Saturday, September 7, 2013

10 Opportunities for parking in the very crowded Five Points area of San Diego

Head-in parking can help create more space in the area of Five Points, San  Diego.

Despite it sitting right next to the I-5 freeway, and despite it being a tiny strip of (mostly) historic buildings, the area known as Five Points in San Diego is a HUGE destination for locals and beyond.  It's marginalized setting belies its attraction points; it is an area that many people travel to from all over San Diego county, and in fact, the world. This is because it has some of San Diego’s oldest and most famous wining and dining spots.

To wit, many people say that as soon as they land at San Diego's Lindbergh field, they bee-line straight over to Five Points for either the rolled tacos at El Indio, or a craft beer at the Regal Beagle.  Others say they want fresh Pacific seafood from Blue Water Grill, and still others say they are craving the chicken from Saffron Thai. Yes, it's pretty much San Diego's International Restaurant Row!

So, at certain times of the day, especially on weekends, parking is absolutely horrendous. Frankly, the area becomes one giant parking lot.  Both the volume of parked cars, and then the circling traffic looking for parking makes it like the COSTCo/Ikea lotin Mission Valley.  And of course this parking-lot-atmosphere gives one a sense of more marginalization, and quite degrades the entire neighborhood, which is the gateway to Mission Hills.

One time my parents who live in Scripps Ranch drove over to meet me on a late Sunday morning.  They had been in Coronado at dog beach and fancied some oysters at Blue Water Seafood and Market Grill.  (Their seafood is very FRESH!)  They swung by and picked me up in Middletown.  We drove along India, looking for parking.  It was probably 1pm.  There was NOTHING.

We circled.
We circled again.
And then circled again.
After about 20 minutes, we decided I'd drop them off, and return home to park the car and then walk back to meet them.  I did, and the parking problem was solved.  Essentially no parking = walk, if you live in Middletown.

But what if you don’t live close by?  What if you were driving in from Poway, or from the mesa of Mission Hills or Hillcrest?  What if you had just landed back in San Diego after being out of the country?

I posed that question to some friends.

The Poway friends said, 'well because it's so far, we would probably just keep circling until we found something.'  This was pretty much what I expected.  As pointed out above a lot of the traffic conditions in the area are made up of drivers circling, waiting for parking spaces to open up.  This creates a lot of unnecessary traffic, air pollution, noise pollution, danger for pedestrians and drivers, flared tempers etc.

The locals from up on the Mesa of Mission Hills said, 'we don't go. It's too hard to find parking.'  They added that if they are really craving San Diego's best gelato, they 'strategically go'.  In other words, they go off hours, or place an order for pick-up so they can run in and get it.  This is what I do too.  I only ever agree to meet friends in the area during non-peak hours, and if it is peak hours, I suggest somewhere else.  

My friend who works for the Marines, and lives in Indonesia said he'd park way up in the neighborhood and walk into Five Points. (He’s a lifelong fan of El Indio’s Mexican food and it’s his first stop every time he comes home!) That’s pretty typical too.  The residents in the surrounding area have long complained that the overflow from Five Points impacts them negatively, affecting their own parking abilities.  I mean, how do they invite guests over when there’s not parking?

Long story short: parking is bad in Five Point.  Having safe bike lanes leading in and out of the area will mean local people will travel by bike, freeing up parking spaces.  And, business will increase because more people can get there.

If I were a business in Five Points, I would want the City to maximize parking by doing 90-degree head-in in the following areas:
  1. Chalmers (both sides, 2 blocks)
  2. California (as much as possible, both sides)
  3. Winder (both sides, 1 block)
  4. Columbia street at the top of Chalmers intersection
  5. I would also like to see head-in parking all the way along India to Glenwood on the east side.  This would calm traffic as it would narrow the lanes.   (And I would put a STOP sign here too, but that is for another post.)
  6. Beyond head-in parking opportunities, there is room for a 'striped parking island' on the corner of Winder and Columbia,that if done right could allow for 2-4 more cars.
  7. On the corner of Glenwood and India, there is a used car lot. Someone on the BID should find out if that is private or city land.  If it's City land, the BID should buy him out of his lease, and work with the city to get a parking lot built there.  (In my opinion.)
  8. Next to the Shell on India, before Upas, there is another empty lot that could be built out for parking.  Again, the local BID could work with the City to put something there.  If anything, the parking created could be simply for employees of the area who represent a huge amount of the required parking spaces
  9. I thought this one was smart, and it is not my idea; it actually came to me by way of an Urban Planner.  The area at the base of Washington on the north side, across the street from the Palomar Market parking lot to the east, there is a pump station for storm water.  There is a lot of very nasty invasive arundo growing here.  I think this area is a prime area for a parking lot also.  It would probably require an elevated metal structure over the pump station, or maybe we could just put in bioswales to capture storm water on India to eliminate the pump station, but it could easily fit 5-8 cars in this area.  I am not sure how cars would access it – perhaps through the Palomar lot, or perhaps a small road could be built off Washington, but again, it’s a great spot for employee parking in the area.
  10. Last, but not least, there are private businesses in the area who are not open for business on the weekends however could open up their lots to the public for parking. On the corner of SD Avenue and McKee, there is a lot with 30 spots, that could easily help with overflow from the Five Points area.

