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the powerful people

the powerful people

The SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor is the subject of a special meeting of Uptown Planners, next Tuesday, March 24th at 6 PM in Bankers Hill. The plan faces a strong attack from various organizations and people throughout Uptown. Let’s run through the folks involved and what you can do.

  • Update, 03/22/2015: I’m told SANDAG has not even been invited to the Uptown Planners meeting. This would suggest the outgoing Uptown Planners chair, Leo Wilson, has decided to vote no, and instructed his majority coalition on the board to do the same.
  • Update, 03/22/2015: I’m also told county council member and SANDAG board member Ron Roberts has come out against his own agency’s bike corridor in Mission Hills after extensive lobbying from his neighbors. He met with SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor project managers Friday.Roberts helped craft the county’s Climate Action Plan that contained no tangible transit mode share goals, and which was rejected in court again recently. Roberts said, “The issue there was, we don’t control transit and other things as a part of our plan, and yet they were holding us to standards that really involved transit and other things. But we’re comfortable that we can work our way through that.” His actions on the bike corridor appear to contradict this.
  • Update, 03/23/2015: The petition in support of the SANDAG bike route in Mission Hills has surpassed the signature total of the opposition petition, despite starting later and being down by over 150 signatures at one point.
  • Update, 03/23/2015: Uptown Planner Jim Mellos is circulating the following document, which claims it takes 1 hour to traverse 10 blocks of a Seattle street that has a protected bike lane:
    Uptown Planners SANDAG community plan update 3-24-2015 v8 S. His accompanying email stated:

    I have attached a flyer with all of the key details of what SANDAG has planned for 5 Points, Mission Hills and Bankers Hill. Of course, this does not include what craziness they have planned for carving up Hillcrest, but Hillcrest BID is taking care of that matter.

    WE NEED BODIES AT THIS MEETING WHO SUPPORT OUR POSITION. Right now the Bike coalition and SANDAG are going to try to pack the room with their supporters. If we don’t speak up now, we are going to end up like Seattle and Portland, where residents are livid at what is happening with their beautiful cities thanks to the bike lanes.

    Please note that if you cannot make it, please still e-mail Leo Wilson, the Chair of Uptown Planners, your thoughts and concerns. His e-mail is: [email protected] However, we need everyone to attend!!!! This is a HUGE battle we can win if we get out and show the politicians the silent majority want this plan to go back to the drawing board for more reasonable alternatives that will NOT wipe out all of our parking and make Washington St into a parking lot.

At last month’s meeting of the Hillcrest Business Association, the HBA voted to spend $10,000 on a lobbying firm to fight the Bike Corridor. This matches another $10,000 from Hillcrest businesses including Crest Cafe and Bread & Cie. The firm, California Strategies, employs James HoffmanLawson, a former staffer for Mayor Faulconer. Hoffman is making the rounds and lobbying the city to prevent the closure of the off-ramp from Washington to University, despite SANDAG explaining why this is required for a safer Corridor. So a Hillcrest organization that receives city-distributed funds (these funds are from a separate pool) is lobbying the city to change a bike route in another neighborhood. They also want the bike corridor moved off 5th Avenue in Bankers Hill and Hillcrest to 6th – away from the more extensive commercial corridor on the former street.

Jonathan Hale is chair of the Hillcrest Business Association. At an HBA meeting last year, he asked for both sides to “work together to find a solution” on bike lanes, and created a task force to address the issue. The task force included the Crest Cafe owner, Cecilia Moreno. Unfortunately, “working together” somehow became “pay a lobbyist to get the city to change the bike lane route”.

(Update: Great Streets San Diego has a terrific writeup questioning the Hillcrest Business Association’s assumption that closing the off-ramp to University will hurt business. No study has been done to support this assumption.)

Hale’s publication, SDGLN, published an article promoting a petition from the Keep University Ave Open Facebook group to keep the University Ave offramp open to cars. Yet the article neglects to mention that Hale’s HBA has hired a lobbying firm to do the same. The petition is over 200 signatures and will be presented at next week’s Uptown Planners meeting. An alternative petition for a safer University Ave for all has less than 100 signatures.

SDGLN columnist Jim Winsor sells nightclub photos to Hale Media’s sdpix publication, and has a vested interest in preserving street parking for imbibing club-goers. He also has a reputation for attacking people who threaten that interest, having said people on bikes are declaring a “war on motorists”, are “homophobic” and that they want to see all gay businesses in Hillcrest fail. Recently he’s notched up the rhetoric by labeling bike advocates fascists:


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At this rate he’ll soon be calling for violence against people on bikes, as several of his Facebook friends did after the Hillcrest CicloSDias event. Winsor was silent as these threats were made, yet labels all “bike people” as fascists simply because one removed a private sign in the public right of way – a sign which likely violated San Diego’s sign ordinance and the Brown Act.

