By Ken Williams | Editor
Project to transform key artery between North Park and Downtown
“We’re creating a world class city for all,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer declared in January during his second State of the City address.
That ambitious goal includes making San Diego a city that’s friendly to bicyclists and walkers. On June 21, the City Council unanimously approved the $63 million Downtown Mobility Plan, which will add 9 miles of new bikes lanes and 5 miles of wider sidewalks to encourage biking and walking. Many of the bicycling routes Downtown will connect to Uptown as the city and regional government partner, the San Diego Association of Goverments (SANDAG), begin a massive project that will take years to complete.
The crucial connection between Downtown and North Park is the Pershing Bikeway project, which will dramatically change the way motorists, bicyclists and walkers use the north-south connector that provides spectacular views of Downtown and Balboa Park.
In North Park, the 2.6-mile Pershing Bikeway will begin just south of Jefferson Elementary School on Utah Street at the intersection with Landis Street. From there, it will follow Utah Street south to Upas Street, head briefly west along Upas, turning south on Pershing Drive to connect with B and C streets Downtown.
Chris Carterette, an associate regional planner specializing in active transportation for SANDAG, gave a PowerPoint presentation at the May 17 and June 21 meetings of the North Park Planning Committee (NPPC).
He pointed out that Pershing Drive was originally conceived as a freeway connector to Interstate 15, before that plan was shelved. Currently, motorists can legally drive up to 50 mph on much of Pershing, along the eastern side of Balboa Park until reaching the busy intersection with Florida Street. But the bikeway plan will lower the speed limit to 35 mph as the project transforms Pershing Drive into a “low stress” street designed to create a safe environment for drivers, bicyclists and walkers.
Although the Pershing Bikeway project has garnered overwhelming support from the community, one of the concerns raised is the impact on traffic after Pershing is reduced from four lanes to two lanes, for most of the route, to accommodate a wide-buffered bike lane and a protected bikeway and sidewalk. Four lanes will be retained at the busy intersection of Pershing, Florida Street and 26th Street, and a right-hand turn lane onto 26th Street will be added at that location.
Carterette said the average daily traffic on Pershing is actually very low, except during peak rush hours in the morning and evening.
“Pershing is unique because it has a lot of excess roadway capacity,” he said, due to its original conception as a freeway connector.
Because of the high speed limit and steep slopes, Pershing has a higher level of accidents than many city streets. Carterette said the traffic calming efforts would make Pershing safer for motorists, bikers and walkers.
The speed reduction will only add about one minute of driving time from Upas to Florida streets, he stressed.
One of the interesting angles of the project will be adding a traffic roundabout at the dangerous intersection of Pershing and Redwood Street. This traffic-calming roundabout will allow motorists, bikers and walkers to safely get through this intersection, he said.
At the two NPPC meetings, a slew of younger people — many of whom were millennials and Gen-Xers — spoke out in favor of the Pershing Bikeway. One woman, who said she was a senior citizen, was adamantly opposed to changing the speed limit because it was North Park’s direct link to Interstate 5. She also wondered why Pershing with its steep grade was chosen over Florida Street, which offers flatter terrain.
Carterette said Pershing was chosen because it connected to other bikeway projects in North Park, including the future North Park | Mid-Cities Bikeways projects that will run east-west along Landis Street, Orange Avenue and Meade Avenue.
An audience member named Randy said he supported the project for safety reasons, then shared how his friend “barely survived” after being struck by a car while crossing Pershing.
Vicki Granowitz, chair of the NPPC, said she compiled 14 pages of comments made on social media and concluded that most residents are in favor of the project.
Board member Melissa Stayner wondered why a buffered bike lane along the south lanes was necessary, and whether traffic planners should keep two lanes heading south to Downtown. Carterette said some bicyclists liked to fly down Pershing and might not want to use the two-way biking lanes along the north side.
Robert Gettinger, one of the millennials on the board, called the plan a “well-thought-out, forward-looking project” but noted that the “hilly terrain will be a challenge” to many bikers.
Granowitz pointed out that millennials aren’t as wedded to cars as their elders and embrace alternative transportation modes such as biking.
The board voted 11-1 to support the concept. Board member Daniel Gebreselassie, who heads the Public Facilities & Transportation subcommittee, cast the only no vote “out of principal.” He said he preferred an alternate route that utilized Florida Street.
In other news, the NPPC voted unanimously to approve a neighborhood development permit (NDP) to 4586 Hamilton St. that includes a deviation for a 1-foot interior setback from the southern lot line. The new construction totaling 6,870 square feet will result in four two-story townhouses over screened carports. The project was presented twice and revised after suggestions were made by committee members so the design conformed to community character and increased pedestrian orientation. Changes included adding front door entry facing the street for one of the units, creating a more contemporary design, lowering the fence height to a 3-feet garden wall, adding articulation, and lowering the building’s height by 3 feet to reduce its impact on neighbors.
Upcoming meetings were announced:
- NPCC board, 6:30 p.m. July 19, Aug. 16 and Sept. 20
- Urban Design/Project Review subcommittee, 6 p.m. July 5
- Public Facilities & Transportation subcommittee, 6 p.m. July 13
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.