By Kendra Sitton | Editor
After a long approval process and years of delays, Fourth and Fifth avenues are closer to getting protected bikeways.
“We are working closely with the city of San Diego on getting those final plans set,” said Linda Culp, who works as a principle planner at SANDAG. She said contractors will be invited to start bidding on the project in a couple of months and then the SANDAG board will approve a contract.
When it was approved in 2016, the project was set to be completed by 2018. Now, it looks like ground will finally be broken in 2019. Culp explained this is because the bikeway has many new features never before used in a San Diego project that required more coordination between the city and SANDAG’s design team.
“I think in hindsight we were a little optimistic in 2016,” Culp said. “A lot of the features that the city has approved in this project, we want to be sure that they’re approved in the next project and it won’t take as long because they’re more familiar.”
In other parts of the city with protected bike lanes, they are designated by bollards, which are vertical short posts. Along this route, a median is being constructed for the first time to fully separate vehicles and bikes.
Maya Rosas, Circulate San Diego’s director of policy, said, “I cannot wait for the Fourth and Fifth Avenue bike lanes to be installed. It’s been a long time coming — many years of planning and hearings to get the design approved and ultimately selected. And now we’ve been waiting three years just for it to be installed.”
There are still specific complaints about the project from the community, particularly from Hillcrest businesses losing parking spaces near their storefronts.
“If this goes through, businesses in Hillcrest are going to leave… I have a very elderly clientele. These elderly people are not going to be coming to Bread & Cie on a bike. Last year, when I brought that up with SANDAG, they said there’s gonna be a lot of walkability. These people can’t even walk. They need to be able to have better access,” Linda Saltzman, retail manager at Bread & Cie, said during a Hillcrest Parking Committee meeting on May 23. The subcommittee is part of the Uptown Community Parking District. “Thirty-six parking spaces may not seem like a lot, but it is all in a compact and busy area of Hillcrest. So it is very impactful to the businesses in this small area.”
Overall, SANDAG estimates a net loss of 23 spaces along a six-block area from Upas north to Washington along both Fourth and Fifth avenues.
Not all areas along the bikeway are worried about loss of parking since SANDAG evaluated nearby streets to add diagonal parking. Bankers Hill and east Hillcrest are both gaining parking spots.
“It’s overall a gain (in parking) to the corridor. However, in the Hillcrest area, it’s a much more constrained area so we do show for certain blocks up there some parking loss. We do realize that’s a concern for business owners, but we do believe once we have this new bikeway open to the public, the public will be using it to come to many of those businesses,” Culp said.
Another complaint from the Uptown Community Parking District is the lack of communication between stakeholders and SANDAG. Since planning for the bikeway began in 2012, SANDAG briefed the public on the process at 100 different public meetings and held 10 community workshops. However, once the project gained approval, that communication dropped off as the final design was created behind SANDAG’s closed doors.
Back in 2016, the Bankers Hill Neighborhood Parking Committee voted to spend, according to member Peter Raymond, $2.15 million to add beautification measures like landscaping, colored concrete and conduits.
“We put money in to ensure it got done right,” he said.
In what some Hillcrest members characterized as trying to play “hard ball,” the committee voted down the same proposal in protest of the entire project going forward.
“Since SANDAG wanted us to spend money on the beautification of the bike lanes and we voted against that, they kind of washed their hands of us. They don’t communicate with us anymore. They just disappeared,” Saltzman said.
In a motion that was ultimately voted down by the subcommittee, Saltzman moved to withhold all funds from SANDAG projects, including the Normal Street Promenade. Instead, the group voted to invite SANDAG to give a briefing on what the final design included. They may also ask to see what community input was heeded.
The protected bike lanes, extending from B Street to Washington Street, are the first segment of five in the Uptown Bikeways project which SANDAG is championing as a way to improve connectivity between Uptown, Old Town, Mission Valley, Downtown, North Park and Balboa Park. The San Diego Regional Bike Plan is funding the project as a high priority bikeway. The other segments being added in Uptown are called the Eastern Hillcrest Bikeways, Washington Street and Bachman Place Bikeways, Mission Hills and Old Town Bikeways, and Park Boulevard.
The current bike lanes depend on vehicles respecting paint on the road. Advocates for the project say the physical barrier will bring an added sense of protection, which will attract more riders.
“You have a small segment of the population that they’re going to ride anywhere, anytime. They’re going to ride with cars. It doesn’t bother them. They’re comfortable. Then you have a small segment of people that just for whatever reason they’re just not going to ride a bike. But then you have a pretty big portion of the population that are interested, they want to get active, they want to use it for transportation but they’re a little concerned. They don’t want to be with cars. That’s where we’ll put some sort of barrier or protection,” Culp said.
“We need protected bike lanes for more riders to feel comfortable riding. Fourth and Fifth is a crucial corridor for connecting Downtown to Hillcrest and Uptown and to connect to North Park, the University Avenue bike lanes,” Rosas said. “It’s a crucial segment to creating a connected network of bike lanes that will ultimately get more people riding.”
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at email@example.com.