Any San Diegan knows Mission Valley at rush hour is a gridlocked mess.
At the intersection of Friars Road and Frazee Road, eight lanes of cars wait at red lights, backed up hundreds of feet waiting to get on the freeway.
Bicyclists make the choice to either merge into the gridlock or hop onto a sidewalk as the bike lane disappears and cars zip from SR-163 onto local streets. The few pedestrians who cross the street must scamper to make it to the other side before the light turns red.
For decades, Mission Valley infrastructure has mainly been developed to keep traffic moving. This has meant one thing: roads, roads and more roads.
As Mission Valley becomes synonymous with massive residential development and people begin to call it home, it faces a crossroads: Will it become a livable neighborhood and another piece to San Diego’s City of Villages puzzle, or will it continue to be a throughway between the sprawled-out areas in San Diego?
Right now, it is firmly planted in the latter.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
A key point in how planning moves forward, for Mission Valley or other destination neighborhoods, is this; a neighborhood that derives much of it's economic activity from those that live outside of that neighborhood require roads, parking and people driving private motor vehicles to keep it economically viable.
Those who choose to live in Mission Valley often do so because of the central location and proximity to transit and jobs. What is also included is the close proximity to shopping, hotels and big events at Qualcomm stadium (and the traffic that comes with them). If these elements are not part of what the new resident wants, then they might consider looking at other housing locations.
Future planning needs to accept the existing commercial uses as valid and work to increase walking and biking in a way that does not take away from those who wish to travel into the Mission Valley neighborhood for their own needs.
Developing the pedestrian and bike paths along the San Diego river seem to make a lot of sense for further increasing non-automotive mobility. No conflict with traffic, etc. The trolley connections in Mission Valley already give it more transit options than most of the neighborhoods in our "city of villages". So keep those things the areas does well, and add in a way that improves the area for all.
Thanks for this article on Mission Valley--a place I've called home for almost 15 years. I'm a big supporter of the protection/thoughtful development of the San Diego River through this area. Growing up near San Antonio, with its beautiful and successful River Walk, has always made me wince when I see stores lined up with their backs to the River and no easy and safe access to walk or bike ride on the banks of the river. My mother used to say "some people's taste is all in their mouth"....and we, as a city, are sadly lacking innovative architecture married to functionally good design.
Thanks for writing this. I really liked your coverage of the ultimate goal for Mission Valley - to become a "city of villages." But obviously, as you so articulately point out, the journey there has been rife with challenges. Well-written and fascinating piece! Two thumbs up!
Here's an idea for a follow up article: Follow the money. Who are the major freeway and road contractors who have built the most roadways in Mission Valley? What is their relationship to the major land developers who have and are now building new housing developments in Mission Valley? How much money have these road contractors contributed the political campaigns of San Diego city council members who approved previous upzones in Mission Valley? How much money have they given to the politicians who sit on the SANDAG board of directors? To what degree have their desire for increased profits affected the way Mission Valley has developed over the years?
Does anyone know the answer(s) to these questions?
How many residents in Mission Valley have cars and what is that vehicle count?
How many residents are there per bed room, in Mission Valley (92108)?
General representations are made that residents live, work, shop, and play in Mission Valley without utilizing vehicular transportation. OK, anyone care to prove that general assertion with factual numbers?
Not representing a hidden agenda here. It is my belief/impression that the majority of residents in these urban communities are residents with multiple cars and multiple residents per bedroom. They are not looking for "green" sustainable living. They are looking for affordable San Diego living and "double up" to make ends meet.
Let me add---I like the concept of walkable communities. But, sorry, all new age urban planners, the public still lives where it can afford monthly rent. And, a high percentage of the public drives a car to work, to the beach, to the gym, to the restaurants, etc.
Auto shaming by the planning and building industry isn't solution oriented. It is solution avoidance. It is a cloaking strategy designed to avoid addressing real world factors and conditions. No parking options, cars go away, right?
Where are the plus paying jobs, within walking distance, in and around 92108? The ones that allow one person to afford $1600+, per month, for a 1BR and negate the need for a car; while, paying off a student loan of epic proportions?
