Until a few months ago, Jim Frost was just an architect enjoying his retirement in Bankers Hill.

Then he got a phone call from SANDAG, the agency that plans San Diego’s transit future.

SANDAG was having problems with its plan to add more bike lanes along University Avenue in Hillcrest. To get there, the plan would cut way down on street parking, a possibility that inevitably angered business owners.

So, SANDAG asked Frost and a few other designers to take a fresh look.

His response, Frost said, surprised SANDAG. He completely redesigned much of the plan: Instead of narrowing travel lanes, he deletes them altogether. And instead of gutting parking, he adds more of it to the north side of  University Avenue.

“I think they were a little bit taken aback because it was so different from what they had,” Frost said. “But it was certainly never ruled out.”


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Photo courtesy of A. Hutchinson
Photo courtesy of A. Hutchinson
Jim Frost created a plan to boost bike infrastructure along University Avenue.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the groups that hated SANDAG’s plan love Frost’s. They’ve formed a group called the Hillcrest Community Collaborative to back his version.

“Not only do we support it but we support it so much that we formed a community collaborative … to make sure that they take a look at the plan that has gained so much support,” said Elizabeth Hannon, chief operating officer of the Uptown Community Parking District.

“To see the level of support for this concept, and to see things unite and come together, it’s amazing,” said Kathleen Ferrier, the policy manager for the alternative transportation advocacy group Circulate San Diego.

This is a parking issue, though, so of course not everyone agrees.

Ben Nicholls of the Hillcrest Business Association surprised people at a meeting that included SANDAG and Frost by introducing an alternative plan called the Hillcrest Jog. He said he was wary of Frost’s plan to remove some parking between First and Fifth avenues on University, even though Frost’s plan would add parking overall.

The Plans

Most people in Hillcrest seem to agree on one thing: University Avenue needs help.

“Hillcrest is kind of like a small town with a lot of people, but where we lose that is in those wide streets, and crossing those five lanes [on University Avenue] to get across the street,” said Hannon. “If we can have a little bit less of an urban feel, but appreciate that we are in the heart of the city, I think that’s important for the economic viability for the business community as well as the quality of life for its citizens.”

The SANDAG Plan

SANDAG’s original plan came as a part of the 2010 Regional Bike Plan, which set out to make San Diego more bike-friendly. A half-cent sales tax called TransNet – approved in 1988 and extended in 2004 for transportation projects in San Diego – allocated $200 million to implement the plan, and one section of it came to be known as the Uptown Regional Bike Corridor, which includes renovations to Washington Street and University, Fourth and Fifth  avenues.

The SANDAG plan buffers bike lanes on either side of University. To accommodate the lanes, SANDAG would shrink the width of the traffic lanes, hopefully slowing down traffic. In some bottle-necked areas of University, including the section between First and Fourth avenues, the plan would remove parking spaces to bring in the bike lanes.

Transforming Hillcrest

Frost’s plan, called Transforming Hillcrest, is much different: It cuts traffic lanes and adds parking.

Image courtesy of SANDAG
Image courtesy of SANDAG

Essentially, his plan would close down through traffic on the northern side of University Avenue, instead dedicating that space to a single driving lane that would mainly be used to access angled parking.

On the southern side of the street, which currently has two lanes going eastbound, Frost’s plan would have one lane going east and one lane going west, with parallel parking to the south of the lanes.

The purpose of this  “road diet” – as it’s known in planning circles – is to divert some through traffic (many cars use this section of University to get to North Park) to streets with higher capacity, like Washington Street, and make University a destination in itself, Frost said.

Frost’s plan could add 40 more parking spaces along University, according to Uptown News. But it does cut parking spaces on University between First and Fifth avenues, and it would make the street one-way going westbound from First to Fourth avenues.

That’s the change that’s been hardest to swallow for business owners. Nicholls, the interim chair of the Hillcrest Business Association, said business owners on the west end of University Avenue “almost universally support” a tweak to Frost’s plan that wouldn’t reduce parking or make University Avenue one-way.

The Hillcrest Jog

That’s where Nicholls’ alternative, the Hillcrest Jog, comes in. It’s considered a “jog” around University.

