By Albert H. Fulcher
Recent plans to make provisions for cyclists are creating dissension between pro-cyclists, the city, local businesses and residents. But there are still many residents and businesses worried about the impact it will have in the long term. Bicycle lanes provide a safe place for cyclists to travel on and are becoming a major part of city planning in San Diego County. There are several plans in the works at various stages, but the key to their success seems to be creating plans that promote safe biking, without interruption to local businesses and residents in the areas.
One such project, dubbed the “Normal Street Promenade,” was approved by Uptown Planners on March 5. This project would reduce the parking spots on Normal Street between University Avenue and Harvey Milk Street. Added angled spots will provide a potential gain of 37 to 63 spaces in the surrounding area. The city has asked SANDAG to incorporate the Normal Street Promenade into its eastern Hillcrest bikeway plans.
Another project, which would implement a two-mile, fully protected bike lane on 30th Street from Howard to Juniper streets (titled Option A), was approved by Mayor Kevin Faulconer on May 15 and eliminates 420 parking spaces. North Park’s community has organized to save that parking, with opponents including Council member Chris Ward, who issued a memo in July saying he supported a different proposal titled Option B, which would route the bike lane from Howard to Upas streets. Option B would save half the parking spaces in the business district.
Save 30th Street Parking, a community group made up of businesses and residents opposing Option A, officially filed a legal challenge on Tuesday, Aug. 13. In the lawsuit, the group claims the city of San Diego did not perform proper community outreach.
Tootie Thomas, executive director at the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association and chair of the Mid-City Community Parking District, said she is completely embroiled in negotiations for existing and proposed plans for bicycle lanes throughout our communities. Thomas brokered a negotiation at a meeting between the business districts of the North Park Planning Committee, Adams Avenue Business Improvement Association, North Park Main Street, The Boulevard, San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, and some leaders of the North Park Planning Committee. Although she said that it didn’t go completely the way she wanted to go, the meeting did make steps forward and now they are ready to negotiate with the mayor as a collective group for a better outcome.
“These business associations, along with the Mid-City Community Parking District, came up with a plan for 30th Street about three years ago,” Thomas said. “We spent $20,000 on a study. The study got us drawings, surveys, and everything needed. We reached out to the community to see what they wanted, what they would be willing to give up, what their priorities were, and we have this plan. When all of this came about on 30th Street, we asked if anyone looked at the plan and nobody had really paid any attention to it. We brought that back up as an option. Under that plan, there is no net parking loss. That is always our goal, no net parking loss.”
Thomas said that in the plan that the coalition and the North Park Planning Committee first came up with, the loss of parking from Upas Street to Howard Street was 180 spaces.
“When we started our project to change side-street parking, so we could accommodate for part of the parking loss, that was going to happen,” Thomas said. “Then we voted on another plan, which could lose approximately 220 spaces. Now that the mayor wants to do a plan that goes all the way from Upas Street to Adams Avenue, there is a lot more parking loss. Almost 400 spaces.”
Thomas said with the amount of off-street 30th Street parking being converted, there is no way it could get to that amount without really pushing it into the neighborhoods.
“We oppose that plan,” Thomas said. “We want the mayor to look at an easier way and something that grows with the community and allows for safety. That’s where we are at right now.”
Thomas said The Boulevard has a policy, created over the past two-three years, that works by testing everything out as a pilot first before it is “foisted it on the community as a concrete measure.”
“We have a piloted dedicated bus lane going into The Boulevard that is also bike-friendly,” Thomas said. “It’s a bus/bike lane. That is a piloted measure that will start within a couple of weeks as they’ll start striping. At the end of November, we will have the piloted bus lane in use. There is no parking loss with this program except for one space at the end of every block to allow for cars to cross and be able to turn right. We are going to see how the community likes it.”
Surveys will be taken shortly to find out what the community thinks about the plan now, and at the end of November, community members will be surveyed again to find out their updated reactions. The survey will also look at excise tax revenue and other measures that quantify what is happening, and the public’s ideas on the bus/bike lane. That plan takes the bike lanes up to Park Boulevard.
“In no way do we want what we are doing on The Boulevard to affect our neighboring neighborhoods,” Thomas said. “We pass through six neighborhoods on The Boulevard business district. We’ve always been very conscious about how the changes we want on The Boulevard will affect our neighborhoods. Parking, increased traffic, the amount of building and density could actually go all the way from The Boulevard all the way up to the canyon. [It’s] not acceptable for us. We want a shorter amount of distance from The Boulevard, so we are not affecting Balboa Heights, Kensington, Talmage and University Heights. We believe that those people should make decisions on their own neighborhoods. They can keep them quaint if they want or add more housing options if they want to.”
Thomas said that it’s important to provide ways for people to get to the business district that is not cumbersome. She said they keep hearing from the city and bike advocates that, “We want to frustrate drivers out of their cars.”
“We are not of that same thinking,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that local business districts will be impacted negatively by such a large loss of parking. Consumers will go elsewhere, and that is not part of the long-term plan.
“We just did a parking study where we quantified what areas were being utilized more and how much,” Thomas said. “So, we feel along 30th Street that the percentage of parking utilization is up by 85-95%. This area is taxed already. If you remove all that parking, where do they go? They are going to go to another business district. We’re going to lose businesses to other business districts and that means less jobs for everybody else.”