By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
On May 16, Mayor Kevin Faulconer ordered the implementation of Option A on 30th Street, which eliminates 420 parking spaces in favor of a two-mile fully protected bike lane from Howard to Juniper streets. Over two months later, he has yet to revise this decision even as many people in North Park mobilize to preserve parking, including Councilmember Chris Ward, who issued a memo in July saying he supported Option B from Howard to Upas streets — a compromise which would have saved half the parking spaces in the business district.
In the wake of the Faulconer’s decision to add a protected bike lane with the support of North Park Community Planning Group after a vote on May 14, residents and business owners have pushed against the proposed plan. Save 30th Street Parking organized a rally, a petition has garnered more than 2,000 signatures, and several business have put up signs decrying the change. Another rally is being held this Saturday outside of St. Patrick’s school and church. In addition, the Save 30th Street Parking group has retained attorney Craig Sherman, who is looking at the transparency and approval process of the plan.
Pat Sexton, who has led the group, claimed the bike lane will not be safer than sharing the lane with cars, which is the current system, because there will be so many breaks in the lane for driveways and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant parking spots.
“Between the driveways that will have no protected bike lanes and the blue-curbed areas that will have no protected bike lane, there’s going to be a lot of stops on 30th Street and the bicycle riders are going to have to ride in the traffic lane,” Sexton said.
Despite this, Matt Stucky, who is a member of the North Park Community Planning Group, sees the bike lane as an improvement.
“I think it definitely is still safer than the current condition. It’s not ideal obviously with where it’s going to be broken up with driveways and all that. But I think it’s an improvement over what the current conditions are — just the sharrows, no bike lanes,” he said in a phone interview. Stucky helped kick off the process of adding the bike lane over all of 30th Street by asking the city about adding a bike lane on the bridge over Switzer Canyon where street parking spaces often go unused. It is this request that has spurred some of the pushback around the approval process of the bike lane.
“We are not against bike lanes per se. We are against the removal of all parking,” Vernita Gutierrez, of SoNo Neighborhood Alliance, said over the phone. “It really benefits a small portion of the people who actually live and work and have businesses in that area. I think the other big issue for us was that there seemed to be a lack of transparency during the whole process.”
North Park Main Street, which represents local businesses, has distinguished itself from people that want no bike lane or any parking loss. While Option A eliminated all parking to make way for the bike lane, Option B from Howard to Upas streets would have made a floating parking lane to act as a barrier between moving cars and bicycles.
“North Park Main Street voted for Option B for the northern segment of the plan — Upas to Howard — because improved mobility is a top priority for our organization. We have concerns about the magnitude of the impact that Option A will have on our businesses. Option B is a middle ground and allows for cars and bikes to coexist safely by providing on-street parking and a protected pathway for bikes. This design is being implemented in other areas of San Diego and we are encouraging the city to implement it in North Park as well,” North Park Main Street Executive Director Angela Landsberg said in an email to Uptown News.
Floating parking, which provides a barrier between moving cars and bikes, was recently installed on Sixth Avenue and Beech Street in Downtown San Diego. Landsberg is working with the city to find a solution that will not harm businesses or residents. However, bike activists worry 30th Street is simply too narrow for that method to actually ensure safety for cyclists. Each of the lanes would need to be at the city’s minimum standard of width if Option B was used.
Despite the loud pushback, many of the original proponents of the bike lane still have unwavering support for the plan to bring more travel options to the area. They have approached business owners to discuss the bike lanes and urge them to take down the negative signs. In addition, they have organized a “Safe Streets for All Family Ride” on Sunday, Aug. 4 at 11 a.m. to call for the implementation of the bike lanes.
“We’re starting to see some really positive benefits from J Street and I think Sixth Avenue will [be] the same. It’s also about safer streets for everyone. It’s really about completing the streets and making streets more complete for people who bike, walk and run. There’s real benefits in having multiple safe modes,” said Andy Hanshaw, San Diego Bike Coalition’s executive director in a phone interview. He said every study he has seen showed positive benefits in adding bike lanes to business districts.
John Pani, the owner of Waypoint Public, is in support of the fully-protected bike lanes.
“As a business owner on 30th Street, I would say that it’s not without risk to take away parking. There’s evidence of places where biking has been made a part of the landscape and there has been positive benefits to businesses and communities and so forth. It might seem like just taking a bunch of parking spaces away could be a negative, but there’s some decent evidence out there that the impact won’t be as scary or detrimental as one might think,” he said in a phone interview.
For Pani and Stucky, North Park is already a quickly changing place and if the city does not proactively adapt, then those changes will be for the worse as more density is added and businesses bring in larger crowds from across San Diego.
“I wouldn’t say that because it’s harder to park today than it was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t want what’s happened in Kensington or North Park to happen, in terms of the growth. I just think it needs to happen in a smarter way. I think that adding in the bike lanes is potentially a step in that direction,” Pani, a Kensington resident, said.
For those opposed to the bike lane, many of them long-time residents, another city intervention is eroding the landscape they have known for years.
“Parking is already very challenging,” Gutierrez said.
“I understand that the younger crowd, that live in the new apartments … can walk to the bars and stuff, but the basic people that live in North Park have bought homes and lived here for decades. Those people — their optometrist is on 30th, their dentist is on 30th. They’re used to 30th Street the way it is. They’re comfortable with 30th Street. What will keep them from shopping and going to appointments on 30th Street is lack of parking,” Sexton said.
Gutierrez fears added density and removal of parking minimums in new developments will make it worse. Stucky agrees, although he sees a different solution.
“I don’t think if there’s going to be a whole bunch of more density and housing going in on 30th Street, it’s going to work for everyone to drive in their car and be guaranteed a free parking spot on 30th. So we need to start thinking about if this density’s coming in, which everything suggests that it is, how can we still get around? Bikes are part of it, pedestrian walking is part of it, transit is part of it, but you know,” he said. “We need to do something new or else it’s going to change for the worst.”
Much of the conflict surrounding the two-mile stretch of protected bike lane is embroiled in the very story of North Park: after a downturn in the 1980s, it is now one of the most booming business districts in San Diego. For many benefiting from the increased pull to the neighborhood, bike lanes threaten to upend a status quo they are benefiting from. Some fear that those bike lanes will hurt business and send North Park back to the way it was 30 years ago. Others see bike lanes as a way for the trajectory of growth to continue as more people using different modes of transportation access the booming area.
– Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.