In Case You Have Any Doubt …

SANDAG wants you to know — in case you had ANY doubt — just how much cars are their #1 priority. How? Here’s how they show their car-love through the design of the Mid-City Rapid.

1) First you punish pedestrians by narrowing the sidewalk to make more room for cars.

 

 

 

 

2) Then you plant palm trees at the sidewalk — you definitely don’t want to provide cool shade or filtered light for pedestrians. 

 

 

 

3) With all that extra room for cars, you create a median and plant the shade trees and ground plants (presumably for cars and buses to enjoy as they whizz by) IN THE FRICK’N MIDDLE OF THE STREET.

Was this designed in 1970? Who in their right mind designs streets like this in 2014? Can SANDAG be sued for malpractice?

(You can’t make this stuff up)

Walter Chambers
GSSD 

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The Science of Why Some Cities Succeed

It seems Jane Jacobs had it right way back in 1960. What makes a city successful? What makes a city a center of innovation, economic wealth, productivity, and culture? This article “5 Key Themes Emerging from the “New Science of Cities”, by Michael Mehaffy and City Lab identifies why some cities out-perform others.  Read the article, but here is a brief, synopsis.

1.)  Cities that provide casual, social interactions between people are more successful. 

2.) Cities with higher density and good transportation options are economically and environmentally more sustainable and “green”.

3.) Human scale connectivity in the public realm is extremely important. “… to the extent that the city’s urban fabric is fragmented, car-dependent or otherwise restrictive of casual encounters and spillovers, that city will under-perform—or require an unsustainable injection of resources to compensate.”

4.) Cities are People, and those that adapt to/with human psychology are the most successful. 

5.) Cities are a form of Organized Complexity, and cannot be thought of as planned, stagnant, “works of art”. They need to be organic in their growth.

As GSSD has said before, every planner, architect engineer, designer, and politician involved in the building of city needs to make it their number one priority to maximize casual, incidental social interaction between people. Doing this requires Land Use policies that focuses on good density, Transportation Policies that prioritize getting people out of cars, Urban Design policies that create a human-scaled, vibrant public realm, and Economic Policies that focus on people, instead of large corporations.

Quite frankly, San Diego is under-performing to the extent it fails to do these things.

Walter Chambers
GSSD 

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The New Huffman 6-Packs

Lessons Unlearned: Why the Huffman scourge has returned, and how it can be stopped.

Huffman 6-Pack Redux. Street Level blank wall with utility meters greet people walking by.

A new crop of infill apartment and condo buildings are popping up in North Park, Hillcrest, and Mission Hills. Like the nearly universally despised Huffman “6-Packs” from the 1960’s and 70’s, these buildings turn their side to the street, presenting an unfriendly blank wall or a wall filled with gas and electric meters to the street. Forget talking to your neighbor sitting on the front porch. Forget seeing people going in and out the front door. Forget seeing any kind of life, light, or human activity from the street.These new complexes, just like the Huffmans before them, are street-life killers. Nothing less than “Citycide”.

No Front Door. No Front Porch. No sign of life. Only a stark grey wall.

How could this happen again? Didn’t San Diego learn its lesson the first time? Sadly enough, there are no active facade requirements or even recommendations in the Community Plans for residential areas. In fact, the recently released Uptown Community Plan Urban Design Element Draft requires active facades only in commercial areas, but not in residential areas. In 2014, walkable residential neighborhoods should be the Standard for Urban Planning. 

Active Street Facade is important. This building kills street-life.

Walkable neighborhoods start at home, not after you drive to a commercial area. Walkable residential neighborhoods are essential to creating community, encouraging walking, and reducing car trips. 

 If you live in Uptown, North Park, Mission Hills, Golden Hills, South Park, or Mid-City, demand good architecture. Another round of Huffman style multi-unit buildings could kill off what remains of street life in our neighborhoods.

 

You might like to walk by this building if you are into reading gas meters.

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Hillcrest united behind new University Ave. Bike Plan

At one point this past winter, the division and rancor in Hillcrest over the SANDAG Uptown Regional Bike Plan, and especially plans for University Avenue, seemed to be tearing the community apart. Amazingly, however, over the last few weeks, the community has come together and collalesced behind a new proposal by retired architect, planner, and Uptown resident Jim Frost.

The plan, “Transform Hillcrest”, not only has bike advocates excited, but the Uptown Community Parking District (UCPD), the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), the Hillcrest Town Council (HTC), and Hillcrest CDC (HCDC) have all signaled their support, and have signed on to a request that SANDAG seriously consider the Plan. GSSD also gives the plan high marks for it’s people-centric design that has the potential  to transform Hillcrest.

