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Three Weeks Downtown

Three Weeks Downtown

Letter arrives in the mail: “SUMMONS FOR JURY DUTY”.

That heart-sinking feeling… and work is way too busy.  Can I postpone?  Yes, but you need to re-schedule for a Monday. Postponement date arrives.  Turns out Mondays are when they assign the long trials.  I’m in the jury box.  Oh, you work at UC San Diego – they pay for your jury duty, right?  We’d love to have you for the next three weeks.

Your (county/state) jury duty destination: the Hall of Justice (with new county courthouse behind it)

And so it went.  After nearly 20 years in San Diego I was finally on a trial.  Overall it was a good experience, especially because I could walk around downtown every day at lunch and get up to speed on all the changes happening there.  The other neat part was how easy it was to get there.  An invigorating 10-minute morning walk to either the 215 or 235 rapid bus stops on El Cajon Boulevard, a fast trip downtown (on the 235 anyway), and a drop-off just a block from the Hall of Justice.  Compare that to my commute to UC San Diego: get cut off repeatedly on my drive to Old Town Transit Center, then sit on a bus stuck behind solo drivers on I-5.

The county’s new $555 million courthouse, the most expensive in state history, is nearly complete behind the Hall of Justice.  Here’s a shot of how the perforated roof creates light lines on the exposed interior wall of the structure:

The 22-story, 389 foot courthouse replaces the old courthouse just east of the Hall of Justice on Broadway.  I’ve heard the old central courthouse described as a ‘skyscraper on its side’.  Considering how little demand there was for land in 1960’s downtown San Diego, why build an expensive tower when you can just sprawl across three blocks:

Move-in for the new courthouse was supposed to be this month, and the new jury lounge there would have been an improvement over the one in the Hall of Justice – which along with much of the ground floor, feels much older than the building’s 1996 opening date. 

My lunchtime walks often took me past the ongoing demolition at the Naval Broadway Complex, which will be replaced by the Manchester Pacific Gateway project:

The $1.3 billion project, spread across 12 acres, will include a 17-story office building to serve as the U.S. Navy headquarters, four office buildings, two hotels, a museum, retail promenade and 1.9-acre park.

Pacific Gateway opens in 2020.  A friend who works at the Navy facility said they had to helicopter the bulldozers in because a wrecking ball wouldn’t work on the very thick walls of the buildings.  I’m guessing asbestos plays a role too:

Across Pacific Highway, Bosa’s Pacific Gate is nearing completion:

It was good to see two cruise ships docked on the harbor, given the cruise ship downturn here when travel to Mexico plummeted a decade ago:

Savina is going in behind Bayside.  Its street-level podium appears to take up the entire block, which would make it larger than Bayside’s:

The new Intercontinental Hotel continues to build up at Harbor and Broadway:

Unfortunately there’s a huge pedestrian detour on Pacific Highway for folks walking out of the SpringHill Suites/Residence Inn combo hotel, requiring them to do a loop around the Intercontinental construction.  Pacific Highway is nearly 90 feet wide here, but there isn’t enough room for a temporary pedestrian walkway? 

I stopped into Horton Plaza Park several times and witnessed the homeless problem there that was recently covered in the U-T.  While it was disappointing to see the sheer number of struggling people, I wasn’t personally impacted by it, and the Park still has potential to be a fine civic gathering area.  At least people are talking about what a space like this should be, and how it could be improved.  The same can’t be said for the south side of Horton Plaza, which couldn’t present a more pedestrian-unfriendly face to the street if it tried:  

There have been suggestions of incorporating office space into Horton Plaza, which would bring a built-in customer base to the Jimbo’s Grocery and other retail there.  Whatever changes Westfield has planned for Horton, they can’t come soon enough.

The long lunch breaks even offered the opportunity to get over to East Village, where the library’s reading room offered an excellent view of the 19-story Alexan 23-story K1 construction (the Alexan is just north) on 14th 13th:

Bike to Work Day turned into Bike to Jury Duty day this year, but I was able to hit some new pit stops (for me) as a result, including this one at Laurel and 6th:

On the Park side of Balboa Park, the zoo had also set up a pit stop, and this giant Australian Kingfisher made quite a ruckus (at 3:30 in the video):

And while I didn’t get to Quartyard during my jury duty, I did bike by there yesterday, where they were counting down their last days before moving to their new location a few blocks east at 13th and Market.  Tickets for the June 2nd closing party are available. 

