“If some affluent influential people in Talmadge want to live in a gated community,” says Noreen Green, “then they should move where there is one.”
Green and her husband Kevin have owned a home on 47th Street in Talmadge, a little south of Monroe Avenue, since 1999. Recently, they and other property owners have been fighting an attempt by the Kensington Talmadge Planning Group (KenTal) to close their street at Monroe Avenue. They see the effort as an attempt to wall off the more affluent section of Talmadge north of Monroe from their neighbors living between Monroe and El Cajon Boulevard, the southern border of Talmadge.
This summer, however, the City of San Diego’s Transportation Engineering Operations Division put a stop to the effort to close 47th. For now, at least. “But KenTal doesn’t give up easily,” says Noreen Green.
The planning group has argued that 47th must be closed to allow the North Park/Mid-City Bikeways Project to go through Talmadge on the south side of Monroe. The San Diego Association of Governments has been planning to build the bike lane from San Diego State University to downtown.
As early as the spring of 2013, SANDAG had introduced preliminary routes of the bike lane to affected planning groups, and KenTal, in subsequent meetings that year, narrowed its choices of the lane’s route to Monroe. At that time, the group had already been working to control traffic on Aldine Drive, where it leads down a steep slope in a northwesterly direction away from Monroe. The ways in which the bike lane and several Aldine fixes took shape coalesced at the intersection of Monroe and 47th Street.
KenTal has been grappling with the traffic issue for decades. Aldine Drive is a crucial commuter feeder leading to and from Fairmount Avenue, the main access for locals into and out of Mission Valley. But Aldine was not designed to handle the volume of traffic that currently uses it. According to the city’s traffic engineers, Aldine carries 18,000 average daily trips, far more than it was originally designed for. So KenTal decided it had better do something substantial to protect the safety of drivers and its own financial liability.
At first, KenTal wanted speed humps on Aldine and Monroe, covering short sections of both streets where they converge. But the fire department vetoed the plan. The planners then convinced the city to put in stop signs at Monroe and Aldine. But as KenTal board chairman David Moty would later write in a letter to mayor Kevin Faulconer, the signs “generated thousands of emails, horn honking, and a few near physical altercations between drivers.”
No accidents at 47th and Monroe
So it was back to the speed humps, and this time the fire department relented. An additional step was taken to forbid left turns at the intersections of both Aldine and Monroe and 47th and Monroe. The left from Monroe onto Aldine is virtually a hairpin turn. But Steve Tripp, a resident of west Talmadge, orchestrated an online petition signed by 50 of his neighbors to reverse the decision.
I find Tripp reluctant to meet for an interview for fear of crossing KenTal. Still, by phone, he maintains that drivers have clear views in both directions to make the left turn from Monroe in west Talmadge onto Aldine. KenTal’s decisions, he says, take no account of the interests of west Talmadge. And he raises a question. Why would the planning group choose one of the most crowded streets in San Diego on which to make a bike lane?
Tripp’s petition to the city ended up saving the turn onto Aldine for his neighbors. But no such luck for the residents of 47th Street, even though Noreen Green circulated a petition in her neighborhood much like Tripp’s and submitted it to the city in January 2014. The petition did not include signatories from several apartment buildings, the source of most of the heavy traffic on 47th.
As justification for the restriction at 47th, David Moty cites blind spots that could occur due to a “strategically parked” car on Monroe. He also notes numerous accidents that have occurred nearby. Although he does mention one accident he witnessed personally, his evidence is vague in regard to exactly where it and other accidents have taken place and over how long a time period. To corroborate his information, he referred me to Elvia Sandoval, who lives on Aldine Drive. Sandoval assures me she can document the many accidents. And she does email me a list of 11. However, not one of the accident descriptions indicates that it occurred at 47th and Monroe, while 2 others occurred as far away as Aldine and Fairmount and the rest on Aldine Drive or at Aldine and Monroe. This leads one to believe that those accidents resulted as much as, if not more, from cars joining Monroe at places other than south 47th Street, such as the right turns from Euclid Avenue or 47th north of Monroe.
“For 14 years we made the left from 47th at Monroe every day with no problems,” says Green. She disagrees with Moty that the visibility up and down Monroe from 47th is poor. And what irks her the most is that no prohibition was ever placed on left turns coming out of the Romeo and Julieta Wine Cafe parking lot on the southeast side of 47th and Monroe, only a few feet from the intersection that was denied the turn.
An end to police surveillance
In a project status report dated May 8, 2014, SANDAG stated that “the planning and conceptual design phase of the project is complete.” The bike lane would be installed on the south side of Monroe. But, says Green in a recent email, SANDAG “didn’t reach out to the Talmadge community at large until February 15 of this year,” referring to 1500 flyers left on Talmadge residents’ doors announcing a presentation of the plan to a meeting of the Kensington Talmadge Planning Group. “It looked like a pizza-delivery advertisement,” Green tells me. “Who reads those things? And the print was so small that at first we didn’t notice what it was talking about.”