A View of East University Ave between Vermont and Richmond

Transform Hillcrest is divided into two sections: East University Ave. and Central University Ave. (click on links for .PDFs). The East University proposal removes one travel lane, and places East-West thru traffic on the south side of University and a local access / parking lane on the North side. The proposal increases parking, provides protected bike lanes, accommodates traffic and improves the pedestrian experience. The Central University proposal makes University one-way from 1st Ave to 4th Ave, freeing space for protected bike lanes and parking. 

Central University Ave proposal between 3rd and 4th

The proposal culminates with the previously proposed Pride Plaza at University and Normal, leading to the Normal Street Rambla. These plans have the potential to transform Hillcrest and be a model for neighborhoods throughout San Diego. 

Proposed Plaza at University and Normal

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Pedestrian “Improvements”: Safety vs. Friendly

Pedestrian Safety and Pedestrian Friendly are often used interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. They aren’t. Designs that are Pedestrian Safe are not necessarily Pedestrian Friendly. On the other hand, designs that are Pedestrian Friendly are always safe.

Pedestrian Bridge: Safe but not Friendly

The pedestrian bridge is a classic example of safe but not friendly. Engineers designed the pedestrian bridge to keep walkers out of the dangers of the street. They may keep the pedestrian safe, but they force people to go up and out of their way just to cross the street. In reality the pedestrian bridge has nothing to do with safety. To Traffic Engineers, pedestrians are obstacles that impede the free flow of traffic. Getting rid of them on the street, by making them go over the street solves two problems, in their eyes.

Safe? Never friendly.

These blockades (photo right) are ubiquitous in San Diego. Any DOT Engineer will tell you that they are installed for the safety of the pedestrian. The truth is, they are installed to keep automobile traffic flowing freely. Pedestrian safe? Maybe. Pedestrian friendly? Never.

On the other hand, pedestrian friendly designs are by definition also pedestrian safe. They make walking comfortable, easy, interesting, and safe. So while $433,000 crosswalk – something The City touts as being good for pedestrians – makes crossing the street at that intersection more safe, it does nothing to make the pedestrian experience of the street better. Had a stop sign been installed instead, crossing would have been safer, and traffic would have been calmed along the entire street. The remaining $430,000 could have been spent on street trees, protected bike lanes, and traffic calming for true pedestrians improvements.

Beg Buttons: Good for traffic flow, not pedestrians.

The difference stems from the Engineers priorities and point of reference. If traffic and cars are the priority, you may get “safe” pedestrian designs, but the object will be to maintain the efficient flow of traffic. When pedestrians are the priority, you get designs that are safe and good for people.

So next time SANDAG or The City says they are doing “pedestrian improvements”, ask yourself, is this design really focused on cars, or is it really focused on making the pedestrian experience safe, comfortable, and enjoyable. Don’t just settle for Safe. Demand Pedestrian Friendly streets.

Walter Chambers
GSSD 

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A New Mobility Plan for a Changed World

The Uptown, North Park, and Golden Hill Community Plans are currently being updated. The Mobility Section of these plans will be especially challenging, because everything has changed since these plans were last written. What has changed?

Growth In a Fix Environment:
In the past our mobility plans were focused on private automobiles. As communities grew, roads were widened and more roads built to accommodate the additional cars.  That cannot happen in these older, streetcar neighborhoods. Why?

1) The street layout has been set for decades.
2) Properties fronting the street are nearly 100% built out.
Unless we start tearing down homes to widen roads or make new streets (not going to happen) these two realities won’t change. Whose homes and businesses are we willing to seize and tear down for wider streets? Who decides?

Hillcrest Streets cannot be widened

Climate Change:
Regardless of one’s position on climate change, the State of California, and The City of San Diego has mandated that we do something about it. That includes reducing car trips and increasing walking, bicycling, and transit. 

SB743: If you haven’t heard of this bill that passed last year, you soon will. It completely changes the way transportation efficiency and transportation’s environmental impact is measure. It changes CEQA, California’s environmental quality law. Cars will no longer be the focus of transportation and environmental planning.

A New Way: Because of the above three reasons, and many more, the Mobility Plans of the updated Community Plans must be very, very different than they have been in the past. 

Uptown 21C: In response, Great Streets San Diego has created a proposal that meets the transportation needs of the 21st Century called Uptown 21C. It’s nothing really new … it’s adapted from policies and plans in Vancouver, Portland, and other progressive cities. And it is working in those cities. Read it for yourself, and let GSSD know what you think. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 -Walter Chambers
GSSD 
 
 
 
 
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Does Highway Expansion Relieve Congestion?