Speaking of Quartyard, there’s an interesting article up about the UCSanDiego.Urban mixed-use project that will replace it, which will feature “music and food festivals”. 

UC San Diego’s Bike Un-Share

UC San Diego’s Bike Un-Share

The post below appeared on BikeSD on 5/19.  Since then, UC San Diego presented its Long Range Development Plan.  Despite several claims of the university’s ‘sustainability’, the presentation graphics included no mention of a bike share system, nor its Climate Action Plan goals to reduce solo driver commuters beyond this year:

There were also no renderings of the multiple new parking garages approved for campus, nor the planned parking lot that will pave over a canyon behind Geisel Library.  


After racking up more than 1000 free rides per day, the new (but unauthorized) Ofo bike share system was removed by UC San Diego officials last month. Despite the obvious demand for bike share, and a four-year-old UCSD undergraduate report describing a bike sharing system for campus, officials pulled the plug on the program.

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Ofo’s “insurance policies did not meet campus requirements when reviewed by UCSD Risk Services”, according to UCSD Marketing and Communications Director Laura Margoni.  In addition, a UCSD police officer explained that no procedure for maintaining or repairing Ofo bikes existed.

Dumping 300 bikes on campus meant Ofo was using the same business model disruption method as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.  Had these sharing economy companies waited for permission from officials – who were often unwilling or unable to comprehend the need for such services – they wouldn’t have succeeded.  Similarly, Ofo demonstrated the large demand for bike share at UCSD by bypassing campus rules set by administrators who disregarded years of requests for such a program.  After the bikes were removed, UCSD Transportation Services Marketing Manager Curt Lutz said:

“It is my understanding that the impression left by the OFO experience was that there is likely demand for a well implemented bike share program that has a sustainable funding model or to be piloted for trial of competitive models.”

Wasn’t this demand communicated to UCSD by the undergraduate report four years earlier, by multiple students and employees, and in employee parking and sustainability surveys?  And while most municipalities have worked out agreements with unauthorized sharing services, UCSD instead removed a bike share system that cost nothing to install, with no official communication about its replacement.  (Meanwhile every temporary parking lot closure is announced to campus.)  Mr. Lutz again:

“We have been working on a review (internally and with cooperation of SANDAG staff) of bike share vendors, technologies and programs for the past several months to evaluate moving forward with an RFP or RFI (Request for Proposal/Information). UC Riverside and UCLA are just launching programs with two of the prospective vendors offering different technologies.  At this time we believe that there is value in monitoring these implementations as part of our process. We are currently working with campus Procurement to scope options for bike share services including business models like OFO.”

Nearly 100 U.S. campuses had bike share systems in 2010, including UC Irvine.  UC Berkeley will implement Bay Area Bike Share shortly – without monitoring UCLA and UCR.  Yet UCSD still needs to monitor these programs before issuing a Request for Information?  Encouragingly, Margoni states that a bike share pilot will roll out at UCSD this fall.

A bike share program is important to UC San Diego for a number of reasons.  The freeway-like roads (or stroads) surrounding campus make conditions too dangerous for many off-campus residents to commute by bike:

  • Genesee Avenue on the north side of campus is 6+ lanes of 60 MPH+ traffic just inches from riders (here’s audio of a KPBS reporter attempting to bike it).  
  • The $105 million dollar Genesee Ave bridge being built over I-5 will be 10 car lanes wide, yet there wasn’t enough room for a protected bike lane.  
  • La Jolla Village Drive is also 6+ lanes of 50 MPH+ traffic, with pedestrians being hit and killed on its curving, high-speed I-5 on-ramps.  
  • Gilman Drive is 4+ lanes of 60 MPH+ traffic, with aggressive drivers often veering into the bike lane to cut into the I-5 south onramp queue.  

