Councilmember Marti Emerald is asking mayor Kevin Faulconer and San Diego State president Elliot Hirshman to reject a proposal to widen sidewalks and install bike lanes instead of adding two new traffic lanes in front of the South Campus Plaza mixed-use development currently under construction on College Avenue at Lindo Paseo.
The District Nine representative sent a memo to Faulconer and Hirshman on February 4.
"I respectfully request that the City of San Diego Development Services Department deny the proposed mitigation by San Diego State University...," Emerald wrote.
"Specifically, I am requesting that the proposal to install bike lanes on College Avenue between Montezuma Road and I-8, and widen sidewalks adjacent to the project be denied.
"Please confirm in writing that the South Campus Plaza Project will not reduce the current number of lanes on College Avenue between Montezuma Road and I-8; and further, that the option to expand College Avenue to three lanes in each direction at a future date will not be compromised."
Emerald said abandonment of plans to add additional vehicular traffic lanes is incompatible with the community plan.
The South Campus Plaza will bring seven new multistory buildings to campus. The 18-acre development consists of 390 apartments to house 1632 students, two shopping malls, commercial space, a parking garage, and recreation areas for park use.
When studying the environmental impacts the project could bring to the area, San Diego State relied on the city's long-term circulation plan to alleviate traffic congestion by turning College Avenue into a six-lane roadway. Planners abandoned a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly alternative that would have widened the current four lanes and added 5- to 7-foot-wide bike lanes and a 13-foot sidewalk north of Montezuma to the pedestrian bridge.
Recently, however, San Diego State and the city's planning department resurrected the pedestrian-friendly plan.
After learning of the change, residents living near the university objected to the last-minute changes.
"[San Diego State University] did this without filing a supplemental [environmental impact report] or notifying anyone in the community of this plan change," residents of the College View Estates Association wrote to university and city leaders on December 2, 2014.
"The proposal to keep College Avenue four lanes is couched in the language of environmentalism, arguing that it will reduce emissions and encourage walking and bicycling. We believe it is more likely to increase emissions due to increased idle time in traffic back-ups. Drivers avoiding the College Avenue congestion will have to choose already congested streets, thus making traffic in the entire College Area much worse."
The College Area Community Council also opposes the pedestrian-friendly approach.
Cycling and transit advocates are onboard with the new changes. Paul Jamason, board member for Bike SD, rejects the notion that increased lanes for autos translate to decreased traffic. Exactly the opposite, he says.
"Endlessly widening roads does not fix the problem," Jamason says. "It only creates more traffic, which quickly fills the new lanes, and we end up with the same congestion. There's even a term for it: 'induced demand.' Wider roads are more dangerous for pedestrians and people on bikes.
"Providing more commuting options is a better solution. [San Diego State] already has a significant pedestrian and biking population, which could be even larger, but they lack safe infrastructure around the campus. This project would widen sidewalks and provide a bike lane for them."
Jamason says that in choosing bike paths over traffic lanes, the city will get closer to reaching bike-share and public-transit goals as part of the city's Climate Action Plan.
"How do we reach those goals if we continue to deny pedestrian and bike infrastructure projects like this one?"
Kathleen Ferrier, director of advocacy for Circulate San Diego, isn't stopping there.
"In addition to the bike lanes and wider sidewalks referenced for the project,” says Ferrier, “we would also like to see improvements made to the intersection of Montezuma Road and College Avenue, adjacent to the proposed project. This is an intersection with very high rates of people walking and biking. The city has multiple policies in place that would promote design elements to improve pedestrian safety at this intersection.
"From what we can see, these improvements are not proposed as part of the South Campus Plaza project. To continue the increased walkability proposed for the project by [San Diego State], improvements at this intersection are critical. We’d like to see these included in the proposal."
Update 2/24, 12:15 p.m.
Marti Emerald spokesperson Ralph Dimarucut sent the following statement: "Councilmember Emerald supports improved bike lanes, widening pedestrian friendly walkways, and landscaped medians throughout the College Area. However, she also understands the traffic concerns raised by the College Area Community Council (CACC) who voted to preserve the option of adding 3 lanes in each direction on College Ave. between Montezuma and I-8.
"She favors a plan that better meets the needs of everyone that will be impacted by the South Campus Plaza. She is continually meeting with stake holders on both sides to explore additional options that could lead to a better solution. Among other alternatives, she would like to consider the possibility of expanding bike lanes along Montezuma Road and into Montezuma Place to connect to the bike lanes on campus."