Overall, it would increase business right away.  In the long-run, due to growth, and density planning, parking spaces would end up filling up again, but maybe by then better public transport options would be in place?  The valet parking currently in place is working extremely well.  (One biz owner mentioned it had increased their business 20-25%!)

Obviously, the bike lanes will help too.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Support for bike lanes growing in Uptown.

We had a great turn-out in support of the Bike Project last night at the Uptown Planners meeting.  It was standing room only, with two extra rows of chairs to accommodate everyone.  

A few highlights:
  •           It was standing room only, and the crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of the bike project.
  •          The President of the Hillcrest BID said that if this project was going to happen, they wanted it to be a world-class project, with all the features and benefits other cities have; that we should be a model!
  •           A woman who’s a resident of Hillcrest, pointed out that DC and Denver where she’d previously lived had great bike lanes, making it safe and easy to get around.  She said San Diego needs to step up and act like the size city it is, meaning, we can’t act like we’re a little cow town anymore.  Bike lanes are what transform cities allowing for more growth, more density, and better livability.
  •          The Cashbah’s publicist was completely in favor of it, because she knows, there’ s no parking around them, so anything that offers new ways to bring customers to their events is good for business.
  •           A local resident and cyclist who commutes through Uptown brought up a few academic and business studies that show bikelanes bring more business to communities.  He also reminded everyone we have entered a new era, and that the old model of traditional car-centric community focus is over.  There’s simply no more room to plan around cars. 
  •           Another  local resident on the Mesa in Mission Hills, was in support of the project, but wanted to make sure Washington Street was safe; he said he and his wife would more likely walk down to Five Points more for dinner or drinks if it was safer.
  •          I spoke about making it a green project to help stop polluted water entering our creeks and bays; I also talked about the speedstudy which had audible gasps from audience members.  Clearly this project will bring much-needed calming to Washington.

All in all, over 20 people spoke, with only a few dissenters who mostly lamented the loss of potential parking. 

Those few dissenters made their points.

One guy said that cycling is for white people only.  I didn’t catch it entirely, so feel free to comment with what he actually said.  But the representative of Center City Advisory Group who has attended all of SANDAG’s bike project meetings cleared that up for the crowd and pointed out that studies show minorities often don’t have the extra funds to operate a car, and that biking allowed them to get to jobs. 

Another couple said that narrowing Washington Street canyon’s lanes might be challenging for ambulances.  Her point was that it might be harder for her to pull over.  I see what she’s saying, but frankly we pull over in traffic in crowded busy streets now, and yes, it’s hard to turn your steering wheel for sure.  BUT we do it. 

A manager of an apartment complex in Five Points read a letter from a resident saying that there is not enough parking now, and that any loss of parking will be even worse.  He’s right, but I think it’s also important to consider parking from the standpoint of availability vs. convenience.  Parking will still be available.  People may just need to walk further.  That is a hazard of density.

Another woman pointed out that some funds should be used for parking.  I wanted to explain it’s a bike project, not a parking project.  And, for the umpteenth time that parking will actually open up if people can get there via bicycle safely.

Five Points folks, (some of them Board members,) pointed out the loss of parking also; that if there was reduced parking, then their sales would be reduced, and sales taxes to the City would be less.  One person even considered some businesses might go out of business.  His fears are unfounded though –all studies point to increased business.  And Beth, the project manager from SANDAG has said she will get the parking in Five Points figured out. I trust her to keep her word.

