BikeSD Uptown Committee Meeting Recap

uptown Some of the BikeSD Uptown Committee Meeting Attendees

Monday night, BikeSD held the first meeting of its Uptown Committee. Uptown is a very important community for walkability and bikeability in San Diego. Home to many popular late-night businesses, it is also a major crossroads of the city. Streets like University and Washington connect neighborhoods like City Heights and North Park to the beaches while the numbered avenues bring traffic from Downtown and Little Italy up the mesa. Yet Uptown has not been a strong force for transportation progress. Plans to create a bikeable, pedestrian friendly corridor along University Avenue have been met with strong resistance, and the unobtrusive bike lanes on parts of 4th and 5th have drawn unfortunate backlash. The goal of the Uptown Committee is to organize the residents of Uptown, both to highlight the concerns and needs of residents and to create action plans to resolve those needs.

The map below shows the boundaries of Uptown, shaded in red, including the east/west and north/south corridors that are our primary focus.

Screenshot from 2015-01-29 12:00:48
Uptown (click for bigger version)

Broad Interest
The meeting brought in several residents of Uptown, as well as some former residents and residents of nearby neighborhoods. Coming from diverse backgrounds, the attendees originally hailed from as far as the eastern US and Canada and as near as San Diego itself. They were all drawn to this meeting with a desire to improve the community they now call home, Uptown. The committee is a project of BikeSD board member and Hillcrest resident Dre Sparks, who decided to organize Uptown specifically after years of seeing the difficulty in the neighborhood first hand.

Dangerous Corridors
BikeSD’s executive director, Sam Ollinger, helped start the meeting with a description of Vision Zero, a movement to reduce traffic fatalities that has been gaining traction in major American cities. Important for the residents of Uptown, University Avenue has been identified, by CirculateSD, as the most dangerous corridor in San Diego. All those in attendance at the meeting piped in with times they felt unsafe on University Avenue.

The general consensus seemed to be that there was no good east-west bike route through Uptown. Some mentioned that they have moved to Robinson after frightening experiences on University, while others mentioned dangerous road conditions and freeway ramps on Robinson pushing them to University. One attendee mentioned only feeling comfortable on the sidewalk through this section of town. Because of the concentration of businesses and the lack of full-length streets, University seemed to be the eventual destination of all cyclists; it just cannot be avoided.

The discussion brought together some of my personal experiences in a way I had not considered before. While I do ride on University to save time or reach businesses on University, it occurred to me that I never take guests from out of town on the street. I have done this without consciously thinking about it, always leading visitors westward through Mission Hills and into other neighborhoods. I have not asked my friends and family about this; perhaps they think there is nothing to see in Hillcrest!

Chicken and Egg
There were mixed feelings about the upcoming introduction of Decobike. While everyone seemed excited about the new bike share program, a few residents expressed concern that usage might not be high enough to support the system, given the lack of strong bike infrastructure. Residents with past experience in Montreal and New York suggested that good infrastructure made the bike share programs into obvious successes.

All was not doom and gloom, however. It was noted that the bike share itself could be a driver of increased road safety. Not only might it further infrastructure development, but an increase to the number of bikes on the road would cause drivers to pay more attention and maneuver more safely.

Getting Attention
The most influential group in Uptown is Uptown Planners Community Planning Group, the city recognized advisory group on all issues related to community planning and development Though often harboring the best of intentions, the Uptown Planners are unfortunately narrow in their awareness of the needs of many Uptown residents. The Planners will meet next on February 3rd at the Joyce Beers Community Center, on Vermont Street. Meetings are generally called to order at 6 pm.

Our meeting quickly turned to a discussion of the Uptown Planners. While all Uptown residents can attend and have their voices heard, becoming a board member requires a more substantial commitment. We discussed the requirement to attend at least 3 meetings in the year leading up to elections, a requirement I was surprised to hear is not present in the most other community planning groups. Several people, all working professionals, discussed how difficult it can be to get back into the neighborhood by the 6 pm start time, making it difficult to get involved.

The Future
The next BikeSD Uptown Committee meeting will be held at 7 pm on February 16th. We will be meeting at Filter, at the corner of University Avenue and Richmond Street. All residents of Uptown who wish to see an increased focus on bike infrastructure and safety are welcome to attend and join the conversation. You may sign up to receive updates on the Uptown Campaign page as well.

The neighborhoods of Uptown have largely shifted toward pedestrian and bike traffic, increasingly focusing on nightlife and small shops and containing reasonably high density for San Diego. With an organized message, we can make a push to finish the job and have the infrastructure catch up!

Erik Dorthe is a BikeSD member and a resident of Hillcrest.