SANDAG's Uptown bikeway plan not widely accepted

Agency seeks to hold up funding intended for pedestrian improvements

Some residents of Uptown fear that the San Diego Association of Governments is trying to grab money meant for pedestrian improvements in order to install a dedicated bikeway for cyclists to commute on Fourth and Fifth avenues. Objectors contend that doing so will put pedestrians in danger and put more cars on the streets, making Uptown less of a walkable community.

Tomorrow, January 15, members of the city council's Smart Growth and Land Use subcommittee will meet to discuss a request from SANDAG for the City of San Diego to transfer nearly $648,000 that had been set aside for parking improvements to Fourth and Fifth avenues and Quince and Nutmeg streets so it can be used for SANDAG's Uptown Regional Corridor project.

According to a city staff report, planners from SANDAG first approached the city in the beginning of last year, shortly after allocating the grant money, to discuss design conflicts with the two projects. Among the conflicts were the introduction of "bulb-outs" or widening the sidewalks at busy intersections along portions of Fourth and Fifth avenues. The "bulb-outs" were meant to increase safety for those wishing to cross busy Uptown streets. However, the sidewalk extensions would get in the way of the newly proposed bike path, so SANDAG petitioned the city to de-appropriate the funds and instead opt for their plan instead.

The transfer of funds isn't sitting well with some residents of Uptown and members of local planning groups.

"Bankers Hill/Park West, along with Uptown Planners, worked hard to obtain these pedestrian-oriented grants," writes community planner and Bankers Hill resident Leo Wilson in a January 10 email to interim mayor Todd Gloria's office.

"[The grants] were meant to fund pedestrian improvements, which are vitally important for Uptown [and] are now being moved, and in my view misappropriated, to the Uptown Bike Corridor Mobility Plan. This is deeply offensive; the fact that neither Bankers Hill stakeholders or Uptown Planners were informed of this action makes it even more maladorous [sic].”

According to Wilson, a vast number of residents supported the improvements to Nutmeg Street and Fourth and Fifth avenues. In 2009, more than 500 people signed a petition for stop signs and other improvements to begin.

Yet, despite the previous support for the project, Wilson says SANDAG and the city have refused to share their plans with community groups.

"The Bankers Hill/Park West community only learned last week of the attempt to defund these grants,” he says.

Cycling advocates disagree that SANDAG's plan will do anything to jeopardize the safety of pedestrians or cyclists.

“Any insinuation that the bike plan (or for that matter, any bike improvements) impacts the pedestrian experience, either in Uptown or anywhere else, is just absurd,” says Sam Ollinger from cycling advocacy group BikeSD. “Vehicle fumes, vehicles driven by drunk or distracted drivers or vehicles in and of itself — with his bulk and ability to take up far more free or greatly subsidized real estate on our city streets — impacts the pedestrian experience. San Diegans want more options in how they want to get around and between the passage of Transnet and the growing calls for bike and walking improvements, Uptown should focus on ensuring they are listening to their own community.”

The city argues that canceling the projects does not necessarily mean the pedestrian improvements will not be completed, a claim that Wilson finds hard to believe.

"It is not intended to do away with the improvements. The pop out project has not been deleted, however, it may be modified...as SANDAG moves forward with their design of the Uptown Bicycle Corridor Project," reads an email from a San Diego traffic engineer to Wilson.

Wilson is asking that the subcommittee delay the item to give the community a chance to weigh in.

The subcommittee will meet in the council committee room on the 12th floor of City Hall at 2 p.m.

UPDATE: 1/15, 2:10 p.m.

SANDAG spokesperson Helen Gao responds:

"Yes, the pedestrian improvements will be delayed as a result of the consolidation effort. However, the final results will be far superior. The combined project would actually include additional pedestrian improvements (beyond what’s included in the grant application) along the 4th and 5th Avenue corridors, consistent with community plans.

"Unfortunately, the criticisms directed at SANDAG are based on misinformation circulating in the community. There is an assumption that pedestrian and bike improvements are mutually exclusive and conflict with each other, which is not the case.

"We are taking a comprehensive approach to improving streets for both bicyclists and pedestrians in Uptown because we want to avoid wasting taxpayer money to modify pedestrian elements that are not properly aligned with the bike facilities that the community also wants to see built. A well designed corridor project will benefit pedestrians and people riding bikes, as well as improve safety for all road users.