I enjoyed this article, but also found it to be a little incomplete and slanted towards creating the worst possible vision of Mission Valley to suggest it is "too far gone." Although there are many road projects listed in that Facilities Financing Report, there is very little mention in this article of other contemplated work, like the River Master Plan (and the River Foundation's new Discovery Park with extensions of the river trail), SANDAG's work such as adding a HAWK crossing on Mission Center Drive and extending the river trial through Qualcomm Stadium and under the 163, the City's Bike Master Plan (which includes changes in Mission Valley), and other projects, like Civita's plan to add a pedestrian bridge over Friars not far from the proposed bridge near Frazee. Also, a lot of the outstanding road projects in the Facilities Financing Report are tied to the Levi-Cushman plan for a major development on the Riverwalk site, but that plan is being revisited and will likely change drastically. Relying on that report alone to contend the City is currently focused solely on cars is slightly misleading.
Although Mission Valley has many problems, there are reasons to be hopeful and there is work being done to turn the focus away from cars. There is a library now, there will be two new parks within the next couple of years, a potential school coming in, and a lot of transit-oriented development that is going forward despite the supposed effects on traffic. If, as the article suggests, the City can stop standing in the way, things are getting better.
Also, the root problem in Mission Valley isn't necessarily "wide roads." One major problem is that most do not have bike lanes and many of the intersections are closed via chains to pedestrian traffic. This is mostly unrelated to the width of the roads. Although Friars is horrible it is fairly easy to avoid walking on Friars, there are underpasses and smaller, parallel roads in several locations.
The wide roads also can be shifted to beneficial uses. As built, the roads have massively
wide lanes, which encourages speeding without necessarily alleviating
traffic. The City could fairly easily remedy the situation by either
narrowing the lanes to 10 feet to add medians and bike lanes or removing
traffic lanes entirely to add protected bike lanes. Although the state
has ditched LOS, the City still needs to do so (which is not addressed
in this article) and let some of these changes go forward.
@Matt My name is Bryce Niceswanger I am concerned about the Franklin Ridge Road project extending from Civita to Serra Mesa and was wondering if you could call or text me 8085513046, I think you have some really great ideas and I am in need of some new ones. Hopefully you still live in the area. Thanks, Bryce
Great piece. You briefly mentioned the planned major expansion of the 163-Friars interchange. This is a massive $130M push farther into 'more roads' territory that will further the balkanization and gridlock of Mission Valley. As you mentioned, building this as designed precluded a pedestrian bridge there. (And let's not mistake an off-grade pedestrian bridge for anything but second-class status land-use-wise.)
In Mission Valley we've been trying to do the impossible: downtown-like levels of housing and commerce with interstate-like levels of top-speed. The 163-Friars interchange project as designed cements that schizophrenic dissonance and would, practically speaking, never be undone. Far better to spend the $130M on designs that treat the valley like the urban space that it is. I hope we will see more reporting and activism directed at this project.
Building more roads may increase driving, but that's a good thing not a bad thing. People drive to maximize employment opportunities (jobs), sell and trade goods and services, socialize and recreate. Those are all good things that help grow an economy and help people lead a satisfying life.
Forcing people to ride bicycles in the vast and hilly landscape of San Diego is moronic. Walking is even more impractical. Government shouldn't exist to tell people how to live or transport their person. If people want to walk everywhere they know they can go live downtown. If they desire more space the trade off is driving. It's called freedom.
@Michael Robertson : Living downtown is not an option for everyone and anywhere else, you have little choice in transportation. That's the opposite of freedom.
@Bill Davidson @Michael Robertson You are confusing FREEDOM with equality. Nothing is "an option for everyone". I'm sure many would like to live on a golf course or next to a body of water or have a huge backyard or on top of a downtown tower or a view of Petco. Just because not everyone can do it doesn't mean it's not freedom.
Similarly just because there's limited choices doesn't mean it's not freedom either. Freedom doesn't mean you necessarily get lots of choices. Life is about trade-offs.
@Michael Robertson No one is telling people how to live or "transport their person", but many are advocating for viable transit choice. Meanwhile you are telling people that biking and walking is not an option, and that they should move downtown if they want to do these things. I hope others can see how hypocritical these statements are.
Your wealthy community of Del Mar is zoned to prevent multi-family housing, yet you seem fine with government telling people how to live there. This zoning, of course, results in more auto dependence.
It's an odd notion of "freedom" that dictates everyone only travel by car. What about freedom of choice?
