We spent several days in Denver recently and really enjoyed our visit to this rapidly changing city. It has a similar feel to San Diego – laid-back, brewpubs, outdoor-oriented – but is further along in building a robust public transit system and near-transit development. And as this banner at the 16th pedestrian mall downtown shows, there’s a big push to promote bicycling in the city. We spent a full day riding the B-Cycle bike share around town and it offered plenty to see in its coverage zone, from downtown to Capitol Hill, to Cheeseman Park and the Denver Botanic Gardens, to a packed City Park full of people watching a free jazz show on a beautiful summer evening.
We stayed in Wheatridge with my stepbrother, just west of many of the “hot” neighborhoods on that side of downtown. That put us relatively close to Tennyson Street in the Berkeley neighborhood, where new cafes, restaurants and mixed-use development dotted this main drag. But it’s further east in Highlands where things are really getting interesting. Connected to downtown via the Millenium bridge over I-25 and 15th St. pedestrian gateway, there’s lots of new residential development and restaurants/bars going in. It’s also home to Little Man Ice Cream, where I had the most delicious vegan ice cream of my life (named “Munchies”, which was rather appropriate at the time).
Across the freeway near Confluence Park there’s some high-rise development going in:
And plenty more development further east, near the current Union Station light rail station and 16th St pedestrian mall bus terminus (this picture doesn’t show more high-rises to the right):
Lots of bicyclists use this pedestrian path to get between west Denver and downtown, so the city incorporated these neat bike rails so you don’t have to carry your bike down the stairs:
Moving further east, the new Union Station rail stop canopy has been built, and this station will open in 2016. There was a grand opening at Union Station the weekend after we visited, with various new restaurants (including a Snooze AM) and a hotel in the building:
Denver’s FasTraks program, funded by a voter-approved 2004 0.4 cent sales tax increase, is in the midst of adding 122 miles of rail lines (and 18 miles of BRT), one of which will connect to their distant airport in 2016. We rode the line from west of Denver to downtown to catch a Rockies game and it was a convenient car-free experience. Meanwhile, the city’s innovative Transit Oriented Development Fund invests in sensible development near public transit:
The Fund is capitalized at $15 million, but is evolving now to $30 million in total loan capital. This revolving loan fund will make capital available to purchase and hold sites for up to five years along current and future rails and high frequency bus corridors. The $30 million investment will leverage over $500 million in local economic development activity, serving many economically challenged neighborhoods in Metro Denver with construction and permanent job creation. The Fund will also directly benefit low-income households that on average spend 60% of their gross income on housing and transportation expenses combined. By controlling these expenses and providing access to quality, environmentally-sustainable housing, the TOD Fund will make it possible for families to build wealth and access employment and educational opportunities. It will also provide employers with access to an expanded workforce.
There’s very frequent bus service along the 16th St. pedestrian street, which was bustling both on a Friday afternoon and on Saturday, when the street was closed to buses for a ped/bike event:
As one of the cities with the greatest millennial in-migration, Denver’s new urban residential construction isn’t limited to just west Denver and downtown. We noticed several streets where single homes had been replaced by duplexes:
While they do change the character of the street, they’re certainly a better option than the cheaply-built Huffman six-packs and their large curb-cuts that have negatively impacted Uptown.
The Five Points neighborhood northeast of downtown was also full of new residential projects, and we ate our best meal of the trip on the inviting back patio of The Populist restaurant there. Another dining highlight was lunch at Steubens in Capitol Hill:
Capitol Hill is the city’s gay center, but the vibrancy of their gay community is one area where Denver lags San Diego, in my opinion. We did enjoy our time on the patio at X Bar, which is owned by a San Diegan. And Capitol Hill, like many other neighborhoods, contained several establishments that sold marijuana to both in- and out-of-state customers. Purchasing and intaking cannabis, free of the guilt of doing something illegal – what a concept! Follow that up with a visit to the surreal Chihuly glass exhibits at the Denver Botanical Gardens (more in the Denver flickr set):
It was eye-opening to experience a city that’s applying smart principles to growth, considering the benefits growth can bring to a region’s economy. Denver’s public transit expansion and nearby development was a sharp contrast to San Diego, where established residents oppose any new urban development outside of downtown, and millennials depart at one of the highest rates in the nation. Every new housing unit that Denver builds near downtown is one less resource-intensive suburban home contributing to sprawl – something we appreciated during our amazing hike at Three Sisters Park high in the hills.
