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Major makeover

Posted: December 15th, 2017 | Communities, News, Top Story | 2 Comments

By Ken Williams | Editor

Renovation of University Avenue in North Park is a year away

About a year from now, construction is expected to begin on the University Avenue Mobility Project (UAMP) to transform the busy east-west thoroughfare in North Park into a street with improved safety and mobility for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as automotive and transit traffic.

To improve mobility and decrease travel time, traffic signals and enhanced pedestrian crossings will be added or removed along the 1.3-mile stretch of University Avenue from Interstate 805 west to Florida Street.

University Avenue through North Park, seen here at sundown near the iconic neon sign, will be transformed to improve safety and mobility. Head-in parking will remain but 91 parallel parking spots will be lost between Boundary Street west to Florida Street. (Photo by Ken Williams)

Raised medians with irrigated landscaping will be built with turn pockets, so traffic will not be impeded by motorists making left turns.

A transit-only lane, for buses and bicyclists, will be open westbound for the entire route. Eastbound, however, the transit-only lane will be limited to the stretch of University Avenue from Utah to Boundary streets.

The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) will also reduce the number of transit stops from 18 to 14 — seven stops in each direction — and each stop will be improved to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The 7 and 10 bus routes travel along this stretch of University Avenue.

To accommodate all these improvements, 91 parallel parking spots will be removed on University Avenue between Florida and Boundary streets. Another four parking spots will be removed on several side streets to allow trucks to have enough room to turn.

Meanwhile, the city has already converted nearby side streets to head-in parking to add 114 parking spaces. The total net gain will 19 parking spaces after the project is completed.

The UAMP has been discussed since at least 2002 and gone through numerous public meetings. The City Council approved the project on July 27, 2015. At that time, city engineers had estimated that construction would begin by late 2016 or early 2017 — which didn’t happen for a number of reasons. Upgrades to underground utilities also had to be finished along University Avenue, and that was only recently completed.

The project manager, Jayna Straughn, an associate engineer with the city’s Public Works Department, on Dec. 5 briefed the Design Committee of North Park Main Street (NPMS) Dec. 5 on the progress. She listed the following time schedule:

  • December 2017: Approval of the plant palette for the medians. Because a sewer main runs down the middle of University Avenue, no deep-rooted trees can be planted and nothing taller than 24 inches can be installed. This requires input from NPMS, which will manage a Property Based Improvement District (PBID) that was approved to maintain the landscaping and the irrigation system.
  • April 2018: Final landscape and irrigation review; design is completed.
  • May 2018: Construction contract is advertised.
  • October 2018: Construction contract is awarded.

Construction is expected to begin in November 2018 and last for about year.

Here are some specific plans that were discussed at the meeting:

Traffic signals

The traffic signal on University Avenue at Ohio Street will be removed and an enhanced pedestrian crossing will be added. Angela Landsberg, executive director of NPMS, noted that Target plans to move into the vacant Wang’s building at this location.

New traffic signals will be added at Arnold Avenue and Oregon Street.

Signal timing will be modified to improve traffic circulation and reduce conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles.

The speed limit will remain 25 mph. Straughn said the improvements will make University Avenue “calmer and safer” yet will get motorists through the area “faster” by eliminating congestion and optimizing the timing of traffic signals.

Left-turn pockets

The left-turn pocket at Bancroft Street will be eliminated.

Left-turn pockets will be added at Boundary, Illinois, Utah, Oregon and Mississippi streets, and Arnold Avenue. This will trigger modifications to traffic signal timing and loop detectors, and signal mast arms and signal heads could be modified or replaced.

Raised median

The project calls for a raised median the entire length. The median will be a minimum of 10 feet wide and will narrow at intersections, where left-turn pockets could be provided.

There will be landscaping and irrigation on the median that is managed by the PBID. This applies to the median from Arnold Avenue east to 32nd Street. Landsberg said property owners on either end of the UAMP project declined to participate in the PBID, so those medians will not be landscaped.

Median curbs will be 6 inches tall, transitioning to 3 inches near intersections to allow delivery vehicles and fire trucks the ability to climb over the curbs to make turns.

Transit improvements

MTS will eliminate existing bus stops at Utah Street in both directions.

The bus stop on the east side of Arnold Avenue will be moved to the west side of the street.

The bus stop at Oregon Street will be replaced by a new stop at Idaho Street.

Far-side transit stops will be utilized where feasible to make it easier on bus and auto movement as well as minimize conflicts with pedestrians and right-turning vehicles.

The traffic plan encourages pedestrians to cross behind the bus, and allows the bus to board or drop off passengers after crossing an intersection.

Incidentally, drivers will be allowed to enter the bus/bike lane to make a right turn. Broken striping lines will inform motorists when they can enter the bus/bike lane to turn right.