We agree zoning laws are an infringement in freedom. It's exactly what I'm talking about that I oppose. Some want to tell others how to live. I reject that. The owner of a property should be allowed to build what he desires. It sounds like we agree on this? I didn't say biking and walking "aren't an option". I'm saying those modes of transportation are wholly irrational in modern society. They were great in the 1800s along with horses. Today they're impractical for transit. First off because San Diego is vast and hilly and second because our society is complex which requires using lots of land. I don't dictate everyone "only travel by car". People are free to travel anyway they like. Buy a camel, get a skateboard, rent a rickshaw. I do say that if we're going to take money from people in the form of taxation to spend on transportation then we should spend it wisely. Automobiles are the most practical form of transportation for San Diego and they're improving at an amazing rate. The constitution outlines many freedoms (speech, right to bear arms, due process, etc) but "freedom of choice" isn't one of them. Choice is created by free humans operating in a free market. If enough people want something then people will provide it be it cars on demand (Uber) or intoxicants (alcohol and pot).
@Bill Davidson @Michael Robertson You're incorrect that the automobile is subsidized. Autos are a massive profit center for the government. Add up sales tax, car registration, smog fees, and gas taxes the government nets billions from car owners. For those hundreds of billions citizens get roads, big deal. Those are super cheap to build and maintain. Private companies would LOVE to take even one source of revenue - say gas tax - and build and maintain the roads. The government could keep the registration and sales taxes and everyone would win.
Car owners subsidize the rest of the government including highly inefficient forms of transportation like trains and buses. The last time I looked Americans subsidized every Amtrak train ride $40. Ouch.
I know the mantra is cars are evil, but they're not. They move less metal per passenger mile than trains. They're increasingly efficient, safe and comfortable. Plus they can depart at anytime unlike other forms of motorized transportation run by the government.
Not sure why you say I contend everyone has to be just like me.
@Bill Davidson @Michael Robertson I'm familiar with the bogus research from Pew. This is really a report about how government overspends and is inefficient on everything. Government run roads, like prisons, hospitals, and schools will devour as much money as you give them.
Have you ever seen a report from any government program saying they have too much money? Or how about just enough money? This has never happened and won't because when you're spending other people's money there's no limits.
A great illustration of this is that Texas builds roads for 1/3rd per mile as California. Are they inferior roads? Nope. Are Texas road crews superior builders? Nope. It's just that government expands to the size of its budget and still wants 20% more.
As I already told you, construction companies would fall over themselves to bid on a contract where they had to maintain CA roads in return JUST for the gas taxes.
You've been duped to think that roads are expensive to build or maintain. They're neither.
Trains get subsidies. Not the phony accounting you're referring to, but outright expenditures without income to offset them. In 2012 that was for $24 billion http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/great-train-con
Please don't tell me what I think. Quote my words - that's what I think. Yes, people can be too old or too young to drive. There are options for them. Carpool, Uber, buses, etc. None have to be subsidized by the government.
If the monies actually went to what they are supposed to
You seem to think roads are paved in gold and require trillions in spending.
I forgot about parking fees! Add that to the list I already provided and you'll see that cars are not subsidized.
Yes getting a bus at 1am is tough. I'm not sure what the point is.
@Bill Davidson @Michael Robertson And just for the record, if cars were being subsidized, I would oppose that. But anyone who pays car registration fees and 72 cents PER GALLON OF GAS plus sales tax, smog fees, battery fees, parking fines, moving violations, impound fees, etc. knows that CA is making billions from car owners.
Why the personal attacks? Try to argue the facts rather than criticize me personally.
I've paid to have roads built so I have a sense of how much roads cost. Steel reinforced concrete is cheap. It's rebar not stainless steel. You conveniently skip over the fact that Texas build roads for 1/3rd the cost of CA. Runaway unions are why prisons cost $50,000 per prisoner, schools spend $25,000 per student and caltrans complains about lack of resource.
@Michael Robertson : Oh no. CATO and its biased so called research because businesses will make things better for everyone, even though they never have. Businesses work for themselves, not for the people or the greater good. That's part of why we're in this mess.
People who can't drive, for whatever reason, are at the mercy of a carpool or Uber or buses. Have you ever tried to get a bus at 1am? Buses don't necessarily go where you want to go when you want to go there.
The fact is that the roads are heavily subsidized by general fund taxpayers and always have been. Car owners are the biggest leeches among all forms of transit. Think about that the next time you park your car on the street for free or in the city's numerous free parking lots.
People who need or want alternatives should have them. Only ever prioritizing cars results in massive traffic congestion, pollution and over 34,000 traffic deaths and well over 2 million injured per year.