Panama 66 has soft-opened in the Sculpture Garden cafe space with a decent selection of local craft beers, some interesting cocktails, and a menu not too different from their sister restaurant Tiger Tiger. They even do coconut-glazed donut and beer pairings as part of their weekend brunch. But my favorite part is just being able to bike to a spot in Balboa Park that serves craft beer in a laid-back setting. We have places like this in our neighborhoods, but why has the Park always felt like a tourist The Prado skews a bit too upscale to pop into after a sweaty ride (and usually has some event going on), but that’s not the case at Panama 66, which seems geared toward both locals and tourists.
They’re still in pre-grand opening mode, so hours are limited, but the bar shown above is temporary and they’ll be adding more taps. Bartender “Pete” said they’re installing a roof to provide shade for patrons who don’t score an umbrella-covered seat. I like the architecture of the cafe’s patio, so hopefully it’s not a permanent structure. Panama 66 is also providing drinks for events, like Film in the Garden and the recent Culture and Cocktails event at the Museum of Art, which Pete said was very busy.
I’d really like to see the restaurant’s seating extend out into the car-free Plaza de Panama. Plazas throughout Europe are ringed by cafes with such seating. Why can’t that be done here – because of San Diego’s restrictive alcohol laws? There are actually spaces in the Park that allow for (non-glass) drinking, so maybe that’s not the reason.
Earlier in the day we joined the thousands of people on 30th in North Park watching the World Cup final on a giant screen:
It was awesome to see this public space briefly reclaimed from cars and given to all people, not just drivers. If Mexico City can close down a main boulevard every Sunday morning for pedestrians and bicyclists, why not North Park? There can’t be many deliveries at this time, and there’s a giant parking garage just down the street. While we were there, our friend Christopher told us about the two places going in just up the block at Lincoln. One will be Milk Bar and the other Streetcar Donuts, the latter serving “specialty donuts and waffle-battered fried chicken”.
A new open air fish market opens near the Chesapeake Seafood spot just north of Seaport Village on Saturdays starting August 2nd… Moosie’s Ice Cream had their grand opening in Kensington this past weekend, great addition to the neighborhood… Bake Sale bakery has opened in East Village, from the owner of Bankers Hill Bar and Grill… Architect/developer Jonathan Segal has an unspecified project going in at Robinson and Park. If it lines up commercial tenants on the order of his North Parker, that would be a big boost for the burgeoning Egyptian district in Hillcrest. Will the anti-growth sentiments prevalent among many established Hillcrest residents be voiced against this project too?
- Speaking of NIMBYs, they’re still going wild: A Clairemont “planner” says her neighborhood is “built out” and shouldn’t have to accept any of the estimated 1.2 million new residents projected for our region by 2050… Street parking for established Ocean Beach residents justifies blocking new development that would remove blight… A Linda Vista mortgage broker says his neighborhood is “absolutely against” the trolley and opposes any new development to address the region’s housing crisis… No major objections were voiced against the eastern end of the proposed Mid-City Bike Corridor at an Eastern Community planning meeting last week, but planner Mario Ingrasi has exhibited a “motorists own the road” perspective in the past.