The real censorship of opposing views has been taking place on the Keep University Ave Open Facebook page. The site is likely run by Powers Plumbing co-owner Janet O’Dea, Kimberly Edwards, and Patty Ducey-Brooks who owns the Presidio Sentinel, a publication that has repeatedly attacked the bike lane project. While promising an open dialogue, the page owners banned multiple posters simply for providing civil yet opposing views. This included banning Mission Hills residents, contrary to this declaration:


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Meanwhile, comments such as “it’s time to (find) alternatives to biking” have not been removed:


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These Mission Hills residents criticize SANDAG for a lack of public outreach, despite three years of outreach over multiple community meetings. This outreach included representatives from Uptown Planners. But unless these folks get their way, there simply hasn’t been sufficient public input – because, as powerful people, only their opinion counts:


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The problem is that two years in, they still haven’t provided an alternative plan – and “no bike lanes anywhere” isn’t a remotely valid option for a bike corridor after decades of neglecting people on bikes. Not to mention the city’s Climate Action Plan that calls for 18% bike mode share in Uptown by 2035.

Uptown Planners Chair Leo Wilson also claims that SANDAG has not listened to residents. Yet I’m told Wilson and others with his Metro CDC organization walked out of a SANDAG outreach meeting early on, saying, “we’ll see you in court”. When powerful people don’t get their way, that’s what happens.

An ugly part of the Keep University Ave Open page is the elitism of some Mission Hills residents. Christopher Cole, whose name matches a candidate who ran for Uptown Planners this month, had these kind words for people on bikes concerned for their safety:


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Meanwhile, lower-income residents say they’re afraid to bike on the streets because they’re too dangerous:


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This is precisely the reason for reducing traffic volume on west University: to get people who are interested in biking but concerned about it, to actually do it – not the Christopher Cole’s who sneer at others and tell them to get training wheels. More than half of these interested-but-concerned people are afraid of getting hit by cars:


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Another theme on the Keep University Ave Open page is that pedestrians don’t need the safer streets that result from reduced auto volume. One commenter blamed pedestrians for causing all accidents between them and cars. I responded by posting statistics showing the blame is evenly divided among drivers and walkers (then was banned). But according to Mission Hills resident Rich Brooks, pedestrians only use the sidewalks and never cross the street:


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Rick Brooks also took to the Mission Hills Facebook page to vent his displeasure over people on bikes who ride next to each other, which is perfectly legal under California law.


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Again, it’s a power thing – Brooks and his car rule the road, and everyone else needs to get out of the way.

Uptown Planner Jim Mellos, who’s the attorney suing the city to remove bike lanes on 4th and 5th Avenues (and the only dissenting vote on supporting the city’s Climate Action Plan), responded later in the thread that there will be many lawsuits to prevent bike lanes in Uptown:


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Mellos says, “You have some very powerful people in that area”.  And that’s the theme of this post – powerful people have decided that streets can’t be safe for people on bikes and pedestrians, because they’ve declared ownership of the roads. No matter that you pay sales taxes to SANDAG for these projects just as they do. Mellos also told people on bikes in 2013 that if they want to ride a bike, they should move to New York City, because “this is San Diego, we drive here”.

Finally, while the election of Michael Brennan and Kyle Heiskala to Uptown Planners (they’ll be seated next month, after this Special Meeting) gives bike advocates our first strong supporters on the board, Mat “only white people ride bikes” Wahlstrom was also elected by appealing to the Keep University Ave. Open folks with this:


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The ability of both Wahlstrom and Mellos to turn reality on its head is astounding.  People on bikes have braved unsafe conditions and abuse for years and are finally getting their first protected bike lanes – yet Mellos declares “nothing will change” unless opponents stop the project.  Wahlstrom ridicules the “bicycles above all crowd” when we’re simply asking for a single bike lane in each direction in all of Uptown.  Every other street will still be devoted to cars. He also says people on bikes want to “ensure theirs are the only voices heard”, when there have been no voices for them on Uptown Planners until now.

So what can you do? Please turn out next Tuesday for the Uptown Planners meeting!  There will be many, many people who feel their own concerns – traffic, parking, power trips – trump the safety of their fellow residents.  We deserve better.  And please sign the petition for a safer University Ave for All.  More information about the Mission Hills part of the Uptown bike corridor is available there.  Finally, please don’t support businesses that don’t support us.  That includes Crest Cafe and Bread & Cie.  I support their right to advocate for their interests, along with our right to dine elsewhere.

citibiking

citibiking

Said the Uptown Planner: “This is San Diego. We drive here. If you want to ride a bike, go to New York City”.

