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Return of the Plaza de Panama

Return of the Plaza de Panama

Like a Comic-Con zombie staggering back to life, the Irwin Jacobs Plaza de Panama Autotopia has returned to Balboa Park.  Despite Jacobs walking away after his defeat in court a few years back, the intrusive project has been resurrected by fact-challenged Park institutions determined to squeeze every last car into the Park.  No matter that Balboa Park is one of the few large public green spaces in all of Uptown and downtown, or that a 650-space parking garage for zoo employees was recently added, or that parking lots at the south end of the park are under-utilized.

I biked through the park on 4th of July weekend and found the Inspiration Point lots across Park Boulevard empty. A 2012 parking study found the lots and their 1100+ spaces, served by a tram, are indeed usually empty on weekends:

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Back inside the park, the southernmost lots on the west side of Park also had hundreds of spaces open.  In fact, the same study shows that on any given day there are 1200-1800 parking spaces available at Balboa Park, mostly in these lots.

Given that there’s a tram running directly from these lots to the institutions demanding more parking, I assumed there had to be signage up to direct drivers there.  Surely the city would do this before spending $50 million on another parking garage and bridge?  But this is the only sign as you head south from the always-full Organ Pavilion parking lot, and it’s not about parking:

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Adding some way-finding signs to the parking lots and tram seems like a low-cost way to maximize existing parking resources.  But given some of the bizarre, parking-entitled arguments for the new garage (“my elderly mother isn’t going to wait for a tram to the Old Globe” – despite a brand new drop-off area on Globe Way for Globe patrons), why start using common sense now?

— Remember when Hillcrest residents opposed the Mr. Robinson project on Park because parking?  Well we visited its new ground-floor restaurant, Trust, a couple weeks back for brunch and had no problem finding any.   It seems other patrons didn’t either (perhaps some of them Ubered, walked or biked) – because the place was full.  I liked the interior design, especially the wall behind the bar, along with the space’s big windows to the street and ample patio outside:


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San Diego Magazine has a much better review of Trust’s food than anything I can write, but my fried chicken sandwich was pretty amazing – the spicy ssam sauce, chili and pickles really brought it to another level.

— The Uptown Gateway Council has put up a video showing their vision for 4th to 6th Aves in Hillcrest south of University, including the long-vacant Pernicano’s restaurant:

One component of the Uptown Gateway may be a hotel, and on a trip to Palm Springs last month the Virgin Hotel going up there reminded me of how Hillcrest could use a modern boutique hotel:

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The hotel is part of a multi-block downtown revitalization project that replaces a dead shopping mall, and includes this nearly-completed building:

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Like Hillcrest, building heights have been a sticking point, and the Virgin hotel’s height was reduced to no more than 69 feet.  This is still taller than the 50/65′ heights specified in the Uptown interim height ordinance (which turns 8 years old this month).  It seems odd that Palm Springs, a city of less than 50,000 people, has a greater height limit than an urban neighborhood near downtown in a city of 1.3 million.  But Uptown Planners and the city planning department are still wrangling over the final building heights for the blocks in the Uptown Gateway area. Much of the debate centers over whether density should be added near Uptown’s extensive public transit, but at a recent Uptown Planners meeting, one caring resident declared that young people shouldn’t be able to live there – unless they can save up the money to afford a house like she did all those years ago.

— The Port of San Diego has selected the winning project to redevelop Seaport Village – the Seaport project from Protea Waterfront Development:

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Contrary to many residents, I’m not a big fan of the current Seaport Village.  It’s largely geared to tourists (including some awful restaurants), has half its prime land devoted to surface parking, requires bicyclists to dismount when riding its bayfront, and sports Cape Cod-style architecture that’s totally out of place in southern California.  With the city encouraging more people to live and work downtown for a variety of reasons, shouldn’t our bayfront serve both tourists and residents?

The Protea proposal is a mixed bag of ideas, some with more potential for the above than others, but at least it doesn’t include an 18,000 seat indoor arena like a competing proposal did.  Why would you put a giant, enclosed arena where the bay view is the main attraction?  The tower ride (and aquarium) is a reminder that tourism will still be a big driver, but at least it’s not another ferris wheel.  I like the terraced green space built into the tower base, actually:

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Here’s an overview of the project:

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I think the above map is the only one which shows the pedestrian bridge (bottom right) planned to connect Embarcadero Marina Park North and South, which is a neat idea.  (Still waiting for someone to implement my infeasible idea of a retractible pedestrian/bike bridge connecting Marina Park to Coronado.)  It also shows the Market Street pedestrian/market area – similar to Pike’s Place – connecting to the G Street Pier.  Here’s a zoomed-in view of the heart of the project, followed by a rendering of Market Street:

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Pacific Place, a pedestrian plaza at the southwestern edge of the project, looks out on a giant floating screen in this rendering.  Yes that is a picture of a whale jumping out of the water of a screen on the bay:
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A wide promenade is planned for the entire bayfront (as far as I can tell) that will allow bicyclists to actually ride through without dismounting, along with additional space for pedestrians.  A boardwalk for pedestrians will extend beyond that:


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I also like the “beach” shown here:

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I’m hardly an expert on these types of projects, just giving my initial thoughts here, but the SD Environment and Design Council’s recommended guidelines for the development of Seaport Village are probably worth reading if you’re interested in the future of this area.

