for the excessive greenhouse gas emissions in their transportation plan, allocated a small percentage of their sales tax funding on a regional bike plan early action network. The Uptown Bikeway was the first step in this network, and to be a model for the rest of the region.
Well, unfortunately that model is in sad shape, because business and community members have deemed on-street parking spaces more important than the lives of fellow residents on bikes. Despite bike advocates signing on to Transform Hillcrest (a convenient smokescreen for the HBA to pretend they cared about bike infrastructure), and caving on the closure of the University Ave off-ramp for traffic calming, opponents have refused to budge from losing one parking space. Yet since the Uptown Bikeway was announced there has been a huge increase in the number of parking spaces and resources in Hillcrest, far outweighing any worse-case scenario of Bikeway-related parking loss:
And still, no matter how many studies showing that removing some parking for protected bike lanes makes good business sense, the other side simply will not listen.
The city’s draft Climate Action Plan, which seeks to increase bike mode share to 6% by 2020, also appears to be irrelevant. Here was Uptown’s best chance to provide a safe bike infrastructure to get more folks to ride – a rare $40 million dollar funding opportunity for a Bikeway – and now this money is going toward painting sharrow symbols on the road, and pedestrian improvements? More than half of all people who want to ride are afraid of being hit. How are sharrows, which offer zero protection from being hit, going to get these folks to ride?
I want San Diego to be considered one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. We know we have one of the best climates – one that I am working to protect through my Climate Action Plan and its call for even more bike facilities. Our biggest task is to put in the infrastructure that allows and encourages people to ride bikes more often.
If that’s the case, why has there been no leadership from the mayor’s office to keep the Uptown Bikeway’s protected bike lanes from being removed?
Next Friday, June 5th is the SANDAG Transportation Committee meeting where the Uptown Bikeway has been kicked back for re-evaluation. Projects typically only get sent back to the TC if they’re fighting for their lives, which this one sure is. SANDAG Transportation Committee member Ron Roberts, whose County Climate Action Plan was recently thrown out in court for being too weak, has been strongly lobbied by his Mission Hills neighbors to reduce the Bikeway to sharrows. If we’re lucky, SANDAG engineering staff will be able to salvage parts of the project on University – a protected bike lane for 3 blocks along its widest stretch (10th to Normal) and some traffic calming elements like mini-roundabouts and speed tables in Mission Hills. Yet even that is a sorry excuse for what could – and should – have been.
Given that opponents have refused to compromise, it makes little sense to do the same here, but let’s try anyway. Since it’s not clear if SANDAG’s protected bike lanes on 4th and 5th Ave have been killed yet (worst case, we’ll still have the city’s buffered bike lanes there, unless Leo Wilson gets his way), how about connecting these lanes to east Hillcrest with a combined bus/bike lane on the narrower section of University (5th to 10th)? Then do the protected bike lanes from 10th to Normal as mentioned above. This would preserve all street parking on University, except for spaces near the few driveways between 10th and Normal.