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What About the Parking?

What About the Parking?

Ever walked around downtown San Diego and come across a massive crater being dug in the ground?  Not the downtown surface parking craters on Streetsblog, but literal parking craters, several stories deep at a cost of millions of dollars – beneath nearly every new housing project downtown:

  

This recent Union Tribune article points out that downtown San Diego, with its policy of requiring parking for all new housing, is now an outlier among large cities – and asks if residents are ready to allow exceptions to this rule.  The answer from many downtown is “no”, of course:

Pat Stark, chairman of the Downtown Community Planning Council, said softening the requirements could also create a backlash from many of the 40,000 residents already living downtown.

“We’re very friendly toward density, but then there’s also great pushback on the impacts of that density, specifically when it comes to parking,”

Gary Smith, president of the Downtown San Diego Residents Group, said by phone on Friday that San Diego is not ready to abandon parking requirements downtown.

This isn’t the first time Gary Smith has implied that he speaks for all of downtown, and I’m not sure why he thinks he determines what San Diego is or isn’t ready for – but he’s definitely not concerned about housing affordability.  This Voice of San Diego article points out how the $60-90K cost of each underground parking space is simply passed on to tenants, making renting/ownership more unaffordable. 

And of course there’s going to be pushbacks and backlashes from established downtown residents – they’re acting out of self-interest.  But since catering to these folks is a major contributor to how we got into a housing crisis, why are they setting our parking policy? (Short answer: because older residents vote at a much higher rate in local elections.)  Perhaps simply looking at community planning group housing approval rates glosses over how harmful these groups have been toward affordable housing efforts. 

Fortunately the U-T article has some sensible comments in support of removing the minimums, and even Gary acknowledges, “In the long term, you will probably end up going that way because people living in a dense civic core like downtown tend to find they don’t need a car as much”.  But things get weird again when downtown’s population forecast of 100,000 is compared to other cities as a justification to continue building expensive parking:

Manhattan has 1.7 million residents and San Francisco has nearly 1 million.

Let’s compare the geographic sizes of these downtowns:

  • Manhattan (1.7M people) is 23 square miles
  • “Downtown” San Francisco (850K people) is 47 square miles
  • Downtown San Diego (100K forecast) is just 2.3 square miles

I’m not sure if this is just lazy reporting or a literal small-town mindset from Mr. Smith, but regardless, it isn’t a valid argument.  Plus, many downtowns were once the population size of San Diego, yet were allowed to grow without requiring subterranean parking spaces at $75K a pop.  But that was before car culture reduced us to making absurd arguments like these, or the “downtown has a relative lack of mass transit” whopper – when nearly every bus and trolley line in San Diego make their way there.

Meanwhile it’s encouraging to see the survival of the weekend night no-parking zone on 5th Avenue downtown to facilitate drop-offs, despite doom-and-gloom stories from local news outlets that receive millions annually in car commercial revenue.  Given the high number of ride share vehicles dropping off passengers throughout San Diego, why haven’t we converted more business district curb space from parking to drop-off zones?  Instead, drivers are stopping in red zones to drop off and pick up people, which reduces visibility at intersections, or worse, blocks buses.  

Over at San Diego State, it’s remarkable to see the College Area Community Planning group actually *supporting* a new student housing project, after years of exacerbating the area’s mini-dorm problem.  Yet “city staff” (translation: Mayor Faulconer) oppose the badly-needed affordable housing project because it doesn’t meet the city’s parking minimums.   Days later the Planning Commission refuted the Mayor’s out-of-touch position:

“We need to build more housing, period,” said Commissioner Susan Peerson. “We need to be creative and look at these hybrid solutions that don’t fit every checkbox in our code.”

As the first link above points out, how many City documents have to spell out that this is precisely the type of development needed until City policies actually reflect those goals?  Or, how much worse does our housing crisis have to get before our electeds exhibit common-sense leadership?