Bikeways Update

Bikeways Update

SANDAG held an open house for the Georgia-Meade Bikeway yesterday at the Lafayette Hotel, and overall the route looks good, with construction planned for 2017. Meade is probably the route I bike the most, so I’m encouraged by the project’s buffered lanes and traffic calming treatments.  The treatments include mini-roundabouts, raised crosswalks and sidewalk bulb-outs. One pleasant surprise was the incorporation of my (and others) suggestion to add a missing westbound bike lane on Meade behind the YMCA between 43rd and Fairmont. This was done by removing the eastern part of the concrete median there:

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Also, I had forgotten just how wide the proposed painted buffer is on the Meade bridge over I-805 – hopefully this will slow some drivers on what can be a fast stretch of road:

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Another SANDAG open house is coming up on the 24th: the Uptown Bikeway Open House in Balboa Park. This bikeway goes before the SANDAG Board of Directors on June 24th for a CEQA exemption. Construction would begin in 2017 on the 4th and 5th Avenue segments first. Here’s a terrible photo of SANDAG’s rendering of the bikeway on east University Grabbed a screen shot of east University from SANDAG website (the protected bike lanes will end west of 10th):

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More on the Uptown Bikeway below, but first a quick rundown of all the bike-related events coming up:

Construction of the Rose Creek Bikeway could begin in August.  The bike path will extend from Santa Fe Drive east of I-5, along Rose Creek, under I-5, and connect to the existing bikeway along the creek as it travels under Garnet.

The Uptown Bikeway saga continues as the Hillcrest Business Association still attempts to kill it, block by block.  Recently, Urban Mo’s owner Chris Shaw introduced a motion for the Uptown Parking District to request removal of the Uptown Bikeway north of Robinson on 4th and 5th Avenues.  Recall that Shaw supported the Uptown Bikeway after he tore down a 100-year old house for a parking lot.  He’s apparently changed his mind again, since the HBA removing the Bikeway from most of University Ave wasn’t enough.  4th and 5th have to go too, over a mere 15 parking spaces (there are over 700 off-street spaces on these same blocks).

Here a playlist of videos from that contentious Parking District meeting, including HBA Executive Director Ben Nichols interrupting and yelling at board members and the public.  Yes, that’s the same Ben Nichols who has admonished others, “That’s not how we do things in Hillcrest“.

Fortunately, members of Uptown Parking District from Bankers Hill overcame the HBA’s efforts.  And last week, Uptown Planners reiterated support for a continuous east-west bikeway on University, with a suggested two-way cycletrack on the north side of the street from 5th to 10th, to fill the “HBA Hole” (h/t to Jeff Kucharski):

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With the city repaving/striping University later this year due to underground pipe work, there’s an opportunity to fill the above gap, potentially removing just 8 parking spaces (5 new spaces are being added nearby on Robinson at 163). I’m impressed at how Uptown Planners has come around on this issue, and I’m grateful that Tom Mullaney, whom I’ve disagreed with on other issues, even attended the Parking District meeting in support of the bike lanes.  I’m guessing the efforts of Kyle Heiskala (who’s now running for City Council) and Michael Brennan have helped people consider both sides of the issue.

Nichols has complained about bicyclists who ride on sidewalks (“It reminded me of those cyclists that give all riders a bad name by riding up on sidewalks… with complete disregard for any rule or procedure at all“), and sure enough, on my way to the Parking District meeting, I saw a bicyclist riding on the sidewalk on a dangerous stretch of University in the HBA Hole:

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When I asked the rider, “It’s too dangerous to ride in the street, isn’t it?”, she said yes.

I’m hopeful someday Hillcrest can overcome Ben Nichols, Crest Cafe owner Cecelia Moreno, Bread and Cie owner Charlie Kaufman, Chris Shaw and Ace Hardware owner Bruce Reeves, who have all put their claim to public street space over the safety of residents and visitors.  Meanwhile a new SANDAG report shows University Ave has the highest number of pedestrian and bike collisions in Uptown:

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The Bike Wars Are Over, and the Bikes Won“?  Not in Hillcrest, unfortunately.

– Finishing up: traffic calming is coming to the Sixth Ave south of Laurel courtesy of the City, with buffered bike lanes, a road diet, new crosswalks and rectangular rapid flashing beacons (UPDATE: here’s the City presentation [h/t Adrian] and screen shots from it below:

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And here are the results of the I-8 corridor study: lots of interesting proposals, but making this part of Mission Valley safer for non-drivers is going to be a big (unfunded) infrastructure challenge after decades of auto-centric planning.  Also, some useful Mission Valley planning maps (h/t Tyler) as this area readies for transit-oriented development.