Uptown Planners reject SANDAG bike plan

Posted: March 27th, 2015 | Communities, From the Cover, News, Top Story | 14 Comments

By Hutton Marshall 

SANDAG considers postponing input meeting, reassessing plans

Hundreds packed the voluminous St. Paul’s Cathedral in Bankers Hill March 24 for what some called the largest Uptown Planners meeting in recent history.

The gathering was not the community planning group’s normal monthly meeting, but a special single-agenda item hearing for the SANDAG Bike Corridor through Uptown. While the Uptown Planners is purely an advisory body to the city on land-use and development issues, SANDAG staff said following input received from the meeting, the agency will reassess plans for the bicycle corridor.

SANDAG rep shwoing Map of proposed  bike paths.

A SANDAG representative gives a brief introduction to the agency’s Uptown Bike Corridor project at a March 24 Uptown Planners meeting. (Photo by John Thurston Photography)

The 6 p.m. meeting, which took place in a much larger hall than the group’s typical Hillcrest venue, marked the last actions of several members, including longtime chair Leo Wilson, who has served intermittently since the Clinton administration. Wilson and other outgoing members passed strongly worded motions at the special meeting that rejected the SANDAG plan outright.

The meeting began with some disorganization, with Wilson’s introduction of a SANDAG representative quickly devolving into boos and shouting. Elizabeth Hannon of the nonprofit Uptown Community Parking District, rather than the SANDAG representative, gave an impromptu presentation of the plan’s basics.

More than fifty residents and bicycle advocates gave public comment over the course of two hours. Approximately half spoke in favor of the SANDAG plans, which would construct several miles of protected bikeways through Uptown’s urban core, while others criticized SANDAG for what they saw as an overreaching or poorly executed plan.

After public comment closed, the planning board deliberated for another hour, eventually passing four unanimous motions condemning SANDAG’s plan. The crowd had thinned considerably by then, with only a small group of community activists and dedicated community newspaper editors remaining. Some attendees left to participate in a candlelight vigil through Bankers Hill honoring victims of fatal bicycle accidents.

Uptown Community Parking District COO Elizabeth Hannon (Photo by John Thurston Photography)

Uptown Community Parking District COO Elizabeth Hannon (Photo by John Thurston Photography)

Of the four unanimous motions, the first was intentionally the most straightforward: “We find the current SANDAG proposal to be unsatisfactory and unacceptable.”

The board also passed motions to ask SANDAG to reopen the planning process, to avoid closing University Avenue anywhere along the route and to mitigate parking losses, among other recommendations.

While Wilson abstained from voting as the board chair, he created the majority of the language for the motions and led deliberations on them. Bike San Diego Executive Director Samantha Ollinger, a vocal critic of Wilson’s, said it was wrong to pass such strong motions a week prior to a new board being sworn in. Ollinger also broadly critiqued what she saw as a history of inaction by the Uptown Planners since its creation in the 1970s.

“Given the fact that [the Uptown Planners] have shown zero leadership on making the streets safer during their entire existence, I’m not sure they actually have any idea how to make Uptown safe, with or without any input,” Ollinger said.

“All they have to show for themselves is a handful of sharrows on University Avenue, three bike corrals, a couple blocks of bike lanes, one of which is under lawsuit,” she added.

Charles “Muggs” Stoll, director of land use and transportation planning at SANDAG, said that following the input received at the meeting, the agency would reevaluate their plans for the corridor, possibly reexamining the route’s alignment.

“Given all the comments we got [March 24] on that Mission Hills segment, right now we’re kind of reassessing some project options and how we would present those at the community meetings that we’re going to host this spring,” Stoll said.

SANDAG planned to host a meeting on the bike corridor in Mission Hills April 23, but Stoll said that the meeting may be pushed back following last night’s input.

“I think we’re gonna spend a little time assessing where we’re at on this,” Stoll said.

A common criticism of the plan is its route down the dense University Avenue. When asked whether or not this reassessment would explore a route realignment, Stoll said that was now a possibility.

“I think we want to review everything we’ve done so far — we’ve been working on this project for a while — but it could be,” Stoll said.

This will likely be a sign of success for the plan’s critics, such as the HBA, which recently hired a lobbying firm to advocate on behalf of Hillcrest business interests. HBA board members and staff have criticized the plan for its potential impact on parking and traffic without providing for traffic calming measures.

