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From San Francisco to Portland, Toronto, London and Dublin, cities are findings ways to spread infrastructure for bikes.
They’re introducing bike lanes, bike-share programs, pedestrian-friendly plazas and other policies to make their cities more walkable and rideable, supporting resident health and driving down carbon emissions.
In general, I support bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly measures like these. But I have a serious concern with the proposed bike lane that SANDAG could greenlight through the heart of Hillcrest.
The plan to install bike lanes along University Avenue is pitting the bicycling community against a growing number of neighborhood businesses and residents, who stand to take the biggest hit to their standard of living.
These bike lanes would especially damage businesses on the west end, where congestion is greatest and parking is already at a premium. SANDAG reports most of the lost parking would be in the stretch between First and Sixth avenues, with up to 91 parking spaces lost throughout Hillcrest in a “worst case scenario.”
Cities with these initiatives in place have reported that while bicycling ridership increased along routes with safe and buffered bike lanes, motor vehicle volume stayed about the same. This means that an equal amount of vehicle traffic can be expected along the proposed bike routes, on fewer and narrower lanes.
In our neighborhood, to provide room for the bike lanes and a safety buffer zone, street parking on University Avenue would have to be eliminated on at least one, if not both sides of the street.
Three- and four-lane sections of Hillcrest would be reduced to two lanes through an already congested bottleneck.
The University exit from Washington Street in Mission Hills would be closed to traffic on a proposed bike route that would force drivers to take Washington and then cut through residential streets to get to University.
Meanwhile, Washington Street, with its steady four lanes, would remain largely untouched.
Is University Avenue really the best option for bike lanes?
I have been in business in Hillcrest for more than 22 years. I have seen bicycling become more popular, as it has in cities across the nation and I see the benefits this project can bring to the neighborhood.
But SANDAG has to consider issues of land use, mobility, urban design and economic development when designing a bike route.
The proposed bike lanes would change Hillcrest in major ways, and that is a great thing. It would bring a whole new feeling to our community, which many of us are excited about. True, parking and congestion are already challenging. But with smart urban planning and design, these are challenges we can manage.
So by all means, let’s talk about ways SANDAG can help reduce the vehicular traffic that already clogs our streets. Let’s find ways to make San Diego and Hillcrest more approachable for visitors, more accessible for bicyclists, more livable for residents and more prosperous for businesses.
But let’s also have a clear understanding about the proposed routes and alternatives. Residents and business owners need this before we can stand behind the project.
Until SANDAG can account for and avoid the loss of parking and increased congestion with a much broader public conversation, the agency should pump the brakes on these proposed bike lanes through our neighborhood.
I only hope they and the bicycling lobby don’t throw Hillcrest businesses in the back seat.
Chris Shaw is president of DCSS Inc., which includes Urban MO’s Bar & Grill, Baja Betty’s, Gossip Grill and Hillcrest Brewing Company. Shaw’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.