@Michael Robertson : Parking fees? The vast overwhelming majority of on street parking in this city (and most others in California) is free. San Diego city parks, including city beaches all have free parking. Even the zoo has free parking.
We spend billions subsidizing free parking all over the place. Yes, there are meters downtown and in Hillcrest and a few other places but not many.
You seem to imagine that you're paying more than you actually are or that it adds up to more than it actually does. Roads are expensive -- especially freeways which are made of thick steel reinforced concrete. That's where your fuel taxes are going. You have no idea how much roads actually cost.
The point about getting a bus at 1am is about having the freedom to travel when you need to. I'm not sure what is so difficult to understand about that. Many bus routes shut down at 8pm. Some shut down early on weekends. Some don't even run on weekends.
You can't imagine the needs of others. You can only see your own short term needs and can't imagine or care about the needs of others. You just want your use of your car and be catered to in every way to the exclusion of all other modes of travel. If other people can't get around when they need to, well that's their problem. As long as your short term convenience is covered, nothing else matters.
@Michael Robertson : Except that we have institutionalized the personal automobile with massive amounts of general taxpayer dollars so that choosing anything other than the personal automobile in most places is an unattractive option.
Your idea of freedom is that everyone has to be exactly like you. That's not freedom. That is tyranny.
Freedom is where you actually have choices. The bad planning and taxpayer subsidization of the personal automobile has taken away the choices for most people. Unfortunately, you have short range tunnel vision on this issue, so you can't see that.
Thanks for the article Derek. I don't know Texas revenue sources related to driving to really critique this but if you read the comments they ask some of the questions I would like what are other revenue sources and that this is oddly just for one road segment. I'm sure there are lightly used roads in many places. That's not necessarily representative of the average road.
@Michael Robertson : Cars are being subsidized. City and county roads only get about 7% of their funding from taxes and fees on motor vehicles. BTW, the majority of roads are city and county roads.
Your fuel taxes are primarily funding thick steel reinforced concrete freeways, which are very expensive per mile, no matter where you build them.
@Michael Robertson "You conveniently skip over the fact that Texas build roads for 1/3rd the cost of CA."
And yet the Texas Transportation Institute did a study and found that not one road in Texas pays for itself in gas taxes and user fees. Not one. "For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290
will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only
generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of
.16, which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon." http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/008264.html
Not sure if you constantly holding *Texas* as a the poster child for great raid management is such a good idea, as Texas gas been TEARING UP some of their roads, as they cannot afford to maintain them.
@Michael Robertson : You could not possibly be more wrong. The automobile is not a massive profit center for the government. It is in fact a giant money sink hole.
You make bad assumptions because you're trying to rationalize your pre-conceived notions about the automobile rather than doing your research and knowing the facts.
You're trying to pretend that it's good that people don't have transportation choices other than the personal automobile. You don't care about the transportation needs of those too young or too old or too poor to drive. You don't care about people who can't drive for medical or legal reasons. You only see your own point of view and can't imagine anyone else's.
@Michael Robertson : Steel reinforced concrete is not cheap. Again, most of your fuel taxes are going to freeways, not regular roads. You have no awareness of how much the roads cost or how much motorists pay for them.
You're trying to rationalize your own self centered, self important, myopic view. I often hear from people who say that they would like to bicycle but they are afraid of cars.
Unfortunately, people like you cannot see anything other than your own point of view. You are selfish. You can't see anyone else's point of view other than your own.
@Bill Davidson @Michael Robertson I've easily ridden more than 10,000 miles in San Diego county on a bicycle. I've been hit by cars, had stuff thrown at me, crashed, I know cycling well. I enjoy cycling. I even enjoy cycling even on streets amongst cars. At UCSD I had a project to design an improved commuter bicycle.
But all that experience doesn't change the assessment that cycling is wholly impractical for the vast majority of people and transportation needs in San Diego. If anything, that just reinforces my views.
Not sure why you call me selfish because I state the obvious - that cycling and walking are impractical modes of transportation in San Diego and don't deserve much infrastructure spending.
Michael: Please post a spreadsheet detailing the full costs paid by drivers in California. I'd like to see that. Otherwise you have to admit that your claims that drivers pay for all road costs is nothing but a myth that libertarians (like yourself) have made up so they sleep well at night. Once you know the facts your ideology will command that you will push for choice in transportation.
@Michael Robertson : Y0u're selfish because you think that those modes can't be improved.