It maintains Frost’s proposal for the eastern half of University, but would divert the bike route onto Washington Street from Eighth to First. That would give business owners the parking they want, and would connect Mission Hills to bike lanes through Washington Street, Nicholls said.

SANDAG, for its part, had already ruled out using Washington even before Nicholls unveiled his plan, saying it would be too disruptive to traffic and public transit.

Though Nicholls favors the Jog, other members of the Hillcrest Business Association aren’t on board.

Dalour Younan, the group’s vice president who owns a Shell gas station on Washington, wrote in an email to Councilman Todd Gloria that he hadn’t even heard of the Hillcrest Jog until Nicholls introduced it at the Sept. 17 meeting.

“This plan has not been briefed or endorsed at any of the Hillcrest Business Association or the Uptown Planners meetings.” Younan said in the email. “This plan essentially calls for preserving parking spaces on University Avenue at the expense of losing an equal or more parking spaces on Washington Street.”

Why It Matters

Just as everyone pretty much agrees University Avenue is a problem, they also agree on the point of fixing it: to lure more San Diegans to Hillcrest. The neighborhood already has things people want: bars, quirky shops, a thriving culture.

All it’s missing is the infrastructure to accommodate people, Frost said. He believes his plan offers that.

“It’s a vision for the future that really is a once-in-a-lifetime possibility,” Frost said. “It’s a possibility where we can have the chance to use the bicycle plan to implement a much bigger vision. It offers us the backbone and the structure to do all this other development that is positive for the community.”

What’s Next

SANDAG is still just in the “preliminary engineering” phase of developing the bike infrastructure.

Officials will go over all of the plans again in a meeting sometime this month, and Gloria’s office and SANDAG plan to rehash why the Washington Street idea was scrapped.

Ultimately, the decision of where to put the bike lanes and which infrastructure to include resides with SANDAG. It won’t finalize a plan until sometime in 2015, and construction will likely begin in 2016.

Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized an element of the Transforming Hillcrest plan. It would cut parking spaces on University between First and Fifth avenues, and make the street one-way from First to Fourth avenues.

    This article relates to: Bike Policy, Corrections, Infrastructure, Neighborhood Growth, News, Share

    Written by Matthew Hose

    Matthew is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can reach him at matthew.hose@voiceofsandiego.org.

    20 comments
    Nathan Landau
    Nathan Landau subscriber

    What does MTS think? University Ave. is a major corridor and changes there could have significant effects on their operations.

    Carlos W
    Carlos W subscriber

    Why not add Robinson into this? Here is a possiblity, make University one-way between 1st and 5th heading west, do the same to Robinson heading east.  This makes the block surrounded by 4th, 5th, University and Robinson essentially a giant roundabout.  You can have bike lanes, parking and cars and an easy way to change from going west to east.

    Matthew Hose
    Matthew Hose author

    @Carlos W While I'm not sure the specifics of why it was ruled out, SANDAG officials told me that a bike lane going down Robinson Street in lieu of University Avenue was an option in the early stages, but it was ruled out early in the alignment phase a couple of years ago.

    Carlos W
    Carlos W subscriber

    @Matthew Hose @Carlos W If they were planning 2 way bike lanes on Robinson, I would not think that would work.  One way bike lanes along the one way streets would certainly be safer.

    michael-leonard
    michael-leonard subscriber

    Another tilted horizon photo. Perhaps that's just Sam's style...?

    Walter Chambers
    Walter Chambers subscribermember

    The only thing that could derail the Transform Hillcrest plan is Level of Service (LOS), the discredited method of measuring traffic efficiency still used by The City and SANDAG. Even though the SB743 and the OPR made it clear that LOS is harmful for the environment, discourages bicycling and walking, and is detrimental to infill development, The City is still using LOS as an excuse to reject safe bike facilities in San Diego. LOS runs counter to The City of Villages concept and walkable, bike friendly communities. It should not be considered seriously when evaluating the Transform Hillcrest plan.


    Hillcrest has said emphatically that it prefers reducing travel lanes (road diet) to loosing parking or to having a substandard bike facility. SANDAG and The City should pay attention and take the opportunity to create a world class street out of University Ave. 