"Case in point, curb bulb-outs. As currently envisioned, the bike lanes would conflict with the bulb-outs outlined in the grant application. We are working on a design that will incorporate similar pedestrian improvements into the bike project. Where bulb-outs were planned, we envision building pedestrian refuges/islands to improve pedestrian safety and calm traffic. Just like the bulb-outs, these islands would shorten the distance to cross the street. In fact, they will shorten the crossing distance even more than the original design."

UPDATE: 1/17, 8:25 a.m.

During Wednesday's committee meeting, city councilmembers continued the hearing to allow local planning groups time to discuss SANDAG's request. The Uptown Planners have already placed it on their February 4 agenda.

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It makes no sense for the City to do pedestrian improvements on 4th and 5th now, when we know that the Regional Bike Corridor will change them within a couple of years. Money twice spent.

Better to have the pedestrian improvements rolled into the Uptown Regional Bike Corridor and build the pedestrian improvements once - not twice.

Face it the City is famous for taking from one account to fund another project that is some Councilmember or Mayors pet project...

Where are all the improvements that have been promised to all our neighborhoods in return for accepting ADDITIONAL DENSITY which the City has pushed into our neighborhoods?

I'm an avid cyclist, but what about all those that cannot cycle, where are the street benches and more importantly where are all the public restrooms that each district should be installing (so that the homeless don't continue to use our alleys and yards as their bathrooms) that our City Council has been talking about for decades but somehow never gets around to installing?

City-wide priorities need to be set and then followed, instead of installing pet projects to payback supporters in a willy-nilly fashion!

Come On SD Leaders, lets plan for the widest possible group of people using all manner of mobility "vehicles" not JUST the lucky few that are physically strong enough to ride bicycles.

A few points to consider:

  1. Where is all the new motorcycle parking stripping, so riders can park for free in all the odd shaped nooks and crannies on our City streets without taking up a metered spot, or are bicycles the only things that are important these days? There should be motorcycle and/or electric bicycle parking everywhere not just in a few corrals that cost many thousands of dollars each to install and the removal of on-street vehicle parking spaces!

  2. Expensive bikes need parking locations that offer security, why is the city not also installing secure cycle parking lockers, if we really want to encourage commuters to "ride to work"? How many can afford to lock their $4,000 bike up to a parking meter and then replace all the components after they have been stolen or damaged by vandals?

  3. One complain I've heard is that the City is using bicycle lanes to not only change traffic patterns but to somehow justify reducing the parking requirements for both new construction and/or remodeling, since they believe in the myth that all residents will use mass transit and not own cars in the future... which is feel good speak for the poor will be force into transportation corridors that will shift iit's parking burden into adjacent neighborhoods, which is already happening in North Park and other locations through San Diego! Watch out what you support, it may come back to bite your neighborhood and your property values if you are lucky enough to own!

BTW: Leo knows, since he has been leading the good fight for many years and has seen vast amounts of money go for things that were not scheduled or needed, except for a chosen few that have connections in City Hall.

  1. Surprise, I'm for both, only one is getting all the media and money and the public restrooms issue is lost in the background noise...

  2. The ridership on mass transit is "hit and miss" and it only takes one bad experience to affect your life, just like having a bicycle accident. Who wants to get off a bus late at night and walk home, if they could drive themselves home in relative safety.

  3. Locker should be everywhere, not just at some token locations, so people can ride to work, not just to a transfer station.

  4. I have built my own light weight bicycle frame decades ago, but I mostly ride a old bike around town, but even losing the front wheel of that one can cost about $100 to replace, not to mention walking the one wheeled bike home at night.

  5. I ride to places and do not use the bus to carry by bike.

RE: SANDAG spokesperson Update: Traffic calming is yet more Density Speak for making it harder and slower to drive in these areas!

Want a great example, try driving in Bird Rock to see the effect of these "improvements"... which might be great for the local businesses but it does nothing but encourage vehicular thru-traffic to use side streets in the residential areas instead of the streets designed for it in the business district!

The City of San Diego is now doing everything it can to help local businesses while turning its back on residential quality of life for all those living within walking distance of the business district, since now employees and customers all seek residential street parking because the City and/or the business districts have failed to provide it for customers in the business district.

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