I suspect that you don't know how to ride safely in traffic. It sounds like you had a pretty rough time for only riding 10,000 miles. My mileage in this county is more than 10 times that. You might want to take a free safety class in Oceanside offered by the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.
There's also our pathetically inadequate public transit and pedestrian modes. Motor vehicles are too space inefficient and so don't scale as well with increases in volume as other modes. You have short range tunnel vision and you don't see the mess and massive cost of only prioritizing the personal motor vehicle.
Poor people don't need to get around do they? Neither do elderly people. As long as your preferred mode gets everything and everyone else gets nothing, then you'll be happy.
@Michael Robertson : That wasn't a personal attack. Bicyclists who know what they are doing tend to not have so many problems as you describe.
The streets are too hostile to all forms of transport other than the personal automobile. That needs to change. Other people matter.
You have no facts to ascertain whether I'm a skilled cyclist or not. It's also wholly irrelevant to whether tax dollars should be spent on cycling as a mode of transportation in San Diego.
@Michael Robertson : Have you taken a class from a League of American Bicyclists or Cycling Savvy instructor? Have you read Effective Cycling or Cyclecraft or at the very least, Bicycling Street Smarts? Have you studied any form of vehicular cycling at all?
If you haven't then your road safety skills are poor. End of story. Even if you have, the degree that you learned the skills and adhere to them on the road may be limited. I have encountered more than one League of American Bicyclists certified instructor (I am one BTW) who didn't really understand vehicular cycling properly.
Unfortunately, too many people think that because they have a few miles under their belt, they know how to ride properly. Most of them are wrong. You have to study bicycle safety to understand it. You have to practice it in order to avoid problems.
@Bill Davidson My name is Bryce Niceswanger I am concerned about the Franklin Ridge Road project extending from Civita to Serra Mesa putting traffic on a bicyclist only trail and was wondering if you could call or text me 8085513046, I think you have some really great ideas and I am in need of some new ones. Hopefully you still live in the area. Thanks, Bryce
Paging SANDAG: "Research now shows that building new roads isn’t the answer to traffic – in fact, it’s the cause of increased traffic."
If we stopped forcing developers to build more parking than what's economically optimal, there would probably be less automobile traffic and more use of mass transit, walking, and bicycling. So the cause of traffic congestion is the government's meddling in the real estate market.
And traffic congestion is a sign of prosperity. In that light, maybe we shouldn't be trying to get rid of it. As Yogi Berra would have said, "nobody drives in Mission Valley anymore. There's too much traffic."
@Derek Hofmann --So after the million more people get here in the next 30 or so years, do you want them to THEN get rid of their cars? Since obviously (to you, at least) parking is not a necessity.
@David Crossley I just want the government to stop picking the winners and the losers. Let people drive if they can afford the cost, but stop giving them special treatment, especially if it takes away our freedom and property rights.
@David Crossley Why wouldn't it?
I think the chance to save Mission Valley passed about 15 years ago. I have a hard time imagining that anyone living there considers it a "neighborhood," much less a walkable neighborhood. The trolley helps, but endless monolithic apartment buildings and condos surrounded by more of the same have destroyed what might have been.
Modern technology, specifically small automated electric shuttle vehicles such as Google is developing, would enable establishing automated hydrogen fuel cell or electric mass transit vehicles in dedicated routes. Making it easy and cheap to reach destinations is part of the key.
And meeting the lower emission standards will be met through new and improved tech.
Honda and Hyundai are introducing Hydrogen fuel cell cars and the newest fueling station opened last week in Sacramento.
The state is committed to this Hydrogen Highway
Thank you for this article and for highlighting the detrimental impact that wide roads have on pedestrians specifically. Not only do larger roads get us more congestion and further-reaching sprawl but they also greatly reduce the ability of residents to walk.
You get what you build for. If you build for cars, you get more cars. If you build for people, you get more people. Mission Valley chose to build for cars. Now it has a chance to change that choice and build for people. Which will they choose? Outstanding article by Matthew Hose.
Mission valley isn't gridlocked at rush hour because it has too many roads,its busy at rush hour because people are coming from or going to work. Most of the jobs in mission valley are retail and the "liveable" housing is high end so people who live in mission valley tend to work elsewhere. Bike lanes and pedestrian friendliness isn't going to change that fact.
The city should synchronize traffic lights to maximize the benefis provided by existing roads. Its annoying and wasteful to hut every single red light when there is no traffic.