    Bill Davidson
    Bill Davidson subscriber

    The speed limits in Hillcrest tend to be low.  I find it pretty easy to ride there as it is.  Just use the full travel lane in most places and you will be fine.  Of course, you have to deal with the occasional idiot.  I was using the full lane going west on University near 5th a couple of days ago, when an idiot used the right turn only lane to pass me on the right at less than the 3 feet required by law, and then he ran a red light on 4th, a good 3-5 seconds after the light turned red.  Drivers like that should not have licenses.

    Matt
    Matt subscribermember

    Only in the bizarro world of bicycle infrastructure does pushing potential customers away from a business make sense.  I, for example, commute by bike past the businesses on University Ave several times a week, going up and down 4th and 5th Ave.  Even though I've thought of stopping to pick up food on the way through, I never do because the lack of bike lanes or a place to lock my bike discourages me.  Driving in a car on University is even too much, I don't want to take my chances biking.  Maybe I'm overly sensitive or not the type of customer these businesses want, but if they push out the bike lanes, they push out the possibility of attracting certain customers (i.e., the young, affluent professionals that are choosing to commute by bike rather than by car).  I look at the Frost Plan and think that I would love to ride my bike there and bring the family to stroll down the street.  That never happens with the current design.


    If the number one concern is parking, there are plenty of open storefronts in other area of the city available that offer an abundance of free parking.  My guess is that if these bike lanes go in, whatever street they are on will flourish and become the new hot spots.  So these business owners have to ask: do they want that to be their business, or someone else's?

    paul jamason
    paul jamason subscribermember

    @Matt At last year's Uptown Planners business meeting on the bike lane, someone remarked that "bicyclists don't have enough change in their pockets" to spend at Hillcrest business.  While this sentiment isn't universal in the community, there's an underlying class issue among many business owners: people on bikes are of a lower status.  Yet some of these same folks fought for LGBT equality for decades. 

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    Jim Frosts plan considers the sense of place, the health of the business AND residential community and he has taken ideas from almost every presentation he has made. This is how planning works best, and it works for everyone.  


    The Hillcrest Business Assn, The Uptown Parking district, the Hillcrest Town Council and the Hillcrest CDC all have come out in support of the plan.  It continues to evolve and the "JOG" may, or may not,  make sense to the overall plan. It will rise or fail based on it's merits.   How planning can be!  


    I am excited to see what is possible.  

    Full disclosure I'm at 10th and University and so I am in the big middle of any University Ave changes.  


    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Although Hillcrest wants more parking, there is ample evening and weekend paid parking within a few blocks of wherever you want to go. Eliminate all street parking on University--it poses more problems than it is worth. And require whatever goes on the Pernicano site to have below ground paid parking.

    Greg Martin
    Greg Martin subscriber

    @David Cohen  I couldn't agree more. The HBA and the Uptown Planning Commission have been a total failure for the past 15 to 20 years.  They have driven away the pedestrians that used to frequent their businesses while at the same time trying to preserve excess parking while taking away much of the limited sidewalk space for pedestrians on the south side of University between 10th and Centre.  The sidewalk space they have taken away is only fully used for a very limited amount of time each day at most.  They should be able to expand to no more than 3 or 4 feet from their outside wall onto the sidewalk and be charged enough annual rent to discourage that use unless there is enough regular usage to justify that expense.

    David Lynn
    David Lynn subscribermember

    @David Cohen Agreed, and I'd go further: make University pedestrian only, and consider pedestrian access bridges.  The real problem is the pedestrian traffic at every intersection in the whole area.  Find ways to change that with focused parking and pedestrian bridges or other routes, and the options for traffic circulation increase immensely.

    John Thurston
    John Thurston subscriber

    Great objective piece on the furor over either Transforming Hillcrest with a comprehensive plan, or preserving the Status Quo to benefit a loud but minority faction of business owners with a plan scant on details and support in the community.