“The plan right now seems to be remove all the parking so we can ride our bikes, and I think that’s why it’s controversial,” HBA Executive Director Benjamin Nicholls said, referring to the portion of the route planned for West University Avenue.

San Diegans gather for a special Uptown Planners meeting March 24 (Photo by John Thurston Photography)

San Diegans gather for a special Uptown Planners meeting March 24
(Photo by John Thurston Photography)

Nicholls clarified that the HBA continues to support the implementation of bike lanes, so long as it isn’t done at the expense of other modes of transportation.

“Just because you’re not 100 percent on board with everything SANDAG’s doing, doesn’t mean you’re opposed to everything — that’s just silly,” Nicholls said.

During the early stages of the project, SANDAG released an estimate that 91 parking spaces might be removed along the route through Hillcrest. University Avenue has 277 parking spaces between Front and Normal streets. SANDAG staff later called that estimate a “worst case scenario.”

During board deliberations at the meeting, Uptown Planner Chris Ward (a 2016 City Council candidate for Uptown’s District 3), requested increased outreach rather than a redesign of the plan, since design renderings for the route have yet to be made public. He unsuccessfully proposed a motion to commend SANDAG for their efforts to promote active transportation, which was criticized by another member as “kissing up a little too much to SANDAG.”

“I’d ask SANDAG not to go to back the drawing board, but to bring the drawing board out into the community,” Ward said.

The HBA and other community organizations continue to support the “Transforming Hillcrest” plan, which was created by local architect Jim Frost. The plan calls for the removal of traffic lanes as a traffic calming measure, and adds parking rather than removing it. Ollinger and other bicycle advocates have also supported the plan. Stoll said SANDAG is currently performing a traffic study in conjunction with the city of San Diego to explore the plan’s feasibility.

“We did make a commitment along with the city of San Diego to work through the city of San Diego to assess [Transforming Hillcrest],” Stoll said.

When asked if he had any message for Uptown residents after the meeting, Stoll said that the project would be a challenge, because finding a balance among everyone’s interest was key.

“We appreciate that the community cares a lot about this project, and we think that’s a good thing,” Stoll said. “But this is a challenge — there’s no doubt about it — to find a way to balance all of these issues, and we’re working with the city of San Diego to do that.”

Clarification: When HBA Executive Director Benjamin Nicholls referred to the bike corridor removing “all the parking,” he was referring to portion of the route on West University Avenue. 

—Contact Hutton Marshall at Vote below in our online poll on the Uptown bike corridor.

[socialpoll id=”2261141″]


  1. janet widmer says:

    Same route as fire trucks and ambulances take from Mission Hills at Goldfinch to Hillcrest on way to hospitals and emergency rooms..

  2. Joe Piluso says:

    Does anyone seriously think what they’ve done to 5th Ave, in creating a car-wide bike lane, is an improvement? I’ve driven up from downtown many times and rarely see a cyclist using that lane. Additionally, drivers are confused about when it is okay to be in that “bike” lane, especially when they want to make a left turn at an intersection. I think an advance publicity campaign should have been done, educating drivers as to how to deal with those lanes. If someone was hoping for the public to accept these changes, they sure did a lousy job of promoting them.

  3. Hans Wangbichler says:

    An overwhelming majority of speakers spoke in favor of the bike plan, further exemplifying that the current Uptown Planners vote does not honestly reflect the thoughts of residents in the area. A plethora of statistics show that bike lanes increase commerce, make pedestrian areas safer, mobilize more people in a given area (our population is growing) and creates a more liveable, sustainable environment. Being a business owner in Bankers Hill, the nominal change in driving habits feels like an equitable trade-off for the increase in safety for residents and elementary school students on University Avenue, through Mission Hills. I feel as if the voting actually took place before the meeting started, since there was no presentation of the plan by SANDAG, and the Board alleges that due to insufficient outreach over the past years by SANDAG, they knew nothing about the plan. A last-ditch effort made by Leo and the other board members before leaving their seats at the end of the month. The times are changing. Lets all embrace the change and accept this alternative lifestyle.