Apparently not. Yet another study is out showing that widening and building more roads in metropolitan areas does nothing to relieve congestion or reduce delay. This is called “induced traffic”. In other words, if you build it, more cars will come. The result is also an increase in fuel consumption (and one must assume pollution).

DELAY PER CAPITA (Mean Person Hours)

 

So one must wonder, why is the public continually told that projects that widen and expand highways will reduce congestion? 

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The $433,000.00 Crosswalk

Construction is now underway at the intersection of Park Blvd. and Cypress Street for a new crosswalk. Total cost: $433,000.00. No, that is not a misplaced comma.

Some would say that this new crosswalk, with flashing lights and signs is a good thing because it helps pedestrians. To that I say, a Stop Sign would have achieved the same result, would have cost a lot less, and would have been better for the neighborhood in general.

The problem is that Park Blvd is designed like a freeway with straight, wide travel lanes that go uninterrupted for blocks. By the time cars reach the Cypress Street intersection, cars can, and do, travel at 40-50 mph. The street is designed to be unsafe for people walking and bicycling.

So San Diego’s solution to an over-engineered street that kills pedestrians is an over-engineered crosswalk. It’s a freeway style solution to a freeway-like problem. Unfortunately, it does nothing to improve the street, calm traffic, or make the rest of the street safer for people walking or biking.

Flashing Crosswalk

Worse yet, with its strobe-like flashing yellow lights and flashing signs, the visual pollution to this quiet residential section of Park Blvd is horrendous. 

A Stop Sign would have achieved better results, at a much lower cost to install and maintain. However, if the City was still hell-bent on spending 1/2 Million dollars to make Park Blvd safe, it would have better spent the money on traffic calming, narrowing lanes, protected bike lanes, and … a stop sign. 

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The right to live in the suburbs

I was honored and happy that Voice of San Diego published an op-ed that I wrote about density. I was also pleased to see the comments section light up with arguments for and against density. It’s a conversation that needs to happen.

There is one argument that I find interesting, although ill-informed. It is essentially, “ I have the right to live in the suburbs, and government policy should accommodate everyone wherever they choose to live.”

To that I say, yes – you do have a right to choose wherever you live — as long as you are willing to pay for it.

Low density developments are essentially government subsidizes. Land Use in low density areas is so financially unproductive that it is impossible to build and maintain the infrastructure needed for them to exist. Not only do the streets, sewers, water, utilities, etc cost more to initially install, suburbs do not generate the tax revenue required to maintain them. The suburbs are draining city government coffers at an alarming rate. Is it any wonder San Diego has $3 billion dollar infrastructure deficit?

Low density land use

It not just suburban infrastructure that cost the rest of us. Required services like fire, police, garbage, libraries and schools also must be subsidized. We even pay to bus suburban kids to school because it is usually too far for them walk. 

In the USA, citizens have generally agreed that subsidizing freeway construction is worthwhile because it helps increase the movement of goods and services – and therefore increases the GDP. However a 2-3 hour commute to work is not productive. Not only do the extra cars on the road cause congestion and slow the movement of goods, but they cause wear on the freeway, and damage the environment. Gas taxes and tolls (user fees) only cover about one-half the cost of highways – the rest comes from the general fund.

Sure, you can live in low density areas – IF you will pay extra to maintain your infrastructure, bus your kids to school, pay a carbon tax to offset your car dependency, and pay tolls for highway maintenance … along with many other hidden costs.

If the government subsidizes anything, I would prefer we, as a society, subsidize housing for the poor and homeless, instead of subsidizing housing for a middle class fantasy of living the “good life.”

If you can afford to live the life of the “landed gentry”, good for you!  Congratulations. Just don’t expect the rest of us to pay for it.

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Squeezing into those old, outgrown jeans

I haven’t worn a size 32 waist since college. Yet it doesn’t stop me from trying to squeeze into an old pair of  jeans I keep around “just in case”. The fact is, I’ll never be a 32 again, no matter how good of shape I am in.  I suppose we can all dream, though.

Soon, the traffic in Uptown won’t be able squeeze into its existing street system, based on projected growth. For that matter, neither will the traffic in Downtown, North Park, or Golden Hill.

The Dream

As Uptown, North Park and Golden Hill consider Mobility Plans for their Community Plan Updates, it’s important to ask, “How will we grown without becoming overwhelmed and chocked by car traffic?” 

If they do nothing, or even the same thing, these communities will face a future of congestion, gridlock, and declining quality of life. 

There is a solution. By simply adopting policies that emphasize and prioritize walkable, livable, bike friendly communities – outcomes most people say they want – these urban San Diego neighborhoods can emerge as better and healthier places to live. Sound impossible? Read Uptown 21C and then decide.

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