    As Dalour Younan, the Vice President of the Hillcrest Business Association points out, the proposed Jog alternative plan as presented by Benjamin Nicholls, interim director of the HBA, was never presented to any official meeting of the HBA or any of it's advisory committees, and has the fingerprints of HBA's President Johnathan Hale and Treasurer Cecelia Moreno all over it. Hale Nicholls and Moreno, the troika of power at the HBA, seek to run things their way, and damn the torpedoes of community input. Its all about their vision of an endless supply of parking for their customers alone. As Nicholls' presentation pointed out, there have been plenty of spaces added recently, but apparently that is not enough for them, and they are demanding none be lost by any plan. 


    What else isn't enough are the details, or lack thereof, on the Jog plan essential for it to even be considered. Will place making totally ignore the western stretch of University Ave. leaving us with a mishmash of design and traffic nightmares, or will place making occur along both University and Washington, which will no doubt double the cost to preserve a handful of parking spots for a handful of businesses?


    The real problem that Hillcrest is experiencing is an exponential grown of eating and entertainment establishments over the years that demand far more parking and traffic capacity than the small village was ever designed to handle.
    Where in the past there were a small handful of dinning choices, now there are dozens and dozens, many of which have routinely failed. Where there used to be many small stores, and shops not dependent on multiple seatings of diners, now there are just a scant few. A view of History and the big picture is in order here, not shortsighted cries of "Don't touch MY Parking!"


    Return Hillcrest to the community and the people, and not the automobile and short sighted business owners and supposed community leaders out to preserve the status quo.

    paul jamason
    paul jamason subscribermember

    The universal support for the Frost plan (including the Hillcrest Business Association) was great news after a year of fighting over parking.  So it was a surprise when Nicholls presented the Hillcrest Jog plan, which uses a route already rejected by SANDAG for numerous reasons.


    Since Nicholls is the HBA executive director, I assumed the HBA was supporting the Hillcrest Jog instead of the Frost plan.  Instead, the Jog was apparently put forward by "a private business owner", which wasn't stated.  This might be Chris Shaw, who owns Urban Mo's on western University and wrote an editorial here opposing the bike lane (Shaw is represented on the HBA by employee Eddie Reynoso).  The owner could also be Cecilia Moreno of nearby Crest Cafe, who supports the Hillcrest Jog.  


    This odd sequence comes after the HBA was criticized for questionable activities (http://lgbtweekly.com/2014/06/19/fireworks-and-calls-for-hale%E2%80%99s-resignation-fly-at-hba-meeting/).  To an outside observer, Moreno and/or Shaw appear to run the HBA based on their personal agendas.  When they don't get their way, they do end-arounds like the Hillcrest Jog, or sack the HBA executive director without a board vote.  


    Jonathan Hale, president of the HBA, said we should "all work together to find solutions" to the bike lane issue, and the Frost plan is just that.  The Hillcrest Jog is the opposite: a product of business owners who feel they run Hillcrest, are only concerned with preserving "their" public on-street parking, and have zero concern for the safety of fellow residents who bike on University.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    If the business owners want parking, why don't they build it themselves?

    Could it be because it's not really worth the high cost and so it's cheaper to lobby SANDAG to build it for them at taxpayer's expense?

    paul jamason
    paul jamason subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann That's exactly what was suggested at the forum - SANDAG should buy the $12 million Pernicano's site and put in a parking garage.  After demolition and construction costs, this would likely exhaust the entire Uptown Bike Corridor budget without adding a bike lane.  

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @paul jamason "A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury."

    Greg Martin
    Greg Martin subscriber

    @paul jamason @Derek Hofmann That $12M asking price is nearly twice as much per square foot as peak prices downtown during the biggest real estate bubble in history around 2005.  No one should be paying that much for that property for parking or for anything else.

    Walter Chambers
    Walter Chambers subscribermember

    Hillcrest may be on to something here. When SANDAG said that there needs to be safe bike facilities in Hillcrest, the community balked at SANDAG's top down approach. Instead the community took on the task of designing it themselves, and now nearly everyone is on board.


    This approach of providing mandates and metrics, but then allowing the community to provide the solutions that work best for them may be a model for how to grow and change San Diego. Top down design from The City an SANDAG has time and time again proved to produce little more than rancor and distrust.


    As for the "Hillcrest jog" ... it is not even a serious consideration.