Mario: Suggestion has been raised to enforce an ordinance to limit and further enforce riding on sidewalks and tax bicycles, perhaps levee a tax on purchase of bicycle components. Licensing may also be an option. The problem lies in a conflict between auto drivers and bicyclists over who is entitled to be on the road. Motorists do not sense that bicyclists are putting in their fair share due to not paying licensing or registration fees. Bicyclists feel by keeping an auto off the road they have contributed. Motorists feel there should be some way for bicyclists to pay for the impacts the addition of bike lanes and bicyclist ROW over motorists that are being given to cyclists
- Circulate SD published a San Diego pedestrian collision analysis showing more than half of pedestrian/auto collisions were drivers “at fault” and that 60% of motorists fail to yield to pedestrians at intersections… University and 4th Avenue in Hillcrest made the list of intersections with the most pedestrian injuries, yet a Hillcrest nightclub promoter continues to rail against the University Avenue street-calming bike lanes because parking… A Long Beach study found protected bike lanes there increased bike ridership by 33%, reduced bike crashes by 80%, reduced vehicle crashes by 50%, and increased pedestrian use by 15%… A recent meeting on the Meade Avenue bicycle boulevard was well-received by attendees… Phoenix has approved a Complete Streets Ordinance… The California Bicycle Coalition is throwing a better bikeways party at Jakes on 6th Wine Bar this Friday from 6-9 pm.
The building that houses Fiesta Market near Adams and 30th has been sold:
- Down 30th in North Park, there’s a crazy amount of new restaurants opening. Borrowing heavily from the North Park facebook page: there’s a doughnut bar with fried chicken and milk coming to 30th and Lincoln, Wow Wow Waffles has opened in the converted garage behind the laundromat at 3519 30th, mac-and-cheese (including a vegan option, yay) spot Bazinga has soft-opened in the former Sea Rocket Bistro spot, The Safehouse - an izakaya joint – is coming to 30th and University, and Influx and Tacos Perla have opened in the North Parker. Meanwhile the North Park Theater is booking interesting indie acts like The New Pornographers and Lykke Li, meaning residents can actually walk to these types of concerts without having to drive to Chula Vista, SDSU or Solana Beach.
Speaking of the North Parker, Modern Times is having their one year anniversary party there at the Flavordome in a couple of weeks, and at their brewery in the Midway district.
- Downtown, two restaurant/market spaces are coming: San Diego Food Finds has a writeup on the nearly-open Bottega Americano in the Thomas Jefferson Law School building, which channels NYC’s Eataly, while Eater has the details on The Market Hall coming to Market and 9th – which also… channels Eataly. Having multiple food stands and eateries housed in one space is a great concept, so the more of these the better.
- What’s the deal with that Hanson’s Market that was supposed to open in Little Italy? Their website still says a September/October opening, but a picture up on San Diego Streets makes that date dubious.
- In Hillcrest, Tap and Press has opened in that high-turnover spot at 6th and University, complete with outdoor seating. But if there was one intersection on University that would benefit from some traffic calming to make outdoor dining more bearable, this might be it.
Bike SD has a signup form if you’d like to volunteer to help bring protected bike lanes and traffic calming to University Avenue. I attended a volunteer meeting recently and was pleased to meet David Lundin,
owner who has a financial interest in the success of Bamboo Lounge. Only later did I found out he’s the same person who exposed the financial waste of the Balboa Park Centennial folks. David’s helping put together a centennial celebration if you’d like to contribute. And with Jake’s on 6th hosting a recent Bike SD event, it’s great to see some Hillcrest businesses supporting complete streets. For more information, check out the Connect Hillcrest Facebook page.
Much of the opposition to the Uptown Bike Corridor is with respect to on-street parking impacts. As the makeover of Uptown Shopping Center into The Hub continues, there’s been some discussion between the Uptown Parking District folks and the property owners about making (paid) parking available to the public here after 9 PM. Demand for parking in the area peaks during clubbing hours, yet this is when most of the businesses in the Uptown plaza are closed. Why not make the largely empty lot available to drivers who are willing to pay for parking?
Tajima has opened a Ramen outpost in Hillcrest in the former Yakitori Yakudori spot on 6th. My boss and I are regulars at their Kearny Mesa sushi spot, Tajima 2.