One Board member pointed out that if we want an environment like New York City, which is known for density and biking, then we should all go live there.  This seemed slightly ridiculous.  From a literal standpoint it’s very disrespectful towards residents who value our community and want to see it grow and thrive to tell them to leave. Secondly, given that he sits on a land-use and planning board that is about to approve increased density all over Uptown…. I mean, can we arguably approve density without approving alternate modes of travel?  What exactly does he think parking will be like in a few years when density really hits?

What do you think?  Can we allow for increased density, but not allow for alternate modes of travel? Does density planning automatically mean alternate travel modes must be considered?  Or do we just keep approving density without considering alternate forms of transport?  I'm not an expert, so please enlighten me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Travel speeds on Washington Street reach 70 mph!

Washington Street is constantly busy, and 45% of drivers are traveling at speeds over the legal 45 mph.

Earlier this year, we were curious as to what actual speeds on Washington Street Canyon are.  We asked the City to do a speed test by putting those little speed tracks across the road.  The results were eye-opening.

I’ve posted the detailed Washington Street speed data on line so you can print it out to see it, but here are a few highlights:
  • 27,773 cars use the canyon on a daily basis in and out of our community. This was a staggering amount of vehicles.
  • The posted speed limit is 45mph.  The average speed was 55 mph.
  •  740 cars traveled at speeds of 60-69 mph.  This is equivalent of driving on the freeway!
  • And 28 cars traveled at more than 70 mph! 
  • Surprisingly, it made no difference to speeds whether people traveled uphill or downhill.
  • Travel during off-peak hours was much higher than expected; in fact the off-peak volumes were actually higher than regular travel times. 

Clearly speeds on Washington Street are too high, making it extremely unsafe to walk, bike, or park on the road, especially when it is so busy. I have had so many friends tell me they have tried to walk it but turn around because they were too afraid. A car driving within a few feet of you at 70 mph would do that!

Even though there is a sign posted to only cross at the crosswalk, I have watched families park at the bottom of Washington and India, and then try to get across the north side of it it to go to a restaurant.  They have to hop the median, which is fairly narrow at that point, but still, in flip-flops carrying a kid, it’s not easy.  If more than 750 vehicles are traveling over 60 mph, it’s just a matter of time before someone else is injured or even killed. 

I’ve been told that accidents are a regular occurrence at Washington and India as cars heading  west and then south onto India are regularly hit by speeding cars heading east at that intersection.  I’ve heard it happens every week. 

If we had trees planted in the median, narrower lanes as proposed by SANDAG’s bike project, and grade elevated bike lane and pedestrian path, it would slow cars down, and the road would be a much better connector between the mesa at the top, and the area of Five Points at the bottom.  More people would feel safe traveling it whether on foot, or by bike.

Monday, September 2, 2013

More bikes means more business.


Studies show that bike lanes not only improve livability for communities, but also increase business for retailers within that community.

For one, people who travel by bike are more likely to stop and patronize a business, because parking’s so easy.  A bike rider can always a place to lock up a bike, whether it’s a tree, or a rail or a fence. In the case of the Five Points area, bike access will increase business for all retailers, restaurants, and bars in the area.  Secondly,  as anyone who rides a bike knows - whether  it’s for commute, leisure, or exercise - stopping is often part of the goal.  Perhaps you need to do an errand while on your commute, or perhaps a place looks so inviting, stopping for a cold beer or a sandwich or a coffee, is exactly part of the whole point of traveling by bike.  The fact is, it’s simply easier to spend money when access is easier. 

I’ll say it again: there’s no parking in Five Points and most of Hillcrest now.  I’m sure we are going to squeeze out a few more spots if we work with the City to do head-in 90 degree angle parking in Five Points, but then what?  What will we do as we add more density to our communities?  Where exactly will all these additional cars park? Adding more parking when there is no space to put it is simply not an option.  The key is to act now, and embrace bike and pedestrian access to mitigate density impacts that are coming.

Here are some very good studies and articles that show bike access is great for business. 

 I particularly liked this one, because it shows how cities in Colorado used bike trails to lure tourists in non-skiing months.  Now we have pretty good weather year round in San Diego, but are we a cycling destination when getting around is so unsafe?  Probably not.  So bike lanes will likely give us one more reason for vacationers to come for a visit, and increase overall spending.