  4. Lee Sandvick says:

    I have witnessed bike riders and pedestrians who think they own the road. They need to be educated on sharing the road as well as drivers. No one is suggesting that. ALSO – Why are we not learning from the mistakes other cities have made following this ‘ICLEI’ agenda?

    excerpt-…”Congested Laurel Street in front of Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado. This four lane road was reduced to two lanes in August 2010. Vehicle driving lanes were removed so that bicycle lanes could added in the center of the road. Bike lanes were already present on each side of the road.
    Arapahoe County, Colorado and ICLEI
    Arapahoe County, including, but not limited to, the cities of Aurora, Englewood and Littleton, are participating members of the foreign organization called the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). Taxpayer money is used for annual dues, to pay city employees who work for ICLEI’s programs, and for programs such as government-owned bicycle businesses….” This is happening in every city thru NGO’s. Note: San Diego has signed on to this ‘ICLEI’ agenda as well. link to full article–
    also see–

  5. Bob Martynec says:

    I attended this meeting. SANDAG sent one person to the meeting. Seriously… one person. Leo Wilson, Chair of Uptown Planners, asked him three times to give a brief overview of the project and three times the guy refused. Elizabeth Hannon from the Upton Community Parking District had to do it. And the Parking District has nothing to do with it. As usual, when there is Public Comment, there were some interesting speakers.

    John Thurston from City Heights was probably the hi-light! He got up and implored everybody to stop with the hype and the hysteria. Then he spewed his own hype and hysteria! In a truly bizarre statement, he likened everybody who disagreed with him to 1960’s era racists. I think he was the only speaker booed off the stage.

    Sharon Gell of Mission Hills hit the nail on the head when she said that the actual problem was that SANDAG was trying to do the bike project on the cheap. All the problems with the current plan can be overcome with just a bit more money. Hey SANDAG, how about taking a tiny teeny bit of your freeway construction money to spend on the urban areas!

    In terms of fixing the bike path plan, I don’t know why Charles Stoll from SANDAG thought “this is a challenge”. It seems pretty straightforward to me. Most of the opposition to their plan would evaporate if SANDAG mitigated the lost parking and found a way to avoid closing the University offramp. Nothing a few bucks couldn’t fix…

  6. Paul Jamason says:

    The statement by the HBA that “all the parking” will be removed is incorrect. The Frost plan preserves most/all parking east of 5th on University. On west University, far more spaces will be preserved than the Washington alternative, which is the route the HBA is advocating.

    On 4th and 5th, only spaces near intersections would be removed, based on NACTO urban bike design standards. All other spaces would be preserved. And every other street will still retain all parking.

    The HBA president, Johnathan Hale, has criticized bike advocates (including myself) for making misleading statements about the bike plan and Hillcrest businesses. I look forward to an HBA correction to this misleading statement.

  7. Shannon Biggs says:

    Not all of us could make it. There was a petition from the Mission Hills community that had hundreds of signatures. The problem was the architects of the Sandag proposal may have talked to bike advocates when they created the plan, but they certainly did not talk to residents of Mission Hills.

    The following questions need to be addressed. How are the residents of Mission Hills supposed to go to and from their homes (or evacuate in case of emergency) when one of only two ways to leave the hills above the airport is closed and the other is about to be impacted by the new rental car and parking at the airport? How are the folks who live in the houses and condos along the proposed closed section of University supposed to get home? Will they be compensated for losing vehicle access to their property? In fact, the same goes for a business. If I buy a business that requires folks to be able to transport things by car with the understanding that folks can access it by car, the city has taken part of what I paid for when I bought the business. Sounds like San Diego is setting itself up for yet another law suit over improper taking of property rights. Finally, has anybody studied the impact on the two large hospital complexes that employ hundreds of people and service thousands? I cannot believe the proposed plan would not impact safety.

    It appears that there weren’t any urban planners involved, at least with respect to the Mission Hills end of things. It is one thing to close a route in most of the city, where there are multiple ingress and egress. It is another thing in Mission Hills, which has eight canyons criss-crossing the area above the airport and two ways out. Go back to the drawing board and get business and resident input.

  8. Bob Martynec says:

    @Paul Jamason. Wow Paul, talk about misleading statements. Your comment is riddled with them.

    Why are you talking about parking losses for the Frost Plan. The Frost Plan has nothing to do with the plan that SANDAG is proposing. Under the SANDAG Plan, according to SANDAG, a significant number of parking spots on University may be lost. So I guess the HBA was not being misleading at all.