As a result of the above, many commuters use SDMTS bus routes that take them to the Gilman Transit Center, on the south side of campus.  This a 15-30 minute walk to many buildings on the vast UCSD campus, and bike share would address this first/last-mile problem of public transit.  UCSD does offer a useful shuttle system, but if you miss one it’s still faster to walk.

Some students do use the limited bike racks (two) on MTS buses, but they are vulnerable to the massive bike theft problem on campus.  Bike lockers would offer increased security but these do not exist at UCSD, despite my requests for installation several years ago.      

While biking could shorten the long walk times between buildings, it is actually against the rules to ride a bike on either of the main north-south campus routes, from 8:30 AM to 5 PM.  As a result, students frequently receive costly tickets simply for biking to class.  As this report from CirculateSD suggests, why not simply create dedicated bike lanes on these routes and elsewhere on campus?  BikeSD covered San Diego State’s new bike lanes back in 2011:

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Instead, the Grove Path bike lane was installed for a short segment between the two main north-south UCSD pedestrian-only routes. Pedestrians often use the bike-only Grove Path lane, and are not cited for doing so.

Since bike share helps solve the last-mile problem of public transit, UCSD’s removal of Ofo contradicts the university’s attempts to increase the number of commuters using alternative transportation to campus. Proclaiming “Sustainability is in our DNA”, UCSD’s 2008 Climate Action Plan seeks to decrease the number of solo-driver commuters from 49% to 39% by 2018, via increased biking, walking, and public transit usage.  Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in California, and San Diego faces severe coastal impacts from a predicted 10-foot sea level rise by the end of the century:

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However, since its Climate Action Plan was announced, UC San Diego has taken the following actions with respect to transit:

  • Terminated its free bus zone program for students and employees (employees can receive an EcoPass discount)
  • Removed a free bike share program
  • Endangered bicyclists on Expedition Way and Voight Drive, by adding street parking to these narrow, hilly roads
  • Supported the $6.5 billion dollar widening of I-5 in North County – which includes no bus routes servicing campus
  • Announced the construction of three new parking garages on campus, despite the Mid-Coast Trolley’s arrival in 2021

UCSD’s goal of reducing single occupancy commuters is shared by the UC Office of the President (UCOP), which publishes an annual report outlining mode share rates and reduction goals:

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However, UCSD’s mode share numbers above are for all commuters entering campus, including students – not employees, as the report indicates.  Since the university has no way to distinguish students from employees in its semi-annual counts, the employee single occupancy vehicle number shown above is incorrect (a commuter mode share survey was recently launched to address this misrepresentation), and skewed downward by the large number of students using public transit. Students voted overwhelmingly to pay a quarterly fee for discounted bus service after the free bus zone was killed, and the MTS 201/202 Super Loop has the highest ridership per revenue hour in San Diego’s bus system.  

It should be noted that UCSD has taken some positive steps regarding alternative transportation, including the well-intentioned Grove Path above, and planning for Class II (unprotected) bike lanes on a short segment of Gilman Drive and the new Voight and Gilman bridges.  UCSD is contributing at least $1.2 million to the Gilman Drive bridge, which will provider a calmer east-side route to campus. UCSD also provided 1.6% of the funding for the Genesee/I-5 project, which will include a bike path connecting campus to the Sorrento Valley Amtrak station.  Yet many of the projects identified in the 2012 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Planning Study still have not begun, nor has funding been identified.

Further, UCSD’s alternative transportation spending is constrained by its limited sources, which are parking and ticket revenue.  (UCOP goals for increasing alternative transit usage aren’t backed by significant funding.)  And employee parking permit fees don’t come close to paying for the $100 million-plus cost of multiple new parking garages planned for campus (Torrey Pines North Living/Learning Neighborhood, Mesa Nuevos and Osler). Given the rapid rise of ride-sharing services like Uber/Lyft, does it make sense for the university to continue building costly parking garages?  As ride share systems test flat-fee pool programs, new and inexpensive options will exist for automobile commuters to skip vehicle storage on campus.    

If sustainability is truly in UC San Diego’s DNA, it should be leading state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.  Removing a free bike share system that complements public transit isn’t leadership, nor is it consistent with UCSD’s sustainability claims.