At a planning-group meeting Monday night (December 5), City Heights residents gave mixed reviews of the city's revised plans for a stretch of El Cajon Boulevard.
Several City Heights Area Planning Committee members blasted the proposed route and its mixed uses, saying their town is being used as a conduit for communities at either end.
"It's for Hillcrest and SDSU, and we're just a corridor," said Kenton Finkbeiner. "It's really not meeting the needs of our community."
His colleague, Jim Varnadore agreed. "We've been somebody's passageway for too long," Varnadore said. "What we should be thinking about is safety that protects pedestrians, not what a few bicyclists want."
The plan would take away left turns to the south and parking along one side of El Cajon Boulevard between Highland Avenue and 50th Street in order to add bike lanes and a few pedestrian amenities.
Maria Cortez, a neighborhood advocate who lives on El Cajon Boulevard, didn't like that the bicycle lanes mean that businesses lose their parking.
"The bikes don't go on El Cajon [Boulevard]. The bikes aren't going to stop at markets on our street," Cortez said. "I would like to see some improvements but not by taking away parking."
Cortez urged the city to consider the SANDAG plans for bikeways on Meade Avenue, Orange Avenue, and on Howard (all are parallel to El Cajon) and not create redundant bikeways. But Randy Van Vleck from the City Heights Community Development Corporation said the nearby projects may not come through.
"Let's not rely too much on the SANDAG projects," Van Vleck said. "They're still up in the air; they are on the back burner." Van Vleck has been active in planning the SANDAG bike routes since at least 2011. He is also a member of BikeSD, a bicycling advocacy group. At least two of those projects are funded and, according to SANDAG, more than 30 percent of the way to finishing design and engineering. They expect to break ground in 2017.
Maureen Gardner, from the city's traffic engineering group, presented the three alternate plans for the stretch from Highland Avenue to 50th Street. A review of dangerous intersections by the city auditor released in September found that there had been at least 33 crashes involving pedestrians in that half-mile stretch of El Cajon Boulevard from 2001 to 2015. At least 33 people were injured and one pedestrian was killed. The area includes the Little Saigon district and proposed plans incorporated a design to create a gateway feel, with features that reflect the area.
The original 14 versions of the plans to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, culled from workshops between April and October, were winnowed down to 3 plans that can be found online.
"In order to provide bicycle lanes, parking has to be removed on one side of the street," Gardner explained. "We heard a lot of pushback on the loss of parking...." One version of the plan eliminates southbound left turns to cross-streets, alleys, and driveways from El Cajon.
"It's an inconvenience but it really enhances safety," Gardner said. The plan eliminates 57 percent of conflicts between cars, walkers, and bikes, she said. (A pedestrian collision study by Chen Ryan Mobility analysts found that such turns were the key factor in at least 38 percent of crashes where the driver was at fault.)
Before they started drawing plans, city engineers studied the street. They looked at speeds and car trips, did parking surveys at three different times of day, talked to business owners and residents. They looked at car crashes and crosswalks. There wasn't an official working group, Gardner said.
"The folks who were most vocal contacted us and we met with them three or four times, sort of an ad hoc committee," she explained. Several planning group members said they didn't like how the process went because they weren't notified.
"This is the first time I'm seeing this," said planning group chairwoman Patty Vaccariello.
Planning committee member Krista Berry agreed.
"If I wasn't able to participate, I wonder how many other people weren't able to participate," Berry said. "In these types of projects, you need to find a balance, but I think if we have better bike safety, more people would ride."