    Furthermore, what bearing does the Washington alternative have on anything. SANDAG is not proposing the Washington alternative. Why are you talking about it?

    And so what if some spaces would be “preserved” along 4th and 5th? The HBA was talking about parking “losses”. Are you intentionally trying to mis-direct the conversation?

    It appears that Jonathan Hale was correct in saying that you are making misleading statements. I assume we can look forward to your correction of your misleading statements.

    Bob Martynec (not associated with the HBA) (just a concerned resident who wants to keep the discussion on track)

  9. Paul Jamason says:

    Bob, after unanimous consensus for the Frost plan, SANDAG was performing an engineering analysis and was planning to implement it, as far as I’m aware.

    The HBA is proposing the Washington alternative. Under the Frost plan, west University would lose 15 spaces. Yet a protected bike lane on the HBA’s Washington route would remove 50+ spaces.

    Ben’s statement said that SANDAG’s plan removes “all the parking”. I’m simply saying that it doesn’t, because many spaces will remain. How is that a misdirection?

    Ben did respond to my question about this quote and said that he was referring to the parking losses on west University. Hopefully Uptown News will issue a correction.

  10. Beckie Webster says:

    I attended that meeting, as I live south of Five Points drive up Washington take the University exit to my business off of University and Falcon, right where University will be closed. Mission Hills has 2 new restaurants, not to mention all the others that will be impacted when customers, not to mention residents are stuck in the nightmare that Washinton street will become. It’s very congested already.
    During the meeting, the “bill of goods being sold” was increased business from the cyclists, my business is one of over 50 Hair Salons in the neighborhood, we “are not” going to see a cyclist come in, spend money to get her hair done, slap a bike helmet on her newly coiffed head and ride away. I have been working as a hairdresser in the neighborhood for over 25 years, 18 with my own salon.
    Fire trucks will be unable to go down Washington, as it has a median. Imagine both sides of Washington Street packed with cars, the fire staion on Goldfinch gets a call, with University closed it will have to travel down Washington, each and every block all the way to Hillcrest will have to empty a lane, how will they know to do it, how long will it take? Way too long.
    Vons has a loading dock that only accesses University, they can not stay in business without deliveries.
    All of this for the “few” cyclists that want to ride. We should really ask how many cyclists can actually ride up Washington street, not many at all. Many of the cyclists at the meeting “did not” have a bike equipped to ride up Washington Street.
    SANDAG talks about calming University Street, it’s more like killing it and all businesses, residents.
    Say “NO”!!!!

  11. Paul Jamason says:

    I’m encouraged that most people at the meeting agreed our streets need to be safer for pedestrians and people on bikes, regardless of their position on the SANDAG bike corridor. However, statements like “Say NO!!!!” from Beckie Webster beg the question: do some even care about the safety of their fellow residents? Otherwise, they would at least offer some sort of an alternative.

    Just because your customers may not be bicyclists does not give you the right to deny safer streets for others, Unfortunately, a few residents and business owners like Ms. Webster have somehow decided they own our public streets and can simply reject any bike corridor in Uptown. Yet this is a public project paid for with public TransNet sales tax funds.

    I hope we can move past comments like those of Ms. Webster, and work together to find solutions that address everyone’s concerns. Just saying “NO!!!!” to a $40 million dollar bike lane project is not a reasonable position.

  12. Dean Shores says:

    This type of project should ONLY be considered in a new development prior to homes and business being established, not in a neighborhood such as University Avenue west.

  13. […] infrastructure in Uptown. Unfortunately Uptown Planners has a mixed record on safe streets. They rejected the SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor, then after it was removed from University Avenue, supported the concept of a bike corridor there […]

  14. […] I contributed to the Monroe Bikeway piece published on BikeSD and reproduced below.  It details how the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Group has lost all credibility on bike infrastructure after opposing the City’s El Cajon Bikeway in favor of three years of delays and eventual opposition to SANDAG’s Monroe Bikeway.  The Peninsula Planning Group, fresh off declaring its opposition to affordable housing at the Famosa site (what housing crisis?), opposed two versions of a bike lane for West Point Loma Boulevard: a road diet and a reduced parking alternative.  And let’s not forget Uptown Planners declaration that absolutely no parking could be sacrificed for any SANDAG Uptown Bikeways, a position which helped kill most of the University Ave Bikeway.  […]

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