Throwing Money at the Unknown

Several business owners in West Hillcrest have paired with the Hillcrest Business Association to hire a lobbyist to try and influence the Mayor and Councilmembers against SANDAG’s Bike Blvd Design in Mission Hills and Hillcrest.

Why are they against it? Good question. It seems that have assumed that closing the off ramp from Washington Street to University Ave will harm their businesses and cause enormous traffic congestion on Washington Street.

They have ASSUMED. Let me make that perfectly clear. They DON’T KNOW whether closing the University off ramp will result in fewer customers in Hillcrest and unreasonable traffic congestion in Mission Hills. NO STUDY has ever been done back up this assumption.

How much money are they willing to spend to stop something they don’t even know will happen? $20,000 has been reported.

On the other hand, there are plenty of studies and reports that show that bicycle infrastructure, once in place, does not hurt business, and in many cases improves business along the bike route.  Let’s take a closer look at each assumed scenario.

Reduced car traffic on University Ave in Mission Hills will be bad for businesses in West Hillcrest.

Currently, this portion of  University Ave is often used as a “cut-thru” street to get to places east of Hillcrest. So the REAL assumption here is this: that “cut-thru” traffic is stopping at Hillcrest business, restaurants, and bars.

Now generally, when people are “cutting-thru” a neighborhood, it’s because they want to get somewhere else. They aren’t stopping along the way to their destination. Could it be that some cut-thru traffic spontaneously decides that they need a drink at Mo’s or a loaf of bread at Bread and Cie? Sure, but chances are they’d rather get to where they are going.

University Ave WILL REMAIN OPEN to traffic. Drivers, whose destination is West Hillcrest, will have no problem reaching University Ave. From the North there are 10 thru-streets that intersect University from Washington between the off ramp and 5th Avenue. Coming from the South, there are 8 through streets that intersect University Ave. So getting to University Ave will be no problem for those making it their destination.

Likewise, study after study (you can find them on the SANDAG website) shows that safe bicycle infrastructure increases bicycle ridership. Furthermore, people on bicycles are more likely to stop at businesses because A) Parking is not an issue; and B) they are going slow enough to be enticed by store displays or friends on the street.

Closing the University Off Ramp will force drivers onto Washington Street and will create unmanageable traffic congestion on Washington Street.

Yes, drivers going Northeast on Washington Street will not have the ability to exit onto University and will have to use Washington Street. Does this mean huge traffic jams will develop and remain? Here’s what real-life experience actually tells us.

When NYC decided to close Broadway in Times Square, naysayers screamed about the traffic jams that would happen. Guess what. They never materialized.

Mystifyingly, this phenomenon has happened time and time again when a street is closed to cars or diverted. It’s happened so often that now there is even a term for it: ‘Disappearing Traffic’, also sometimes called “Traffic Evaporation”.

Here’s how it works. People find other routes or change their behavior. Simple as that. I used to leave work 30 min late because I knew that I-8 would not be congested at that later time. Had I not altered my behavior, I would have been stuck in traffic. Who wants to be stuck in traffic?

And guess what. Some people in the neighborhood, given the opportunity to safely ride their bike to a restaurant or shop, may just decide not to take their car … an option which is currently not available to them.

To summarize the FACTS:
1)  University Avenue in Mission Hills will NOT be closed to traffic. Only the off ramp from Washington Street to University Ave will be closed. ALL OTHER cross streets from the North and South of University will remain open, providing plenty of opportunities to access University Ave in West Hillcrest.

2) Washington Street may or may not be more congested due to the off-ramp closure. Real-life experience tells us that drivers will find other routes, change their driving behavior, or use alternative transportation. It’s called Disappearing Traffic or Traffic Evaporation.

So why are smart business people throwing good money after something they don’t even have a clue about? I’m as befuddled as you. And nobody seems to be willing to answer that question.

Walter Chambers

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6 Responses to Throwing Money at the Unknown

  1. Andy Hanshaw says:

    Great summarry of the facts Walt, thanks. Support for this project is critical as it will provide safe access for bikes to area businesses and provide safer streets for everyone, including drivres.

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  6. michael-leonard says:

    While I agree with your premise and most of your contentions, I disagree about the use of University Avenue versus Washington Street.
    Motorists passing through Hillcrest to other neighborhoods east of there do not use University; they use Washington. It is a wider street with fewer signals. University is used by people wishing to access Hillcrest and Mission Hills neighborhoods — and especially those businesses.
    If Hillcrest business interests want to harm themselves, closing the University Avenue ranp from Washington is a good way to do it.

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