Although it's not yet funded, project managers for the planned trolley station at Balboa Avenue (just east of I-5) have started gathering information for what people want to see there — what will compel them to use the trolley and what will make using mass transit more inviting. An ad hoc committee of Clairemont and Pacific Beach residents came together Wednesday night (February 1) to give their ideas on what the station should offer.
While the San Diego Association of Governments (Sandag) and city representatives were thinking more about amenities for the station — electric car chargers and bike lockers — community members spoke more about the big picture: how both neighborhoods could get to the station and how trolley riders could reach their destinations after they got to the station.
"We need to work on that last mile," said Brian Curry, chairman of the Pacific Beach Planning Group. "It's not enough to get a mile away from your destination — people who are heading to the beach have a long way to go from the trolley station."
Awkwardly placed because it's being retrofitted into an area built more than 60 years ago, the proposed trolley station is going in on a triangular piece of Caltrans land south of Balboa and east of I-5. To go to Pacific Beach, riders have to cross the freeway somewhere and many weren't crazy about using Balboa Avenue. To get to Clairemont, riders have to climb the long, big hill eastbound. There are bus routes that will stop at the trolley, according to preliminary sketches.
Sandag representatives also talked about the possibility of on-demand shuttle service from the trolley, though it wasn't clear who would pay for and operate it.
“It's very dangerous to get from there over to De Anza Cove," one planning group member said.
"Clairemont doesn't have good access to this," said George Henderson of the Clairemont Planning Group. "None of our pedestrians can walk to the station on sidewalks because they don't exist."
At present, there's no controlled and safe way to cross Balboa/Garnet to the north side, but Sandag expects to put in pedestrian crosswalks with traffic signals, according to Miriam Kirschner, Sandag's project manager for the station. The meeting format was supposed to be people placing stick-on dots on their preferred options shown on poster boards around the room. But conversation and suggestions went long — and some people wanted answers rather than stick-ons.
"The community has been providing feedback for years — I have provided feedback I don't see reflected in what you're showing us today," said Karin Zirk, a member of Friends of Rose Canyon. "So I'm wondering why we're here starting from scratch."
"Just keep coming and giving us your feedback," said a representative from the design and construction firm working with Sandag. The group has indeed been commenting on the problems it sees with the Balboa station as far back as 2013, when it commented that "The currently proposed trolley station to server residents and visitors of Pacific Beach not only fails to address how non-motorized travelers can reach the beach from the proposed Balboa Avenue trolley station, it worsens travel times for vehicular travel."
But Billy Paul, a Clairemont neighborhood activist and sometime planning-group member, praised Sandag's current efforts: "I was part of the group that stopped the trolley before," he said, noting the plan has been around since 1995. "Now we're doing this the right way, with the community involved."
A representative from Mesa Community College said he was disappointed that the college was left out of the trolley plans: "There's a mini-city in Linda Vista called Mesa College — it's the largest [commuter] college in California," he said. "We have 16,000 people who go there and we can't get them to the trolley. I think we need to figure out how we can use this funding better," he added.
Connections to Pacific Beach will involve either going over or under the I-5, and nothing has yet been decided, Kirschner said. But residents pointed out that getting to North Morena Boulevard had also not been figured into the plans. While there was plenty of information about sites and some about existing mass-transit connections, Zirk said a key piece of information wasn't included.
"You don't show travel times here and for most people that's the deciding factor," Kirschner said. "How convenient is it for people to get where they're going? — that's the most important question."