Posted by: cantmisssd | November 17, 2010

Oh, Hillcrest

Can we all agree that University between 1st and 10th Avenue is a complete disaster? Can’t drive it. Can’t turn left. Can’t walk it, sidewalk’s too narrow and gross and it’s dangerous crossing the street. Can’t bike it, it’s too narrow and you’ll get hit. Can barely bus it, makes every stop for no reason that isn’t people-are-lazy and buses get caught in the gridlock they help create. Plus, there’s a fire station and a hospital, so emergency vehicles both make it worse AND are slower to respond because of it.

The other choice is getting stuck at the Robinson/163 bottleneck at the 4-way stop that, for 5 hours a day, can’t handle the volume out of West Hillcrest, off of 163 North, and along 10th Ave’s 163 entrance ramp and traffic release from the Ralph’s/Trader Joe’s lot. God help you if you’re trying to bike or walk through there too- the sidewalks are more narrow, there’s no room for cars to pass bikes, you have to cross 163 ramps, and drivers are already overmatched by the other cars at a stop sign, they can’t pay attention to pedestrians and bikers also.

It’s encouraging that SANDAG’s 2050 plans mostly include better public transportation for University Ave, but that’s going to take a while yet. As great as it is that Todd Gloria keeps finding private parking lots willing to rent out at night, this isn’t a solution. It’s further painful evidence that for all the strides of Hillcrest, it’s still effectively an island reachable and navigable only by car. If it’s ever going to be a neighborhood that operates in public space, at some point aggressive action needs to happen to mitigate the traffic.

Right now, it’s functionally little more than an overcrowded shopping district. There are limited options, in part because the Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Ralphs are insane overload for the space and because so many fronts go right up to the street. But there’s room on the north side of University between 6th and 9th to eat into the parking lots in set-back developments, creating any/all of the following: a left turn lane, a meaningful bike/bus lane, seriously walkable sidewalks.

Nobody’ll like it because it reduces parking capacity, but a functional community can’t be centered around parking forever. Without significant changes, Hillcrest is topped out- density has filled in but many of the storefronts keep changing over because of accessibility issues in a tough economy. It’s already a tough job to keep track of all the openings and closings along University. And if the Hillcrest street car actually happens at some point, a lot of this will have to happen anyhow, but you can’t just drop the street car into the middle of a mess and expect things to be fixed. More mass transit means the streets have to be more functional for walkers and bikers because more people will be arriving that way. Since the general rule of thumb is that mass transit doesn’t reduce traffic, just increases capacity, the gridlock will continue.

As the in-fighting over who gets parking money carries on though, I won’t hold my breath.

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