A street for all of us
Last month, pedestrian Aaron “Kurtis” Voorhies was killed while crossing University Avenue between Vermont Street and 10th Avenue. The driver did not stop. The incident occurred near an opening in the Uptown District plaza that funnels pedestrians to the street at mid-block, where they often wait in the median before crossing the south side. Voorhies was leaving the median when he was hit.
From Sixth Avenue eastward, University Avenue is up to eight lanes wide: four lanes dedicated to auto through-travel, up to two turn lane pockets at intersections, and two lanes for street parking. Although this is the main commercial thoroughfare in Hillcrest, the number of auto lanes and their width encourages driving speeds that endanger pedestrians and bicyclists.
Many have pointed out that Voorhies was jaywalking when hit, therefore no street changes are required; pedestrians just need to be more aware of vehicles. While pedestrians should follow the law, analysis of Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System data reveals that in nearly two-thirds of the collisions on University (from Washington to Normal streets) they were acting legally and the driver was at fault. Further, pedestrian injuries are more likely to be fatal as average speeds increase, from a fatality rate of five percent at 20 MPH, to 40 percent at 30 MPH, to a whopping 80 percent at 40 MPH. The eastern end of University often sees speed in excess of 40 MPH.
The dangers to pedestrians and cyclists in Hillcrest are not new. Walk San Diego performed a pedestrian survey of Uptown over 10 years ago for the Uptown Parking District, identifying multiple problem spots throughout Hillcrest. On University, apart from installing a few sidewalk bulb-outs and pedestrian lead-time crossing signals, little has been done. Another life-threatening injury occurred at 6th and Evans last year. In the nine years following the 2003 Walk San Diego survey (1/2004 to 11/2012) there were 48 reported pedestrian collisions on University from Washington to Normal. And San Diego is one of the most dangerous places in the country for pedestrians.
Is a lack of funding to blame for the inaction on University? If so, then community groups such as Uptown Parking District, Uptown Planners, and the Hillcrest Business Association would welcome project funds that protect pedestrians and bicyclists. The proposed SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor on University Avenue does exactly this. It will reduce auto speeds by narrowing travel lanes, shorten crosswalk distances and provide the only safe east/west travel route for bicyclists in all of west Uptown. Hillcrest’s own city council representative, Todd Gloria, has lobbied extensively for SANDAG regional bike route funding. Yet instead of embracing the project’s beautification, place-making, traffic calming, and business/neighborhood benefits, these community groups have focused the discussion solely on parking.
Uptown Parking District Director Tim Gahagan said this week he is willing to lose “less than 15” on-street parking spaces for the project, and the district is exploring legal action against SANDAG to prevent bike lanes. Your public parking meter fees would be used for these wasteful efforts. Meanwhile, more than 900 off-street parking spaces exist within one block of University. Further, Uptown Parking District recently gained nearly 300 additional off-street evening parking spaces in the nearby DMV and IBEW lots. That’s more than three times the worst-case scenario of spaces lost under the SANDAG plan.
Hillcrest’s streets don’t have to be this dangerous. In many countries, pedestrians have a greater right to public street space. For example, in the UK, where jaywalking is legal, road fatalities are one-fourth the rate of the U.S., and in Sweden, roads are built for safety, not speed and convenience (“We simply do not accept any deaths or injuries on our roads”, says a Swedish National Transport Agency representative). That approach is known as Vision Zero, which new NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio is implementing.
Cities around the country are implementing protected bike lanes to provide traffic calming as part of complete streets projects. Even in the world’s most bike-friendly cities, the car has not been banned, but people have more choices to get around. Expanding Hillcrest business’s customer base beyond drivers, especially for alcohol-providing establishments (and to address expensive DUI law enforcement) is not only smart, but the right thing to do. And since slower drivers see more businesses, traffic calming increases business revenue, along with residential property values.
Hillcrest is being offered an unprecedented opportunity to improve the safety and walkability of University Avenue. It’s a public space that belongs to all of us, not a parking district or a business association. I hope the community’s representatives will reconsider their opposition and acknowledge that pedestrians and bicyclists have a right to a safer University Avenue.
—Paul Jameson, SD Urban
A version of this piece originally appeared on sdurban.com If you have any information regarding Aaron Vorhies’ death, please call the San Diego Police Department Traffic Division number for Hit and Run Collisions at 858-795-4805. A $1000 reward has been offered.