Opinion – March 14

Posted: March 14th, 2014 | Opinion, Opinion & News | 10 Comments

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 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.28813_image


  1. Belinda Smith says:

    As someone who lived on 5th Ave opposite Nunu’s for 10 years, I can attest to how dangerous Uptown streets are. Traffic travels way too fast on those wide streets like 4th and 5th, and guess what, they never have the volume of cars on them they were built for! A bike lane on each of them would be welcome to the residents!

    We need to remember that Hillcrest does not have a parking problem, but rather a parking convenience problem. And in our lifetimes, parking is only going to get worse. The one thing we can do about the atrocious parking in Hillcrest, is to get more people out of their cars and onto bikes and sidewalks, and build the kind of city and infrastructure which thousands of Uptown residents want!

    Please build these bike lanes already so people in surrounding areas like Mission Hills, Bankers Hill, Normal Heights etc can start going to the bars and restaurants of Hillcrest! Those that want to drive, can still do so, in fact with cycling and walking as options soon, parking availability will even free up!

  2. Michael Greer says:

    As a long time San Diego resident and a new resident of the uptown area I strongly encourage the City to redesign the University Ave corridor through Hillcrest to accommodate all modes of travel as bikes/peds offer a healthy alternative to driving all of the time. Multimodal roadways are the wave of the future and San Diego can set a great precedent by increasing the ridability of its roadways by bicyclists…similar to how Portland, OR has transformed its City, so too can San Diego. Thank you!

  3. Excellent opinion piece. Thank you Paul Jameson for your spot on assessment of Hillcrest’s hostility to SANDAG’s Bike, Pedestrian, and Street improvements. It’s baffling why the community would fight against $40 Million investment in their community to make it better.

  4. Sarah Fox-Greer says:

    I have recently moved to the University Avenue area and I’m contemplating commuting on my bike to work. I come from the UK where I used to commute by bike regularly. At the moment, I am planning on avoiding the University Avenue route as it frightens the living daylights out of me. More bike lanes please!!

  5. Justin says:

    Here’s an opportunity for Hillcrest to reinvent itself and the inject life into its slowly dying streets and the local community groups want no part of it? Am I right in assuming that all members on those boards are 55 years and older? It’s a shame that a small group of people with no vision are preventing Hillcrest from reaching its full potential, and for what? Lack of parking? That’s just sad. Perhaps SANDAG should bypass Hillcrest and concentrate instead on Golden Hill, South Park, North Park and the Adams Ave. corridor.

  6. Tim Gahagan says:

    Traffic deaths are always tragedies, regardless of who has obeyed the law or whether proposed changes to roads might or might not have made any difference.

    I would like to clarify that it is a Hillcrest Town Council Survey that indicated that loosing15 parking-spots to accommodate a bicycle route down University Avenue seemed to be an acceptable compromise.

    I would like to clarify that the Uptown Community Parking District has not explored “legal action against SANDAG to prevent bike lanes.” The Uptown Community Parking District is in favor of a world-class bike route through Uptown that enhances transit and minimizes costs to current infrastructure.

    The Uptown Parking District works hard to maximize the use of parking meter money to improve Uptown parking and related transit activity and it has recently had a fair amount of success at alleviating some of the severe parking pressures in Uptown.

  7. to Belinda & Paul says:

    I used to ride a bike, but with advancing age…it’s no longer safe for me to do so.

    Please don’t forget that Uptown streets are wider because we used to have streetcars (which developed our neighborhoods… and can transport bikes as well as non-bicyclists, young and old. Why isn’t SANDAG promoting streetcars in Uptown?) The city has held workshops to them new streetcars, but SANDAG’s bike lanes could make that process quite difficult, if not impossible.

    As a longtime Hillcrest resident who knows well that the free off-street parking near our homes is rarely available for us (because it’s used by the businesses)…perhaps it’s time to have the city institute residential parking permits like those that have been successful for years north of Washington St.

    Parking permits for those living south of Washington Street to Pennsylvania will make sure that ANY loss of vehicular spaces will not impact residents. The idea gained traction at last Tuesday’s Hillcrest Town Council meeting.

  8. Paul Jamason says:

    Hi Tim, thanks for the clarification and sorry for the incorrect information. I’m hoping everyone’s concerns about the project can be addressed, including parking impacts.

    Here are some ideas regarding parking resources: new spaces via angled parking conversions on side streets; increased signage directing drivers to existing lots; sidewalk wayfinder maps ( showing lot locations; distribute parking lot maps to businesses; reaching out to the new Uptown Shopping District owners regarding public/validated use of their lot; additional parking meter installations; extending parking meter hours; using new city smart meters to vary pricing based on demand. I know you were opposed to smart meter installation (, but a free market approach to parking would increase turnover and availability.

    If we expect SANDAG to build lots for parking mitigation, this would reduce the funding available for the bike lane project. As you’re aware, Uptown Parking District has evaluated the cost of building parking lots and/or garages for years, but “The revenues coming into the parking district are nowhere near what is required to construct a parking garage” ( Perhaps with the additional revenue sources above, this would be a greater possibility. For now let’s brainstorm ways to identify, maximize and publicize our existing parking resources in Hillcrest. Thanks again.

  9. […] other people take a closer look at who is actually being hit on University […]

  10. […] Thanks to SD Uptown News for asking me to contribute an opinion piece on pedestrian safety in Hillcrest… The Hillcrest Business Association decided not to vote on the SANDAG Universtiy Ave bike […]

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