While it may make sense to reconsider our parking vs housing balance, it won’t change the minds of many who think abundant parking is simply a basic right.  Channeling fellow Union Tribune sportswriter Nick Canepa, Kirk Kenney ranted about his daughter being unable to find parking on the second day of fall semester at SDSU last week:

Kenney goes on to say “When you charge a student $271 per semester for a (overnight-included) parking permit there’s a reasonable expectation of being able to find a parking spot.” Meanwhile these tweets from SDSU Parking Services indicate that there actually was plenty of student parking available on the east side of campus that day – even during this peak-demand first week:

 

In those 39 years since Mr. Kenney parked and biked (God forbid) to SDSU, there’s been a $506M extension of the Green Line to SDSU, and the addition $44M Mid-City Rapid bus to SDSU.  As a result, parking demand at SDSU has been largely flat.  To many, that would be “addressing the issue”, but not to the parking-entitled.  Unfortunately, these folks often have a loud voice in our planning future.

When it comes to public curb space, what if we ignored them and just priced and used it economically, given all the alternatives to private car storage on public streets?  Convert some to safe bike/scooter infrastructure, convert some more for express bus lanes, and price the rest based on demand.  That’s the best way to use this public space now, and even more so in the future given current trends.

A friend said to me recently, “Little Italy is so cool but you know what sucks about it?  There’s nowhere to park.”  He said this despite nearly every inch of curb space there being devoted to private parking (save for some red curbs), and a new $640M parking garage.  (Since it costs $10 to park in the garage, that’s not even considered.)  The reason there’s “nowhere (free) to park” is because Little Italy is extraordinarily popular, not because we haven’t allocated an enormous amount of public space to it.  This reminded me that we’re never gong to satisfy folks whose spectrum of transportation options is limited to their own steering wheel.  Let’s stop trying to appease them, and start considering some smart parking policies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning Groups Block City’s Vision Zero, Climate Action Plans

Planning Groups Block City’s Vision Zero, Climate Action Plans

Several local community planning groups (CPGs) are obstructing the basic safety improvements required for San Diego’s Vision Zero and Climate Action Plans.  These plans are official city policies endorsed by many CPGs.  However, several bike and pedestrian safety projects have been delayed, watered down or killed by these groups recently.  This is because the established residents who often make up our CPGs prioritize street parking and fast, dangerous roads over their neighbors’ safety.

I contributed to the Monroe Bikeway piece published on BikeSD and reproduced below.  It details how the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Group has lost all credibility on bike infrastructure after opposing the City’s El Cajon Bikeway in favor of three years of delays and eventual opposition to SANDAG’s Monroe Bikeway.  The Peninsula Planning Group, fresh off declaring its opposition to affordable housing at the Famosa site (what housing crisis?), opposed two versions of a bike lane for West Point Loma Boulevard: a road diet and a reduced parking alternative.  And let’s not forget Uptown Planners declaration that absolutely no parking could be sacrificed for any SANDAG Uptown Bikeways, a position which helped kill most of the University Ave Bikeway

It’s clear that a large segment of our city’s car culture will never accept any version of a pedestrian or bike safety project, despite the recent explosion in bike and scooter riders. Much like our housing crisis, why are we allowing residents who helped create the problem an opportunity to veto any and every solution?  San Diego will never implement its Vision Zero or Climate Action Plans so long as self-interested residents continue to dictate our land use policies.    


SANDAG Monroe Bikeway Held Hostage by Kensington Talmadge Planning Group, Residents

Last week the Kensinton Talamadge Planning Group (Ken-Tal) received an update on the Monroe Bikeway segment of the North Park-Mid City Bikeways from SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) staff member Danny Veeh. The Monroe Bikeway is one of the last planned segments of the still-unconstructed North Park Mid City bikeways, and is a 1.3 mile bicycle boulevard connecting from Copley Price YMCA to Collwood Blvd in the College Area:  

Monroe Bikeway San Diego

Before summarizing the events of the meeting (hint: it didn’t go well), let’s go over the history of bike lane projects in the Talmadge area:

andrew bowen

So after multiple years of Monroe Bikeway planning, traffic studies, traffic modeling, presentations to planning groups/planning group subcommittees/maintenance assessment districts/community councils, modifications to those presentations, more modifications to those presentations, and votes against other bikeways because of Monroe Bikeway—what did Ken-Tal planning group do? They prepared to vote against the Monroe Bikeway.

