A Compromise in Hillcrest? Perhaps, With the Right Leadership.

Everyone is abuzz with the fate of the Uptown Bike Corridor Project in Hillcrest.  It appears the SANDAG staff is advocating scrapping the plan for bike lanes along University Avenue given concerns from merchants over parking.  For the details, Paul Jamason over at sd urban wrote an excellent summary that does not need to be repeated.

Reading the SANDAG staff report, it seems to conclude that (1) the community (i.e., businesses) doesn't like the loss of parking under the current SANDAG proposal and (2) although the Jim Frost Transforming Hillcrest plan has broad community support and preserves parking, it creates too many traffic problems.  The staff concludes, therefore, that the best bet is to abandon both plans and just do nothing along University.

Even accepting their two findings as true, the staff's conclusion doesn't necessarily follow. First, if the community is accepting a plan, SANDAG needs to pay attention and not just dismiss it outright.  If the businesses are picking parking over traffic, there is no reason to discount that decision.

Second, there is nothing that requires SANDAG to adopt the entire Transforming Hillcrest Plan or reject it entirely.  Yet this is the entire premise of the SANDAG staff analysis. It seems the parts of the Frost plan that work can be adopted and others discarded.  Looking at the KOA traffic study, they found no significant traffic problems with the Transforming Hillcrest plan with respect to (1) the closure of the Washington to University offramp, (2) the conversion of University to one way between First and Fourth going eastbound, and (3) minimal traffic delays along the entire segment for the eastbound direction from Park Blvd to 1st Avenue if one of the traffic lanes is removed, and (4) insignificant traffic delays between 10th Avenue and Park Boulevard in either direction.  With minimal change (adding an extra 30 seconds to a driver's commute), all of those aspects of the Transforming Hillcrest Plan could be adopted, preserving many parking spots, creating bike lanes, and only causing minimal traffic delays.  

That still leaves a significant chunk between 4th and 10th Avenues where the Transforming Hillcrest Plan wouldn't work.  Although I somewhat question the analysis (you would think adding bike lanes and traffic would cause more people to walk and bike, thereby alleviating some traffic), even accepting it as true doesn't require an abandonment of the Transforming Hillcrest Plan in the parts where it works. Moreover, the KOA traffic analysis suggests that between 4th and 10th Avenues, one eastbound lane can be removed without creating huge adverse traffic effects.  Using this space from a removed lane and taking out only one side of the parallel parking, SANDAG could create enough room for the bike lanes and preserve at least half of the parking.  Although it does admittedly result in some lost parking spots, the Transforming Hillcrest Plan (supported by Hillcrest businesses!) already resulted in some lost parking, but creates additional parking east of 10th Avenue.  Perhaps SANDAG and bike advocates would be willing to concede the Washington to University onramp issue in "exchange" for the businesses accepting some loss of parking between 4th and 10th Avenue.  

If the businesses continue to complain about the loss of parking and oppose this compromise position, perhaps SANDAG can try an interim solution in between 4th and 10th by painting bike lanes.  If, after one year, the businesses can demonstrate an actual loss of business caused by the lanes, the bike lanes can be removed for that segment.  That's a bet I am willing to make.  If there is no effect on business, a permanent solution can be built.

Is it perfect? No.  But there's no reason for the SANDAG staff to suggest it's time to give up and not change anything.  At the absolute maximum, the bike lanes should be abandoned between 4th and 10th Avenue.  But even in that segment, it seems some compromise could be reached.

To do this, the SANDAG Transportation Committee will have to ignore the staff recommendation and direct staff to get creative.  The Committee has nine members and is chaired by Todd Gloria.  Thus, he only needs to get four votes to support him.  A few days ago, I wrote that the the structure of SANDAG created by state law is flawed:  although most of the transportation improvements in the region should be made in the urban core, the SANDAG board is dominated by suburban and rural cities, resulting in an inability to create real change needed to combat climate change and, instead, a focus on expanding freeways.  The flip-side to this argument, however, is that when a certain SANDAG project is located within a single area and is already funded, there is no reason for almost any of the board members to have strong feelings about the project.  Creating pissed-off business owners in Hillcrest shouldn't concern the mayors of Vista and Lemon Grove.  No one directly affected by this project can express their anger by voting against them.  As a result, the majority of the committee should be relatively apathetic on the Uptown bike project. If Todd Gloria and David Alvarez (who gets a vote representing the the Airport Authority) can flex some muscle, they should be able to move at least three votes to support the bike lanes.  It seems for the outlying mayors it would be more beneficial to support a likely future Assemblymember rather than a few business owners that cannot vote in their future elections.  It remains to be seen whether Gloria and Alvarez can get this done.  Me?  I'm optimistic.