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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.

the empire strikes back

the empire strikes back

UPDATE: An analysis was forwarded to me showing 922(!) parking lot spaces within one block of University from 1st to 9th Avenues in Hillcrest. I’ve included this in the text below (and have now linked to it).

UPDATE #2: SANDAG asked me to make clear that the change to west University is to reduce “cut-through” traffic, not to prevent nearby residents from reaching their homes: ‘The concept is to reduce cut-through traffic on University specifically between Ibis and Front while maintaining access for people who live in the neighborhood south of University Ave and west of Front. I want to be sensitive to the fact that people may think “close through traffic” means people who live in the area will not be able to get in and out and around their own neighborhood. The concept put forward is meant to make it less convenient for people who use that residential section of University as a “by-pass” of Washington St. We thought referring to it as cut-through traffic might distinguish that type of by-pass traffic from local access. ‘ (I’ve changed the relevant text below.)

Thanks to everyone who turned out for the Uptown Bike Corridor meeting last week. While Voice of San Diego noted that Uptown may be warming to bike lanes, Chris Shaw, the owner of Urban Mo’s, Gossip Grill, Baja Betty’s and Hillcrest Brewing is rallying business owners to stop the University Ave route. Shaw has done a lot for Hillcrest, including large donations for the Pride flag and Youth Center, and I’m personally grateful for his advocacy on equal rights for gays and lesbians. Plus his “Universe” of establishments are some of the most fun places to be in Hillcrest. All told, he’s probably the most influential business leader in the neighborhood, so his opposition to the project could kill it, or reduce it to a sorry set of sharrows.

Shaw’s letter says that 91 parking spaces will be lost in Hillcrest. SANDAG representative Beth Robrahn indicated by email that this was a preliminary, worst-case number that’s no longer true. Unfortunately, Bike Corridor opponents have seized upon that number and continue to use it as a scare tactic; reading his letter, it sounds like all 91 spaces are in the 5 block area west of 6th Avenue, which is completely false. In addition, parking will remain on every other street in Hillcrest, along with the 20+ paid parking lots/garages in the neighborhood.

With its narrow streets, that area is indeed the most challenging part of the University Avenue corridor. As Shaw points out, SANDAG is proposing to close through-traffic cut-through traffic from Washington to University. This is at the recommendation of residents who are frustrated with the heavy volume of through-traffic cut-through traffic, much of which would be better suited for the additional lanes on Washington in Mission Hills (where businesses also opposed putting the Bike Corridor). So it’s not just cyclists who would benefit from safe lanes on this stretch of University, but pedestrians too; some beautiful street designs were shown at the meeting that would make these blocks among the most attractive in the city. This would be a huge positive for the area and draw people to local businesses:


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Urban MO s Bar   Grill

Shaw posted his letter on all four of his Facebook and twitter accounts, as did SDGLN owner Jonathan Hale. The comments that were posted in response (Urban Mo’s shown to the right) revealed that many in our gay community, who have experienced discrimination in their own lives, are perfectly fine discriminating against cyclists if they perceive a threat to their parking convenience. And as a member of the gay community, I’m aware of the occasional astounding self-centeredness that some of us possess, but this might take the cake:

Frankie Mendoza: We shouldn’t be kicking people off the roads and say go pay for parking and walk. Businesses might be losing customers because of people like me, when I don’t really plan where I’m going, if there isn’t parking near by, I will find a place that has parking

Cyclists are getting killed, but “unplanned parking” is more important? The message, over and over again, is that only drivers have the right to every lane of every street in Hillcrest. Also, that parking garages must be built up and down University (how’s that mental image) before a bike lane can go in:

Brett Serwalt: We need MULTIPLE parking garages/lots up and down university BEFORE we remove more parking.

There’s absolutely no mention of the fact that this project is a single east/west pair of lanes in the entirety of Uptown; street parking will remain on every other street, and much of University. Serwalt says there’s “one parking lot” in all of Hillcrest; in reality there are 922 parking lot spaces within approximately 1 block of University from 1st to 9th Avenues. Here’s a map of all lots from Park Hillcrest:

ParkHillcrest   Map Pages
 

Many seem completely out of touch with major demographic trends that are well underway in the US and being addressed by other cities, as Hillcrest bickers over parking spaces:

America’s third bicycling boom is underway, following those in the late 1890s and 1970s, and smart American cities, both large and small, are investing in bike paths and bike-share programs in an effort to attract Millennials and cut back on carbon emissions. As such, multifamily developers recognize that local cycling paths, as well as rental programs, bike parking places and on-premise bike storage units are coveted amenities and the way of the future.

All of the following strong arguments for a safe bike corridor in Hillcrest are ignored by the opponents, because they’re secondary to the requirement of convenient, cheap parking on every street:

  • Cyclist and pedestrian safety
  • Traffic calming; creating a welcoming, complete streets environment
  • Environmental benefits – CO2 reduction, decreased pollution. The city’s Climate Action Plan calls for an 18% bike mode share in Uptown by 2035.
  • Increased business and property values
  • Attracting talented millennials for our employers, who are less likely to drive, more likely to bike, and who are leaving San Diego in droves.
  • Existing alternatives for parking: Hillcrest Valet, Hillcrest Parking Shuttle, Lyft, Uber, taxis. Shaw establishment Gossip Grill is moving to a parking-free location on University but works with Lyft and Uber:

    Parking will take a hit, but they have developed a relationship with both Lyft and Uber to get patrons safely home.

  • Moving away from an auto-centric, low-density approach to the urban neighborhood of Hillcrest, and embracing higher densities and alternative ways of getting around than just by car – as many other cities are doing.
  • Increased fitness, reduced obesity
  • Increasing/extending parking meter rates to create more turnover
  • Implementing angled parking on side streets to create more spaces (more likely in east Hillcrest)
  • Providing safe streets for Deco Bike bike share riders; several stations will be located in Uptown this year
  • Creating a bike commuting corridor on to the North Park/Mid-City Bike Corridor
  • Reduced all-day parking by employees

I’m hoping that Mr. Shaw and other opponents to safe cycling and complete streets in Uptown consider some of the reasons justifying one east/west bike corridor. If additional parking is needed, perhaps these business owners can create their own parking resources, rather than laying claim to every parking space on its commercial thoroughfares. Our streets are public spaces for everyone, not just free evening and Sunday parking slots for business owners.