Uptown Planners vote to integrate Bicycle Corridors Project into Community Plan; buffered bike lanes coming to Bankers Hill
By Manny Lopez | SDUN Reporter
Bicycle infrastructure, mobility, bike sharing and multimodal forms of transportation dominated the conversation at the Uptown Planners meeting on Sept. 3 at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest.
It was standing room only as an ardent group of residents showed up to hear details of two main bicycle projects: San Diego Association of Government’s (SANDAG) Uptown Regional Bike Corridors Project and the city-wide automated bicycle-sharing program slated to begin in in the next few months.
Beth Robrahn, transportation planner for SANDAG, articulated the first agenda item, a plan that will modify traffic flow, parking and traffic lanes within Uptown on Washington Street, University Avenue, Fourth and Fifth avenues, India Street and others.
As one of the first of a series of high-priority projects outlined in the San Diego Regional Bicycle Plan funded by Transnet – the voter-approved half-cent sales tax for local transportation projects – the objective is to link neighborhoods, improve bicyclist safety and create a link to a larger network being built throughout the region.
After the presentation, the Uptown Planners board decided more time was needed to look at the plan and consider how it will affect the community as a whole, as well as ongoing and future growth and construction projects: most notably, a proposed Portland, Ore.-style streetcar linking Downtown and Hillcrest, through Bankers Hill.
“This is the first time we’ve seen this plan and we’re up here representing businesses and everybody else, and it seems like a lot of bicyclists wanted us to move forward; too fast in our opinion,” said Leo Wilson, Uptown Planners board chair. “Let’s have more of a dialogue because we’re basically planning with plans falling on top of each other. That’s not good planning and we have to look at the big picture.”
Citing state law, Wilson said city planners must include and integrate all elements together, and they must be consistent when formulating a community plan, which serves as a blueprint for development. The board voted and approved a motion to integrate the Uptown Bicycle Corridors Project into the currently ongoing Community Plan Update process. Any approval of the Bicycle Corridors Project must come as part of that overall community plan.
Samantha Ollinger, executive director of BikeSD, a non-profit bicycle infrastructure advocacy group, said the Community Plan Update takes “forever” to complete, and this high-priority bike infrastructure project is one SANDAG has fast tracked for immediate implementation.
“I was very disappointed to hear the board talking about rolling the bicycle plan into the Community Plan Update,” she said. “It looked like they put this project into a holding pattern. They really didn’t want to make a decision on this project tonight.”
Additionally, representatives from BikeSD took to their website to discuss the meeting, chastising Uptown Planners for their action Sept. 3.
“Despite testimonies from the assembled participants that went on for over an hour with the majority supporting SANDAG’s project, which included business representatives, Uptown residents and non-Uptown residents who regularly travel through and stop in Uptown, the Uptown Planners decided to vote on creating a subcommittee to study the project instead of being the representative group they’ve been charged with being,” BikeSD representatives said on the website.
“Rather than listening to the community and participating in the process that has been underway since late last year, Uptown Planners chose to ignore the process and their community’s needs,” they said.
Mat Wahlstrom of Hillcrest said he feels bicycling is being used as a way to control traffic and calm streets. He said bicycling does not benefit the whole community, just a narrow segment of the population.
“They’re putting up this whole idea of that if we increase the opportunities for bicycling, the people won’t need to drive their cars so much,” Wahlstrom said. “It’s moving essential traffic to make room for incidental traffic and making regular traffic pay the price for what is essentially a hobby.”
After a brief recess, Linda Marabian, deputy director of the City’s Transportation Engineering Operations Division, gave details of the second agenda item, a proposal to remove traffic lanes on Fourth and Fifth avenues from the Interstate 5 freeway to Laurel Street and replacing them with dedicated, buffered bike lanes. The route is part of the Downtown component of the upcoming bike-share program, and is intended to connect Downtown with Balboa Park. Marabian said the plan is ready to be implemented before the end of the year.
While many in attendance said they supported building bicycle infrastructure, concerns such as using major streets for bicycles, accommodating pedestrian traffic and the loss of parking and its affects on businesses were acknowledged.
“The biggest challenge is implementing,” Marabian said. “To implement a policy, most of the time something has to give so we have to find the balance. … But something has to give, so we lose something to gain something else.”
Approved earlier this year by the City Council and operated by the private company DecoBike, the bike-share system is being developed to provide bicycles for short city trips and promote an affordable and healthy transportation alternative for residents and visitors. Under the program, bikes are secured at kiosks and can be rented using a credit or debit card.
This second agenda item was presented as informational only, meaning the Uptown Planners board did not vote on approval or action.