Pedestrian improvements

Pedestrians will cheer the closing of the crosswalk at Pershing Avenue, located on a knoll on University Avenue where visibility is a safety issue. An enhanced crosswalk will be installed at the intersection with 28th and Idaho streets, allowing patrons of The Mission and Breakfast Republic restaurants to safely cross the busy street.

Three other enhanced crosswalks will be installed:

  • Kansas Street, between the Observatory North Park and Tamarindo Latin Kitchen & Bar.
  • Ohio Street, across from the vacant Wang’s restaurant and next to North Park Beer Company and Fatboy’s Deli.
  • Iowa/Herman streets, across from Tostadas North Park and the 7-Eleven, and near the Iowa Street Senior Housing complex.

There will be enhanced crossings across abutting side streets at Alabama Street (north and south legs); Idaho Street (north leg); and 28th Street (south leg).

The enhanced crossings on University Avenue may include Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacons and reflective pavement markings to warn motorists of pedestrians.

All existing crosswalks will be restriped with highly reflective paint or modified to increase pedestrian safety. Straughn said “continental crosswalks” with its big, bold striping will be everywhere along the route.

Parking situation

The city has already created 114 additional parking spaces by converting these streets north of University Avenue from parallel parking to head-in parking: Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Illinois and Iowa.

However, by the time the project is finished, 91 on-street parallel parking spots will be eliminated along University Avenue. The problem, Straughn said, is that the thoroughfare is narrow by modern standards at 52 feet wide. She said some local businesses would be impacted by the loss of parking.

To address the parking concerns, NPMS officials plan to add signage to point motorists to the city-owned parking garage, which offers affordable rates of $1 per hour or a maximum of $5 per day.

Landsberg said the entrance to the parking garage is hard to find by motorists who are not familiar with the area. The garage’s entrance/exit is on 29th Street, near the Observatory North Park, between University Avenue and North Park Way.

Motorists traveling west on University Avenue from the 805 freeway cannot turn left onto 29th Street, and there is not enough space on University west of 30th Street to provide left-turn lanes. The next left-turn pocket will be blocks away at Utah Street.

Remaining issues

Some key issues are still not resolved. The biggest one involves traffic mitigation on the east end of the project, related to I-805. The Boundary Street intersection with University Avenue is already a bottleneck during peak traffic hours, and it’s part of the Caltrans right of way.

René Agustín Vidales, chairman of the North Park Planning Committee, who attended the meeting, explained the problem in a follow-up email:

“The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the UAMP had a traffic study that analyzed road segments and intersections that were considered part of the area that would be impacted by the project.“One of the intersections analyzed was North Park Way/Boundary Street/33rd Street/I-805 southbound off-ramp/I-805 southbound on-ramp that currently has an all-way stop.

“That intersection was identified to be deficient without the project and would continue to be deficient with the project unless mitigation is provided. The mitigation identified in the traffic study and listed in the EIR was to install a traffic signal to improve traffic flow.

“We heard from Jayna Straughn that the city is coordinating with Caltrans, and that mitigation would not necessarily consist of the installation of a traffic signal.”

Straughn said the mitigation issue had to be resolved by the project’s completion.

Also, NPMS has concerns about construction possibly interfering with two major community events held on University Avenue: the North Park Festival of the Arts in May and the North Park Toyland Parade and Festival in December.

North Park’s business corridor will also need to be free of construction during the Christmas holiday shopping season, Landsberg said.

The arts festival, she continued, could possibly be moved to North Park Way and utilize the North Park Mini Park, which is in the planning stages and will be located directly behind Observatory North Park. Landsberg said that decision has not been finalized.

Straughn said the city would try to accommodate by placing those dates in the contract’s specifications. She also noted that one lane of traffic will be open in both directions at all times during the construction phase.

For questions or concerns, call the Public Works Department’s construction project information line at 619-533-4207 or email engineering@sandiego.gov.

—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at ken@sdcnn.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.

2 Comments

  1. David G. says:

    The UAMP would be a disastrous plan for North Park and must be stopped.
    See http://www.northpark.us/uamp/ for details on why this 15-year out-of-date boondoggle of a plan would make University Ave. more dangerous, ruin much of its pedestrian-friendliness and aesthetics, and negatively impact residents and businesses. Proponents of the plan tout its few good points, but entirely gloss over a its numerous major flaws and invalid assumptions. To stop the UAMP residents must make their voices heard and work together to mount a legal challenge to the plan and its highly flawed Environmental Impact Report.

  2. Greg Martin says:

    University Avenue is one of the most dangerous streets in San Diego, especially for people not in a car. The planned changes are long overdue. It will make it safer and better for all people, not just those in cars. The addition of a transit/bicycle lane is especially appreciated. It should also be much safer for people walking who need to cross University.

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