- I work a couple days a week near Sharp Memorial Hospital in Kearny Mesa, but I’ve always been afraid to ride the bike-unfriendly roads of Mission Valley. The new MTS Rapid Bus route 235 takes me up to Clairemont Drive, and it’s a fairly easy ride from there (including through the tree-lined streets of The Spectrum, where more residential units are being built). But I’m proud to say I finally went door-to-door by bike last week via the steep incline of Mission Center Road, which will get your blood going at 8AM.
I’m bringing up Mission Valley because there’s a project underway at Friars and SR-163 that will bring bicyclist and pedestrian improvements to the former:
Safety improvements for bicyclist and pedestrians include the construction of a bike lane and sidewalk on both sides of Friars Road as well as on- and off-ramp realignment to eliminate the ’free right’ movements.
With the recent improvements to Texas Street, and next year’s planned build of the Adams-to-Camino Del Rio bike lane, things are beginning to look up in Mission Valley. Now if they can just tame Fairmont…
Finally, thanks to the Padres and the city/county of San Diego for putting on last week’s Tony Gwynn memorial. My dad met him a couple years ago in our hometown airport of Albany NY (where he was returning from Cooperstown) and spoke to him for 15 minutes. He said Tony was the nicest, most down-to-earth person you could meet.
Do you want Hillcrest to be a more vibrant urban neighborhood, with much-needed new housing? Then you’re a bigot that needs to move to downtown. Uptown Planning Chair Leo Wilson has sounded off over a city Historic Resources staff review of Hillcrest:
From: Leo Wilson
Date: Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 8:35 PM
Subject: Re: Uptown Community Plan Update: Hillcrest – Historic Resources Field Work
To: “Pangilinan, Marlon”
I want to be very blunt in this E-mail.
There is a lot of hate directed at Hillcrest from certain blogs from people who claim to be “urban activists.” In most cases the individuals responsible for these blogs have no connection to Hillcrest, and are pushing agendas not related to the betterment of the Hillcrest community.
Hillcrest is where the genesis of the GLBT community took place; early on Hillcrest was often refrerred to as a “bohemian community”, where people outside of the mainstream were allowed a refuge. It is where the GLBT community initially congregated, and became mainstream. I strongly object to the failure to recognize these important historic events involving the GLBT community, and to push for the extinction of historic Hillcrest under the auspices of becoming part of “greater Downtown.” I object to certain straight white bigots attacking the members of the GLBT community accusing the Hillcrest community of being antiquated because we are asking that the character of Hillcrest, and other communities in Uptown, be preserved. If these people want to live in a high density environments, they need to move Downtown.
Any development in Hillcrest, and for that matter in the other five communities of Uptown, needs to take into account that fact that these are the historic communities of San Diego. and need to be developed in a manner that respect he historic fabric of these Uptown communities.
I wasn’t aware of the review until I got Marlon’s email, but who exactly are the “straight white bigots” with “no connection to Hillcrest” Mr. Wilson is referring to? My husband and I have been together for over 14 years and spend a good deal of time and money in Hillcrest. While there is some historic architecture in the survey area that should be preserved (we’re members of Save Our Heritage Organisation), is Mr. Wilson saying we shouldn’t add new housing and businesses to Hillcrest because it was once a pioneering gay community? What an odd justification to freeze an urban neighborhood in time – especially given the fact San Diego requires another 330,000 housing units by 2050.
The head of the Uptown Planners bringing up discrimination, when he’s long fought against safe infrastructure for bicyclists in the Uptown neighborhoods, is laughable. Mr. Wilson opposes any increase in affordable, middle-class housing in Hillcrest that would enable younger gays (and straights) to live there. Now that’s real economic discrimination, not the imaginary kind that’s been conjured up on behalf of Hillcrest NIMBYs.
Downtown’s getting two new 40-story towers in an area that hasn’t seen much development: east Broadway. The towers will feature retail, residential units and a boutique hotel. It should be a big improvement over the rather drab 1950′s buildings there now, which once housed a Sushi Deli. Some articles list the buildings as the first post-recession high rise to go up downtown, but the two 22-story Blue Sky towers are also coming to Cortez Hill nearby. The Broadway developers, Zephyr, are the same group bringing 60 condos to the former 6th Avenue Medical Building at 2850 6th Ave.
