Balboa Station Plan: Does it solve the mobility issues around Balboa Ave station?
As anyone that has ridden along the Rose Canyon Bike Path or in the UTC area knows, SANDAG is in the process of extending the Mid-Coast Trolley from Old Town to UCSD and UTC area. The potential of this $2.1 billion investment can only fully be realized by enhancing the accessibility of the stations to surrounding neighborhoods. The City of San Diego is currently drafting a planning document for the area around the Balboa Avenue Station. Eventually, the plan will be voted on by San Diego’s City Council. (The current draft plan is can be read here and the image below shows the area being included in the plan.)
Currently, the area depends on a very autocentric roadway design. The proximity of Interstate 5 and on-ramps and off-ramps into the area bring high speed traffic directly into the plan area. The northbound I-5 exit onto Mission Bay Drive encourages drivers to maintain freeway speeds into Pacific Beach. Despite high volume of bicycle traffic, Mission Bay Drive has no bicycle lanes. Rose Creek Bicycle Path is an alternative to this high speed road but the utility of this path is constrained by a narrow path, lack of lighting and frequent homeless encampments. Despite most businesses in the area having large parking lots, Mission Bay Drive allows free street parking. Traveling east of mission bay drive on Balboa Avenue, cyclists contend with high speed traffic, high speed interchanges with Morena Boulevard and an uphill climb into the Clairemont neighborhood. In short, the current conditions need improvement and are a barrier to area residents trying to access Mission Bay, the beach areas, and generally traversing the intersection of Balboa Avenue and I-5 / Morena Boulevard.
While the draft Balboa station does not fix all of these issues, it does attempt to make improvements.
For non-bicycle specific infrastructure, the plan supports the elimination of free rights and other high speed conditions in the below examples.
- Removal of freeway style ramp eastbound Balboa Ave to Morena Blvd ramp
- Changing an I-5 off ramp onto Balboa Ave to a signalized (albeit widened) off ramp
- Add a a traffic signal at westbound Balboa Ave & Morena ramps and remove free right turn ramps
Recommended Bicycle specific infrastructure
- Enhance Rose Creek Path
- Class II bike lanes on Mission Bay Drive
- Class II bike lanes from Santa Fe st to Moraga St (width permitting)
- Class II bike lanes on Bunker Hill road
- Class III (Sharrows) on Garnet from Mt Soledad Road to Santa Fe Street
- Class IV (cycletrack) on Santa Fe Street (Purpose of this cycletrack appears to allow cyclists to access Rose Canyon and points north since Santa Fe is recommended to be southbound only in the plan)
- Class IV (cycletrack) Morena Blvd (west side) from Gesner to Balboa Station
Overall, the plan recommends a lot of improvements that will help bicyclists. As a frequent commuter through the area, I am excited about the bike lanes on Mission Bay Drive. The current state requires a bicyclist to control the lane with honking, hostile motorists. Removing some automobile parking for a bike lane is needed to create high quality, safe bike lane.
So for the bicyclist commuting north/south through the area, this plan provides improvements. However, it does not appear that this plan does anything to slow freeway traffic from I-5 as it exits from I-5 northbound. This should be corrected as it is a major hazard.
Biking to and through the plan area from Pacific Beach will remain a challenge. Grand and Garnet Avenues are the only roads that travel over Rose Creek. In the draft plan, sharrows (class III) are recommended on Garnet to reach the station area. The Pacific Beach Planning Group is not happy with that recommendation. The PB planning group calls the recommended sharrows “unacceptable.”
A pedestrian/bicyclist bridge crossing I-5 from Bunker Hill St is proposed in the plan. This would provide a stress-free route for bicyclists to access the trolley station. The PB planning group asked for the plan to include the pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-5 in the earliest phase. However, a funding source and commitment needs to identified. Since it helps the City of San Diego reach both Climate Action Plan goals and maximize the investment in the expanded trolley, this project should be a high priority for the city.
The city is still looking for feedback on its plan. Please ask the city to prioritize safe bicycle routes (including the I-5 bridge!) in the plan. Provide feedback to city of San Diego planning department, Michael Prinz, Senior Planner, Planning Department, Mprinz@sandiego.gov. Another option to give feedback is the city provided website. As you probably suspect, not everyone wants bicycles accommodated. Don’t allow the below comment represent your views and dilute the potential great improvements that could be implemented.