A response to Hillcrest Business Association’s Campaign against Uptown Bikeway

Hillcrest, San Diego Sign

Our friends at Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) have resumed their social media push to gut San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Uptown bikeway. While tempting to ignore the HBA’s stale talking points, we recognize their prior effectiveness in preventing bike lanes. They successfully lobbied SANDAG to eliminate the planned protected bike lanes on University Ave in western Hillcrest.

Therefore, here is a brief bullet response to HBA's recent social media effort.

1) This is not a “bikeway to nowhere.” The planned protected lanes on 4th & 5th will take bicyclist from Downtown to Hillcrest. This will connect to planned improvements past the hospitals to Bachmann and into Mission Valley. If anything, HBA lobbying reduced the utility of the network by creating a hole in the network on University in 2015.  

2) The HBA appears to be claiming the segment from 4th/5th to 3rd on Washington St is unsafe. If HBA is claiming  these blocks of Washington St are unsafe, SANDAG and the city should take action to remedy this problem. However, back in 2014, the HBA believed Washington was a preferred alternative to planned route on University. After they successfully created a hole in network on University, they believe Washington St is dangerous.  

3) While the HBA focuses on parking losses of about 16 spaces in the Hillcrest core, they neglect to mention the hundreds of empty spaces  SANDAG identified in a single Hillcrest garage. The also neglect to mention the 4th & 5th cycletracks will create 55 additional spaces throughout the length of the route.

4) The HBA has taken a recent Voice of San Diego story out context. One traffic engineer did express concern that mode share goals were “not based on anything.” However, if you read the city’s Climate Action Plan, the basis for the mode share is clearly articulated in the appendix. The entire plan identifies the reduction in greenhouse gases for each strategy identified to reach the city’s goal of eliminating half of all greenhouse gases. Thankfully, this policy was written by  environmental policy wonks, not traffic engineers. The VOSD story simply highlights the internal struggle of city staff to buy into the new city policy.  

5) The HBA has stated that bike lanes harm businesses. This is simply not based on facts. Even our local San Diego Union Tribune concluded, “Bike lanes, even when they displace parking spots, make little impact on the numbers of customers for local businesses”.

6) In July 2016, the Hillcrest Business Association attempted to stall the Uptown Bikeway by preventing the environmental approval at a SANDAG board meeting. Former City Councilmember Todd Gloria remarked  any further gaps in the planned  bikeway would just cause opponents to attack the remaining segments in Mission Hills, Old town and Eastern Hillcrest. Gloria’s  assertion that bikeway opponents (led by HBA) will never be satisfied has been confirmed by the HBA renewed social media push.  

As Hillcrest Business Association mobilizes its significant resources to pressure Councilmember Chris Ward ( christopherward@sandiego.gov ) and Mayor Kevin Faulconer ( kevinfaulconer@sandiego.gov ), please thank these elected officials for supporting safe streets in Hillcrest. (Include BikeSD on your communications, talk@bikesd.org). Or if you prefer twitter for communication, @ChrisWardD3  and @Kevin_Faulconer (still, include us @bikesd).

Missed Opportunity: San Diego’s Uniquely Incomplete Version of “Complete the Boulevard”

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.  

San Diego’s Uniquely Incomplete Version of “Complete the Boulevard”

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.  

The dangerous conditions of the roadway made it an ideal candidate for safety improvements. In 2015, the city began a study, “Complete the Boulevard,” to identify improvements to “realize the transformative potential of the Rapid Bus and future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along State Route 15 in Mid-City by creating more walkable, bikeable, and transit- friendly locations along the Rapid Bus route.” The area of study was El Cajon Blvd. from Highland Ave. to 50th St. The existing conditions report confirmed what anyone who choose to walk or bicycle on ECB already new, it was unsafe. The corridor had 188 traffic crashes previous 5 years, 36 of those collisions involved a pedestrian or bicyclists. In studying the corridor, city staff observed bicyclists often choose sidewalk rather than the intimidating streets. In fact, city staff analysis determined that only the “strong and fearless” (<1%) demographic of bicyclists would tolerate the streets.  

Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress Results

This data confirms what bicyclists already knew: El Cajon Blvd  is a terrible place to ride a bike. Based on the need identified in the existing conditions, City staff prepared analysis of alternative roadway design.  

El Cajon Blvd. Alternatives

El Cajon Blvd. Alternatives

Most alternatives were dismissed quickly. Staff determined only 2 alternatives viable. Alternative 1 adds a center median to limit the conflict points created by automobile turns. No dedicated bicycle facility for Alternative 1. Alternative 8B includes dedicated bicycle lanes on both sides of the street. Alternative 1 received vocal support at both community planning groups (CPGs), Kensington-Talamadge and City Heights Area Planning Committee (CHAPC). While these group’s opinion is only advisory, it appears that city staff will cave to their demands.  

Why did these CPGs not want dedicated bicycle lanes on unsafe road? (Perceived) Lack of parking!! This contradicts city staff’s analysis of the current parkingshowing that the current parking is underutilized and unmetered. Clearly a more efficient use of the on-street parking would offset any space lost to the addition of bicycle lanes.

Parking by the Numbers

The excess of parking combined with City Heights resident’s low levels of car ownership should have promoted the alternatives that included bicycle lanes. In a city that has both adopted Vision Zero goals and a binding Climate Action Plan, it is troubling that bicyclists concerns are dismissed.  

University Ave in San Diego

Closing the Hillcrest Gap: Councilmember Todd Gloria’s departing gift?

University Ave in San Diego
University Ave between 5th and 6th: 8 lanes devoted to moving and storing cars; none for bikes.


“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. 