So we did.

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OK, the trip had already been planned, but I’d been looking forward to trying out the NYC CitiBike bike share program that was implemented earlier this year. Also, New York’s been leading many cities in returning a small percentage of public street space to pedestrians and cyclists. How well would their infrastructure improvements serve the new bike share?

We stayed in Chelsea and there were several CitiBike stations nearby, including this giant one near the Flatiron Building.  This busy intersection of streets has been transformed by removing auto lanes from Broadway and replacing them with the station, tables, food trucks, and a bike lane:

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The intersection borders Madison Square Park, where a Shake Shack and its outdoor seating nestled among the trees drew a large crowd daily.  Benches along the edge of the park were also occupied by people eating lunch. Meanwhile the former street space was filled with people seated at tables or ordering from numerous food trucks.  Italian mega-market Eataly anchors the intersection and was another bustling spot with its multiple cafes and restaurants.  If there’s an ideal complete streets/park space, this might be it; I’d love to see a few ideas copied for our new public spaces at Horton Plaza or the Old Police Headquarters project (opening in 40 days).

Here’s another pedestrian-friendly spot along Broadway, further south:

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Some CitiBike stations were also located next to public transit, like this one directly across from the Christopher Street PATH station.  Every one of its bikes was in use.

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However, most stations had plenty of bikes, like the one shown below that I started my trip from. Notice how it’s in the street, not on the sidewalk; taking out parking spaces for Deco Bike stations here in San Diego could get interesting.

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From here I rode down the Hudson River Bikeway’s two-way cycle path on Manhattan’s west side, past the Freedom Tower, and down to Battery Park, much of which was closed off for a project that will link the Hudson and East River bikeways. Then it was back north up the East River Greenway until cutting into the Lower East Side. It’s fantastic that you can cycle around nearly the whole edge of Manhattan with little vehicle interaction, although I’d recommend doing so on a full-day bike rental rather than a CitiBike. The latter requires you to re-dock every half-hour (for at least 2 minutes).

Cycling the streets of the Lower East Side, East Village and Chelsea wasn’t as scary as I expected. Nearly every main boulevard had a marked bike lane or separated cycle facilities, and narrower streets were shared but easy to ride on. A big help was the sheer number of CitiBike and non-CitiBike cyclists on the road – drivers, for the most part, seem used to them now.

While most of our travels in NYC were by subway, the city’s bike share was a great above-ground alternative in the perfect early fall weather. The city’s efforts to improve its cycling infrastructure seem to have paid off, at least from Midtown south where the stations currently are. The program is a resounding success and will expand.

– Back in San Diego, the big biking news last week was SANDAG’s approval of $200 million in early action funds for cycling infrastructure in San Diego County. It’s a huge victory for safer cycling, but there’s still lots of community opposition to overcome (first comment on previous link: “I’m glad to see strong backlash against this. I can’t stand seeing bikes in the road because they put ME at risk. I wish bikes would just go away.”) The plan’s announcement brought out the usual excuses from motorists/Del Mar millionaires who really just don’t want to share the road, or SANDAG transit funds:



While Mr. mp3.com makes the “too spread out” argument, motorists also argue against safe bike lanes where density is high. And just because San Diego’s made bad land use decisions for decades, sprawling from the ocean to the mountains and drowning itself in a sea of jammed and ever-widening freeways, does that mean we’re forever locked into this destiny? If Houston can change, San Diego can too.

SD Great Streets has a good summary of how we’ve put auto transit first at the expense of all other modes. For example, Washington/University/Richmond in Hillcrest provide up to 10 lanes of auto travel or parking in each direction at their widest point (another four lanes are down the hill on I-8). Trying to convert just one of them to a safe bike lane is opposed by Uptown Planners, even with $30-40 million dollars of the above $200 million devoted to bike corridors in their district. Drivers have claimed every lane of every street as their own, and taking away just one parking spot for safe bike lanes brings out the “where are you going to move ‘our’ parking” line – an actual quote from both the Uptown Planners meeting and a prior SANDAG bike corridor meeting.

Hopefully San Diego can make the same progress as other cities around the country with respect to safe cycling routes and walkable neighborhoods. Look for discussion of these issues at this week’s San Diego Livable Streets Mayoral Candidate Speaker Series. While New York may be an unfair comparison, it offers plenty of examples to consider.