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Pedaling forward

Posted: July 27th, 2018 | News, Top Story | No Comments

Sara Butler | Editor

SANDAG seeks community input on Park Boulevard Bikeway project

Between the dockless bike trend and city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals, biking has hardly fallen off San Diego’s radar.

And it’s not far from Uptown’s mind. San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is in the midst of planning a network of local bikeways to make it easier and safer to bike through many of our Uptown neighborhoods.

A map of the Park Boulevard Bikeway, which is part of the larger Uptown Bikeways project (Photo courtesy of SANDAG)

This regional bike network,  coined Uptown Bikeways, plans to connect Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Balboa Park, North Park, University Heights, Old Town, Downtown and Mission Valley. Of particular interest is the Park Boulevard Bikeway, one of the five segments in this network, which will connect the high-traffic neighborhoods of Hillcrest, North Park and Balboa Park.

Chris Romano, SANDAG project manager, noted that the Park Boulevard Bikeway is an important connection, since the intersection of Park Boulevard and Robinson Avenue will link the eastern Hillcrest bikeways to the Robinson bikeways, and will connect the overall Uptown and North Park/Mid-City Bikeway projects.

“It’s also an intersection that we’ve heard people feel really uncomfortable going through, really unsafe — it’s confusing if you’re biking, if you’re walking, if you’re driving — so we’re trying to come in and help improve that so it’s easier to get through and doesn’t act like a barrier anymore,” Romano said.

On July 18, SANDAG held an informational event about the Park Boulevard Bikeway at Refill Cafe, a coffee shop fittingly located at 3752 Park Blvd. in Hillcrest. The casual workshop invited the community to stop by at various time intervals throughout the day to chat with the project team, ask questions and offer input on the bikeway.

Brandy Swetizer, SANDAG’s Senior Public Outreach Officer, said the informational workshop was very well-received compared to similar events, approximating 40–50 people in attendance.

She partially attributed this turnout to the format of the event. Three sessions offered throughout the day (7–9 a.m.; 11 a.m.–1 p.m.; 4–7 p.m.) intended to make it easier for those whose lifestyles could not allow them to attend an evening meeting after work.

The workshop attracted many pedestrians walking by the open-air cafe as well as Uptown bikers, post-cycle and clad in biking gear.

One bike enthusiast was Hillcrest resident Susan Patch, who has previously participated in similar bike outreach events. The Park Boulevard Bikeway especially caught her eye, as she uses this route on her commute to work at the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park.

“I feel safe, but there could definitely be improvements, which is why I’m really interested in this bikeway and other bikeways,” Patch said.

“I ride along Park [Boulevard] every day for my commute … you go from there being a bike lane and then all of a sudden, there’s no bike lane and you’re in a blind curve,” she continued. “And that’s not really safe, which is why this project has plans to extend that bikeway. So I don’t know how you can say no to that.”

Both Romano and Swetizer said the majority of feedback and questions they received at the event were related to addressing biker safety, along with the logistics of that task.

“A lot of what we’re looking at is building out the curve more to tighten the intersection up, make it a little clearer as to where you’re supposed to be; shorten some of the crossing distances; and remove some of the confusion out of the intersection [with] better striping and [by] delineating where things are supposed to go,” Romano said.

Mission Hills resident Oscar Tevera, who formerly lived in La Mesa, also cruised by on his bike ride home from his job in Downtown. A major part of his decision to move to Mission Hills revolved around finding a neighborhood where it was easier to ride to work — which he does 95 percent of the time.

“Since I work by the airport, I specifically wanted to live in a place that was closer for me to commute. That way I could be — it sounds weird — a millennial that gets on a bike and goes to work, or uses public transit, and actually support it. Put my money where my mouth is,” he said, laughing.

Compared to La Mesa, Tevera said that Uptown is a lot more rideable. However, he sees room for major improvements, such as better infrastructure to decrease biker injuries.

His major grievance was with the amount of time these types of projects take to get off the ground and onto the pavement.

“I personally love the plan; I support it. For me, as an individual, it’s shocking how long it takes,” Tevera said. “It sounds silly, but even a few markings in the road and just building a few extensions takes two years. … It’d be nice to get them to move faster so we can get to that goal.”

“I don’t know how you can say no to that [project]. Just as fast as you can do it,” Patch echoed.

Patch added that Uptown’s slew of public events, such as San Diego Pride and December Nights, lends itself to investing in bike-friendly infrastructure. Though she acknowledged that some local drivers may oppose the changes, Patch thinks incorporating bikes would encourage people to bike to these events, helping decrease traffic and increase parking.

Currently, the segment of the Park Boulevard Bikeway from Robinson Avenue to Upas Street is in the preliminary engineering and environmental phase, expected to be completed in 2019. This phase entails analyzing existing conditions, comparing design options and compiling Uptown community feedback. The second segment from Upas Street to Village Place is still in the planning phase.

Though small in scale, the community input gathered at the July 18 workshop will help inform the next phase. In particular, attendees were encouraged to analyze the three proposed drafts (Concepts A, B and C), ask questions, and pick their favorite, helping SANDAG choose a concept that residents think would work best with the neighborhood.

“What we’re hearing today is that people like this one concept [Concept A] — it’s kind of more of a protected intersection-style treatment, basically more separation between people biking, walking and driving,” Romano said.

Elements of Concept A includes a northbound left-pocket turn to improve safety; creating high visibility crosswalks and shortened crossing distances for pedestrians; bike boxes for bikers to wait in when making left turns; and having the bikeway be physically separated from the street for many intersection movements. However, it will also cause three parking spaces to be lost and is the highest cost concept.

View the three different concept options at bit.ly/park-blvd-docs. The complete project overview can be accessed at bit.ly/park-blvd-bike.

SANDAG previously presented the project at the June 12 Uptown Planners meeting and is expected to return to the board later this year. The next public event is yet to be announced. For updates, visit sandag.org or follow SANDAG on social media.

—Reach Sara Butler at sara@sdcnn.com.

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