Councilmember Gloria addressed the Hillcrest Gap in context with the city’s Climate Action Plan. An analysis of the Uptown Community Plan update showed the city would not reach the city-wide transportation mode share goals in Uptown. In responding to Councilmember Gloria’s question, city staff acknowledged that bike mode share would be higher without the gap.

San Diego Uptown Mode Share Analysis

As the meeting proceeded late into the evening, Todd Gloria made a complex motion to approve the Uptown Community Plan with many additions. For this blog post, we will focus solely on the items related to mobility. First, Councilmember Gloria asked for a process that would allow the community plan to be adjusted if the city is not on target to meet the mode share goals. In addition, Councilmember Gloria asked for staff to “consider developing a plan to fund and implement the University Ave bike lane gap.” Councilmember Gloria’s motion passed with the support of his city council colleagues.   

So what did this all mean? For those of us watching on CityTV, it was uncertain.  Thankfully, Councilmember Gloria helped us understand through social media.   



Councilmember Gloria’s clarification was welcome news.  BikeSD has advocated for a solution to fill the gap in our regional bicycle network since the SANDAG Transportation Committee’s shortsighted decision to abandon a stretch of University Ave in June of 2015. SANDAG met privately with Hillcrest Business Association lobbyists to kill the bike lane, while cancelling public meetings. This was another example of the agency breaking the public’s trust, which helped defeat the agency’s ballot measure last month.   

While a path to close the gap has been identified, we will not be fully satisfied until changes in the street design have been implemented. We suspect the Hillcrest naysayers opposed to positive change will continue their intense effort to weaken and eliminate any bicycle infrastructure in the core of Hillcrest. In a supposedly progressive and tolerant community, why is the safety of residents who bike disregarded for cheap street parking? BikeSD will continue to advocate for a complete bikeway network so commuters and families can ride safely, and help meet the city’s Climate Action Plan mode share goals.  

Our Streets are Changing (Slowly)

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.  

Balboa Ave. Cycletrack, San Diego CA

26th St. Uphill Bicycle Lane

Balboa Park is great! This greatness is in spite of high speed roads throughout the park. Redesigning our streets throughout the park for bicyclists would allow more people to access the park without needing a parking spot.  

26th St. connects the neighborhood of Golden Hill to the Florida Canyon portion of Balboa Park. It serves as important connection to Downtown for Golden Hill and North Park residents. Prior to the recent resurfacing, 26th had very wide travel lanes with only a narrow shoulder at the edge of each lane. After the resurfacing project, 26th St. has a buffered bicycle lane for the uphill portion (Florida Canyon to Golden Hill).  The narrowing of the travel lanes should reduce the ability of automobiles to speed. Sharrows were added to the downhill portion of the roadway.

Currently, these improvements lead bicyclists into more Balboa Park high speed roads (Pershing Drive and Florida Drive).  However, we are optimistic that the 26th St. improvements will connect to the planned transformative SANDAG project for Pershing Drive.

26th St. Uphill Bicycle Lane, San Diego CA

6th Ave. Road Diet

In 2010, influential Uptown Planner Board member, Leo Wilson, called Walk San Diego’s (now CirculateSD) suggestion for 6th Ave road diet as “extreme.” So BikeSD was thrilled to see the recent road diet for 6th Ave. (South of Laurel St). The 4-lane road has been converted to single travel in each direction with a left turn lane.  Both sides of the road now have buffered bike lanes! BikeSD hope this project will continue further north to connect Hillcrest and Balboa Park.

6th Ave. Road Diet, San Diego CA


Why the HBA Hole is a Worrying Precursor to Future Bike Projects

Full house at SANDAG Transportation Committee meeting on June 5th, 2015

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.

While Gloria’s defense caused fist bumps in SANDAG’s boardroom among us bicycling advocates, Supervisor Ron Roberts comments tempered our enthusiasm. (Audio starts 2:13:25)

The Uptown Bikeway’s goals are also to, “[i]mprove travel safety for everyone, and create an exceptional biking experience.” “Everyone” includes children—a demographic that Supervisor Roberts has repeatedly claimed to care about.

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Earlier this year, at the State of the County address, Supervisor Roberts offered a full throated support to reduce childhood obesity, “As a county, our commitment to health covers our youngest, oldest, and everyone in between. Heart health is a primary focus on my health agenda because it is the No. 2 killer in San Diego, and No. 1 in the United States. The fact of the matter is heart disease, including heart attacks, are preventable. Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity are two contributing factors—two habits—hat that we need to change.”

Research has shown that “there are significant connections between having a low obesity rate and a high rate of walking or biking to work. The same is true for diabetes. In statistical terms, about 30 percent of the variation in obesity among states, and more than half of the variation in diabetes, was linked to differences in walking and cycling rates.”

How is continuing to encourage driving (by creating bicycling facilities in a swiss cheese approach) supposed to increase healthy and active living in the current and next generations? How will parking facilities on our public streets reduce obesity when the unequivocal outcome of our elected representatives’ votes continue to encourage driving?

Uptown residents deserve a bikeway without “Bike Lane Ends” signs. Image via BikingBis

Bike San Diego will continue to advocate for a complete uninterrupted bikeway in Hillcrest. Uptown residents deserve a bikeway without “Bike Lane Ends” signs. Todd Gloria will not be in the SANDAG boardroom to defend Uptown Bikeway in 2017. While he moves on to the State Assembly, the successful implementation of the Uptown Bikeway will depend on the leadership of County Supervisor Ron Roberts, District 3 Councilmember-elect Chris Ward and Mayor  Kevin Faulconer. And we hope that Supervisor Roberts shows a willingness to implement the Uptown Bikeway network without supporting any additional gaps, so that the next generation—our children—can integrate active living as a core part of their daily activity and make obesity a relic of the past.