By Morgan M. Hurley | Contributing Editor
On May 18 to much fanfare, Elizabeth Hannon, the chief operating officer of the Uptown Parking District (UPD), launched the Hillcrest Lunch Loop, a free, lunchtime shuttle that will connect Hillcrest residents, visitors and employees of local businesses with the restaurants of west Hillcrest.
The pilot program, funded by Uptown parking meter revenue and made possible through a partnership between UPD, UC San Diego Health Sciences and the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), will run through July.
Also on hand to cut the ribbon and ride the first loop was District Three Councilmember Todd Gloria, two officials from UCSD — Assistant Director Zachary Schlagel and Gerard Philips, director of care coordination, and Megan Gamwell, HBA marketing and communications program manager.
Geared to reduce traffic congestion, parking challenges and boost local businesses, the 10-minute, four-stop loop operates Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and will deliver its riders within steps of nearly 50 Hillcrest eatery options.
The Hillcrest Lunch Loop — along with two other UPD trolley initiatives, one that runs on weekend nights and another that supports the farmers market — is but one example.
“The trolley is a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease the number of drivers who are getting in the car at the hospital’s parking structure and driving into Hillcrest, and increase walkability,” Hannon said. “When someone parks at the DMV [after hours] and contemplates walking or taking the Hillcrest trolley to their destination — either are good choices for parking, for your health, and for the environment.”
Hannon, who spends her long days attending meetings, writing grants, overseeing the parking budget, contemplating new initiatives and networking, is a plethora of parking-, bicycle- and pedestrian-based information and she doesn’t shy away from hot-button issues.
Parking and bicycle supporters have drawn their swords on each side in recent months, creating a divide that hasn’t been seen since the height ordinance debates.
At a heated Uptown Planners meeting about SANDAG’s bicycle plan, it was Hannon who grabbed the microphone when the speakers began to falter amidst the chaos, calming the crowd with her wit, compassion and clear understanding of the issues at hand.
“In Hillcrest, there are two ways we can impact parking,” she said recently from a seat on the Lunch Loop trolley. “We can increase supply and we can manage demand by introducing pedestrian safety projects and bicycle infrastructure. Providing biking as an option decreases the impacts on parking because more people are riding their bikes safely.”
Hannon said she and her staff are also looking at ways — outside of the many politically charged plans in the works — to increase supply in Hillcrest.
“On-street parking is not necessarily maxed out here and because there are some streets that we can angle park and add spaces by converting the parallel parking,” she said.
With parking angles ranging from 35.5 to 90 degrees and the opportunity for more space with each degree of angle, visibility and safety is also a factor.
“In a residential or a business community where cars are angled, people just naturally drive slow,” she said. “It calms traffic and that makes it safer to walk and with cars slowing down you’re going to feel safer, too.
“[Angled parking] is also a benefit to the businesses because you can actually see what’s around,” she continued. “Not only is there more parking and a decrease in the amount of time you have to circle around to find a spot, it will provide storefront businesses more visibility.”
On the flipside, the Lunch Loop is expected to not only support the area’s restaurants, but the employees at UCSD’s Health and Sciences group as well.
“UCSD is our main demographic,” Hannon said, adding that based on a survey they found that nearly 200 hundred of their employees get in their car and drive to lunch on any given day.
“Our staff’s current options are fairly limited,” Schlagel said. “They have access to our cafeteria and various vending machines … [which now] have healthy, sustainable and locally grown foods available. That being said, it is difficult for staff to get into the community to eat, as the closest restaurants are Jack in the Box and Panda Express, and they are each a 10-minute walk each way.
“In the time it takes to walk to one of those restaurants on Washington, they can now access virtually any Hillcrest restaurant on the Lunch Loop,” he said.
Though the east end of Hillcrest is not currently included, if things go well during the pilot, Hannon sees the potential of adding another trolley to service not only the residents and seniors on the east end of Hillcrest, but also the businesses along Park Boulevard.
“We want to make sure that the ridership is there and that the times are working but we needed to keep our routing at 10 minutes or under,” she explained, adding that during the post-launch review a trip to Trader Joe’s increased the ride by seven minutes. “People only get an hour for lunch so you don’t want to take a 20-minute trolley in each direction to get to the other side.”
Those interested in giving the Lunch Loop a whirl can download the ParkHillcrest app to their phone, where you will find the live trolley tracker, showing you exactly where the active trolley is along its route; maps for each of the three trolley services; parking and valet options throughout the neighborhood, and more.
Riders are also encouraged to “Like” the ParkHillcrest Facebook page and visit parkhillcrest.com. You can even find menus for most of the area restaurants found within walking distance of the loop and decide your destination before you board or order ahead.
For more information about the Uptown Parking District, visit parkuptownsd.org.
—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.