Neighborhood organizers concerned about the Mobility Plan
By Dave Fidlin
It has been touted as the next step toward making Downtown San Diego a community that is truly friendly toward bicyclists and pedestrians.
But it also has drawn ire from other civic and community organizations because of its impact on parking spaces.
Officials within Civic San Diego — the city-owned nonprofit corporation that oversees such issues as long-range planning — began crafting the Downtown Mobility Plan two years ago. In the time since, there have been a number of moving pieces.
A revised, 100-page document was unveiled and approved by CivicSD’s board on Wednesday, March 23. It includes a decade-long timeline before all components are in place.
In its entirety, the plan could cost upward of $64 million if all of the components are implemented. Accommodations aimed at enhancing bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ experiences stretch across 9.3 miles. The plan also includes 5.5 miles of pedestrian greenways, or naturally designed trails.
The Downtown Mobility Plan impacts a number of neighborhoods, including Cortez Hill, East Village, Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy and the Marina District. It also extends into portions of nearby Bankers Hill and Barrio Logan.
Several neighborhood organizations have gone on record and opposed portions of the plan. Two of Little Italy’s most prominent organizations — the Little Italy Association (LIA), which advocates for area businesses, and the Little Italy Residents Association (LIRA) — have been especially vocal about how the plan in its current form would impact parking spaces within the community.
The heart of the controversy, from the eyes of organizers within LIA and LIRA, is along portions of Ash, Beech and State streets, where 50 or more parking spaces could be eaten up to accommodate bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly features.
For a community with a progressively growing residential base, that net loss is a concern to LIRA President Anne MacMillan Eichman.
“For our little community, this is a big deal,” Eichman said. “We’ve made concessions before, but we’re digging our heels in on this one.”
Luke Vinci, a LIA board member, echoed similar concerns. Speaking to the loss of 50 parking spots, he said, “It might not seem like much, but it does to the residents who live here.”
The groups’ concerns do not stop with the impact on residents. Both organizations have frequently asserted CivicSD’s plan in its current form could adversely affect two of the most venerable institutions within the neighborhood: Our Lady of the Rosary Church, 1629 Columbia St., and Washington Elementary School, at 1789 State St.
“Our Lady is known to have a number of events throughout the year, including funeral processions, and we’re concerned about senior citizens’ safety,” Vinci said. “Washington School has 500 kids on a weekly basis, 70 percent of the year.”
Eichman and Vinci have each taken aim at the process of assembling the Downtown Mobility Plan document. But Brad Richter, CivicSD’s assistant vice president of planning, said that process was not done in a vacuum.
“We’ve done public outreach and we’ve shared details on our website,” Richter said. “We looked at every street Downtown and we’ve accepted input from residents and business owners.”
Richter concedes there are a number of complexities to the project and trying to appease everyone’s interests throughout the coverage area is a difficult, if not impossible, task.
“Nothing is perfect, but we have come up with a good network,” Richter said. “It’s been planned in a safe and balanced way.”
Not all organizations are opposed to the Downtown Mobility Plan.
Immediately after CivicSD’s board approved the document, members of the San Diego Bike Coalition went on record in support of the decision.
“Our city needs a long-term solution to address the predicted 90,000 people living and 165,000 working in Downtown San Diego by the year 2030,” said Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the Bike Coalition, in a statement. “This plan ensures we address the projected density and plan for a vibrant Downtown that gives the people safe transportation options to increase mobility, reduce pollution and keep San Diego the great city it is.”
Eichman and Vinci each emphasized they are not opposed to bike- and pedestrian-friendly accommodations and have supported other initiatives CivicSD has spearheaded in the past.
“We want this mobility plan to be a success,” Eichman said. “But there has to be more of a sense of synergy. We have to try and find that common ground.”
Richter said he and other officials within CivicSD are open to continuing dialogue with Little Italy resident and business groups and those in any other Downtown neighborhood.
“We’re going to try and continue working with everyone to see where we can try and maximize parking,” Richter said.
With the CivicSD board having signed off on the Downtown Mobility Plan, the document is now scheduled to go through several channels at City Hall. The Planning Commission is slated to comb through the document at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 14.
At least one other panel, the city’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee, is also slated to weigh in on the plan before it goes before the full City Council in May.
For more details on CivicSD’s Downtown Mobility Plan, visit downtownsdmobility.com.
—Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org