San Diego’s safe streets supporters love when the City of San Diego studies altering the streetscape of dangerous auto centric roads. Unfortunately, even when safety is the stated priority of the study, safety and encouraging bicycle infrastructure are not a priority.
The typical roadway conditions of El Cajon Blvd are relics of San Diego’s auto centric past. El Cajon Blvd was the east-west corridor before Interstate 8 was completed in the 1960’s. When the I-8 was completed, the City of San Diego did not retrofit the redundant auto centric nature of the roadway. The result was a high speed, dangerous road through the heart of San Diego’s Mid-City neighborhoods.
“We couldn’t accomplish that at SANDAG but I think we can accomplish that as a city project.”
—Todd Gloria, November 14th, City Council Meeting
At a recent marathon City Council meeting, District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria took action to fill the Hillcrest Gap (aka HBA hole) as part of the update of the Uptown Community Plan. The failure of the Uptown community to create a safe east-west bicycle route through Hillcrest was one of the reasons BikeSD opposed the draft version of the plan.
At times, advocating for improved bicycle infrastructure feels like a discouraging, prolonged fight for every single inch of our public streets. However, our streets are improving! This blog post highlights some changes that have occurred recently as streets are resurfaced. If you have seen other great changes to our streets, please leave a comment below or tweet us (@bikesd). Also, feel free to contact your city councilmember to ask for more improvements!!
Balboa Ave. Cycletrack
Balboa Ave. is road that highlights San Diego’s challenges to become a world class city for bicycles. It’s a high speed stroad in sections but it also is a major connection to employment centers of Clairemont Mesa and Kearny Mesa. So BikeSD was very happy to see the old narrow shoulder replaced with a bike lane with protective flexible posts for a portion of the roadway. (Clairemont Dr. to Balboa Ave.) While certainly an improvement, Balboa Ave. is still plagued by the high speed ramps of freeways (805, 163) and even nearby surface streets such as Morena Blvd.
As documented previously, the SANDAG board voted to approve a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption for the Uptown project. The SANDAG staff report clearly articulated the reasoning for exemption from CEQA. (Cliff notes version: bicycling is good for the environment!) This was a victory considering the fact that the California Restaurant Association (CRA), hired by the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) lobbied heavily to expand the HBA Hole (my term for the University Avenue gap created last year after heavy lobbying by the HBA) to Fourth and Fifth Avenues north of Robinson St. The basis for lobbying effort? Concerns over the 12-16 curbside parking spots being replaced with a protected bike lane that would result in many more community and economic benefits.
Prior to registering his vote, SANDAG board member, Supervisor Ron Roberts stated that he was “disappointed” that SANDAG staff was “dismissive” of HBA’s parking concerns. He comments demonstrated his disregard for the net parking gain of the project and he expressed eagerness to revisit the design of the bikeways on Fourth and Fifth Avenues—a project that has been in the community outreach process (with a HBA representative present throughout the process) since 2012! While Roberts eventually voted for the CEQA exemption, he only did so after being reassured that the design of Fourth and Fifth Avenues could be revisited. He expressed a desire for a solution that would appease both the HBA and the CRA.
While Roberts expressed concerns over curbside parking, Councilmember Gloria responded with a passionate defense (audio starts @2:16:03) of the Fourth and Fifth Avenue alignments. Gloria addressed the parking concerns directly by reminding the board of the net gain of parking for the entire project as well as his experience as a Hillcrest resident parking in the local garages that are never full. He also echoed BikeSD’s concerns that parking enthusiasts from HBA and CRA would never be satisfied.
Downtown areas in American cities have dramatically redesigned their cities with bicycle infrastructure in recent years. Unfortunately, San Diego was not among the early adopters. Currently, the downtown core of San Diego has no bicycle lanes. In addition to the lack of dedicated infrastructure, many of the roads serve high volume, high speed traffic from the 3 connecting freeways. Clearly, bicyclists have not been a priority for the transportation planning in downtown. However, we are hopeful this significant oversight will be corrected with the implantation of the Downtown Mobility Plan.
On June 21st , the San Diego City Council passed the Downtown Mobility Plan. We have previously expressed our enthusiasm for the plan. We are very grateful that the plan passed without any major revisions requested by opponents. The plan creates an entire network of protected cycle tracks and greenways throughout downtown.