Monroe Bikeway San Diego

The overriding issue that long predates this project is auto congestion on Monroe during rush hour. While Ken-Tal and the City have implemented many attempts to address this issue, the entire community has never been satisfied. The city tried stop signs in 2013, left turn restrictions from 47th to Monroe in 2015, and Ken-Tal floated closing 47th at Monroe and a traffic island that restricted turns. Ken-Tal has also voted to widen El Cajon Boulevard at Fairmont, directly contradicting the city’s safety efforts on this deadly street for pedestrians. These actions have exposed a bitter community divide over a basic equity issue: Should auto access to one of the most heavily-used two-lane roads in the city be limited to wealthier north Talmadge residents, or do lower income residents in south Talmadge and City Heights have a right to this public road too? The City of San Diego answered this question by instructing SANDAG to design the bikeway without altering access to Monroe from 47th.

Despite Ken-Tal chair Don Taylor’s reminders that congestion issues are well beyond the scope and budget of the bikeway, Talmadge residents and board members continue to hold the Monroe Bikeway project hostage over this neighborhood dispute. In 2017, SANDAG staff was prepared to move the project forward for environmental clearance but delayed the project for 1 year to appease Ken-Tal’s concerns. As Ken-Tal requested, a HAWK beacon was replaced with a bicycle only left turn pocket in the most recent design. Despite this concession, many board members still refused to support the project. Remarkably, former Ken-Tal chair David Moty removed his support as a result of this concession.  

When community members oppose a project for reasons that directly contradict each other, how is SANDAG ever expected to achieve the elusive “consensus” required for bike lane projects that is not required for freeway widenings and road expansions? This is the main reason why nearly every SANDAG bike lane project is behind schedule: attempting to appease armchair engineer residents who write 62-page manifestos demanding the city subsidize his lack of off-street parking, or Ken-Tal board members who attack the Monroe Bikeway for failing to improve safety—while offering no viable alternative. A Talmadge attorney even insisted the California Environmental Quality Act prohibits the bike lane—despite the governor signing two laws that prevent this environmental policy from being perverted to kill bike lanes.

Meanwhile, here’s fomer Ken-Tal chair Moty in 2015, offering full support for the Monroe Bikeway: “SANDAG staff are faced with challenges enough elsewhere, we should not create challenges for them here where overall community support is strong. The KTPG does not believe this is the city’s intent, and hopes the city will give its full support to SANDAG’s plan and remove any roadblocks to its implementation.”  

As Ken-Tal prepared to vote “no” on the Bikeway (with chair Taylor, Transportation Subcommittee chair Sean Harrison and Deborah Sharpe the only apparent “yes” votes), District 9 City Councilmember Georgette Gomez asked the board to postpone their vote. Gomez was present for the full 2 hours of contentious debate about the Bikeway and does not support 24-hour left turn restrictions onto Aldine from Monroe. She promised to take the feedback from the community planned to work with SANDAG and City of San Diego staff. Councilmember Gomez has been vocal supporter of active transportation in her role on SANDAG’s Transportation Committee and BikeSD is hopeful her leadership will result in a high-quality Monroe Bikeway.

Yet so far Ken-Tal’s efforts to delay the Monroe Bikeway have been successful. As we’ve seen with the Uptown Bikeway and in communities across the country, this is a proven model to continually delay and water down bike lanes, until eventually killing them. If San Diego is going to implement any of SANDAG’s bicycle projects, city leaders must not give into “advisory” planning groups, who actually hold a powerful veto over bike infrastructure. Further, Ken-Tal’s long history of placing its own interests over the larger Mid-City community (attempting to move planned retail away from El Cajon Boulevard; voting to worsen pedestrian safety on ECB) is another reason why our planning groups should be consolidated—at a minimum.

For supporters of the bikeway, the next big timeline will be a CEQA exemption hearing. Prior to the recent Ken-Tal planning meeting, SANDAG planned for a September hearing. Any delay will add to concerning pattern of City of San Diego and SANDAG tolerating delays to SANDAG’s early action bicycle plan.