One drawback is that the Zephyr project doesn’t feature any office space, and San Diego was just named one of the worst major cities for walkable retail/office development – mostly because of the lack of such projects in our suburbs. Retrofitting suburbia so residents have the option to walk/bike/bus to jobs without sitting in traffic? Rare here, but Denver’s Belmar neighborhood, where mixed-use development replaced a dying mall, is an example cited in the report. San Diego does have a few of these projects planned: Millennia in Chula Vista, One Paseo in Carmel Valley, North City in San Marcos, and Carlsbad Lifestyle (from L.A.’s Grove developer Caruso). UTC’s mixed-use plans also appear to be starting back up, and the the Mid-Coast trolley will be running there.
Over at SDSU, the $143 million South Campus Plaza project is underway, and will front College Avenue:
SDSU seems to get it on sustainable planning:
South Campus Plaza is designed as a pedestrian-, transit- and bicycle-friendly development. Its location adjacent to the SDSU Transit Center will facilitate transit ridership and create less reliance on automobiles, thereby reducing pollution and traffic congestion. Because students living on campus generate significantly less traffic that those living off-campus, providing additional student housing will help the university continue to reduce student dependence on their cars.
As the FAQ points out, the city will determine whether a bike/pedestrian approach is implemented on College, so if you support that, let Chris Pearson with councilmember Marti Emerald’s office know.
Lots of news recently about that new trolley line, which won’t suffer any significant delays due to fairy shrimp-related environmental impacts. Up in UTC, residents oppose a station planned near California Pizza Kitchen on Nobel because “UCSD students will park in the station garage” (that’s quite a walk to campus) and state the trolley “duplicates the MTS SuperLoop”. Yet while the SuperLoop route covers UCSD and UTC only, the trolley goes downtown and beyond. In Bay Park, where residents oppose much-needed housing planned for the trolley line, many requests have been made to remove the Balboa Avenue station entirely.
On a positive note, Balboa station stakeholders received a California Strategic Growth Council state grant to “produce… an implementation program that would address transportation demand, economic market analysis, urban design concepts and multimodal improvement projects.” Pacific Beach has been working on an eco-district plan, “including community identity, urban design and sustainable infrastructure, economy and land use and transportation”, and both a PB Planning Group chair and a member of beautifuPB lauded the grant.
The city’s development proposals for the Morena corridor of the trolley tie into a sustainable, transit-oriented approach that several other cities are implementing. While opposition to raising the height limit to 60′ may be insurmountable, new housing near transit is a sensible way to address the city’s housing affordability crisis. Yet this and a similar plan that proposes pedestrian-oriented residential districts and streetscape improvements for the Midway/Pacific Highway area appear to be opposed by temporary district 2 councilmember Ed Harris. Here’s a screen shot of a proposed Sports Arena Village:
With our region needing 330,000 new housing units by 2050, and near-downtown neighborhoods like Ocean Beach and Hillcrest opposing any growth, the result is continued single-family house construction in distant, car-dependent exurbs. This in turn promotes resource-intensive land use and long commutes, neither of which help on the climate change front. And in trolley-served Mission Valley, some are more interested in preserving a water-wasting golf course for tourists than creating smart housing.
How do we address long-term residents who prioritize auto flow and parking convenience over sustainable, affordable housing for their own children? Circulate SD is holding a transit-oriented development summit on July 1st promoting housing near alternative transit routes as one answer. It’s being held at Jake’s on 6th in Hillcrest, where there’s also a Bike SD soiree on June 26th. Thanks to Jakes for their support on these issues – it’s a world apart from nearby Harvey Milk’s Diner, where an owner actually advocated violence against local bicyclists to “teach them a lesson”. That’s probably not a message Harvey would promote were he still alive today.