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Transforming Hillcrest: Architect pushes alternative to SANDAG bike plan

There’s a new bike plan in town.

On Aug. 12, Bankers Hill architect Jim Frost unveiled an alternative to the planned Uptown Bike Corridor Project of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

The rough project outline, titled “Transforming Hillcrest” proposes an alternative to the bike corridor on University Avenue as it passes through Hillcrest. It was presented to the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) and the Hillcrest Town Council (HTC); their monthly meetings run back to back at the Joyce Beers Community Center. Both organizations voted to urge SANDAG to consider adopting the alternative.

While SANDAG has yet to release a preliminary visualization detailing what its bike corridor will look like, Frost’s plan will likely differ significantly from it.

As shown in the rendering pictured above, Frost’s plan proposes closing off the north side of traffic through significant portions University Avenue between First Avenue and Normal Street, dedicating that space instead to parking and pedestrian space, which would supposedly differ considerably from SANDAG’s plan that Frost sees as “a bit car-centric.”

The south side of University would turn into one late in each direction. Frost said his plan uses the same bike-lane size as SANDAG: five feet wide with a three-foot buffer.

Frost said he sent the presentation of the project outline to SANDAG, but hasn’t received a direct response from them. He plans to continue educating the community and gaining support from local organizations before presenting the project to the Uptown Planners, the city-recognized advisory board for land use and development in the area.

Possibly the plan’s biggest strength is its proposed impact on parking. Frost said his plan will add over 40 spaces along University Avenue. A preliminary number released by SANDAG months back said that the plan through Hillcrest could take as many as 91 spaces through the area, although SANDAG spokesperson David Hicks rejected that estimate.

“At some point, someone from the project said look, ‘it’s possible under X circumstances, X number of parking spaces may be needed to build this project,’ but that was in a very, very, very hypothetical sense, and so that did not set the baseline in any way,” Frost said. “And all the details we’re going to work out over the next year – including working with the community on the issue of parking — will determine if and when and what will happen in terms of the parking issue.”

Hicks said the two lead planners working on the Uptown Bike Corridor were unavailable prior to the publication of this article.

Now that SANDAG has completed the “alignment” portion of the planning phase — determining the route of the bike path — the next phase will identify the details of the route’s implementation, to see what’s realistic and to hear the community’s input and concerns, Hicks said.

“There’s a whole lot of ways to do it, and that’s what we’re going to look at over the next six months to a year,” Hicks said, also stating that preliminary visualizations would be developed during this period.

The plan already has a number of supporters in addition to the HBA and HTC, including the Uptown Community Parking District. The office of Council President Todd Gloria, whose council district encompasses Uptown, expressed a hesitant openness to Frost’s plan. Gloria chairs SANDAG’s transportation committee, which, according to SANDAG’s website, “provides oversight for … regional bikeway projects.”

“I am grateful to Mr. Frost for putting his energy into this project and to the Hillcrest community members who have provided input on his proposal and throughout the process led by SANDAG on the Uptown Bike Corridor Project,” Gloria said in an emailed statement. “I have some initial concerns about bus operations, traffic flow, and traffic numbers, but will look at Mr. Frost’s proposal more carefully and discuss it with SANDAG to see what it would take for the community’s preferred elements to be included in the Uptown Bike Corridor project.”

Frost began formulating this plan in June, well after SANDAG’s first round of community input. On whether changing gears to his plan would be realistic at this point in the project, Frost “certainly hoped it would be,” but could only speak to that to a limited degree.

“If they are truly responsive to the community and to political commentary, and if they are really trying to develop a plan of, by and for the community I would certainly hope that [SANDAG considers the plan],” Frost said. “So far I haven’t heard anything positive, negative — anything.”

Regardless of whether implementation of Frost’s plan is realistic at this stage of SANDAG’s project, several community members hoped that the quick acceptance of an alternative plan will encourage SANDAG to be more receptive to the community’s input.

“SANDAG can pretty much do whatever it wants,” said Ben Nicholls, HBA’s interim executive director. “If they want to do the bare minimum, check the box and put a stripe down the street that gets rid of parking they can do that. If they want to meet the goals that they talked about at the beginning of the project … they need to do something like this. They need to think like this.”

The HBA and the Uptown Parking District plan to hold a meeting in late August or early September to present Frost’s plan to anyone interested. Meeting details we be posted in this article when they’re released.

Frost’s presentation can be downloaded by clicking on the Powerpoint links below:

SANDAG Univ Ave East 070114 Rev1

SANDAG Univ Ave Central 070114 Rev1

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(Editor's note: This post was originally published on SDGLN media partner San Diego Uptown News.)