Will these improvements be included in San Diego’s FY’17 budget?
By Anastasia Brewster / City Heights Community Development Corporation
[Originally posted November 7, 2015]
In October of 2015, fifteen-year-old Crawford student Jonathan Cortez was tragically killed in a hit and run crash on 54th Street just south of Lea Street, where I live with my young family. The news that a teenager died along the same route where I regularly bike with my 7- and 9-year olds to their school hit too close to home, eliciting a parent’s worst fear. My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends who survive Jonathan.
In response to this tragedy, students and friends demonstrated at the scene of the fatal crash for weeks, holding a vigil and calling for the multiple motorists involved in the hit and run to come forward. One driver turned himself in while other drivers who hit Jonathan have not done so. The police investigation continues to try to find more information.
Local residents have long been concerned with the safety of this section of 54th Street. Vehicle crashes regularly occur at the intersection of 54th Street and University Ave, and the free right turns at this intersection expose pedestrians to unnecessary risk when crossing the street. The bike lanes along 54th Street are not continuous, and in fact none exist where Jonathan was hit, nor do sidewalks. These deficits create an unsafe environment – they limit our viable choices on how we move through our community.
One death is too many. That’s why our Active Transportation program here at City Heights CDC (CHCDC) is actively supporting several public investments to significantly increase the safety and health of the area immediately around the crash site:
- Randy Van Vleck, CHCDC’s Active Transportation Manager, reached out to the City of San Diego Street Engineering department shortly after the crash and found a possible near-term solution to extend the planned resurfacing of 54th Street to include from Chollas Parkway to University Ave, which presents an opportunity to re-stripe this portion of roadway to include a bike lane where one didn’t exist before and to assess solutions that could calm traffic speeds, which would improve safety for all people. Engineers are assessing the whether the street can accommodate the bike lane and will know more next week. We praise this kind of nimble response by City staff.
- The City Council approved a community plan amendment to the Chollas Triangle Master Plan in June that includes a redevelopment plan for the land from the southeast corner of University Ave & 54th Street land to Chollas Creek.
- Included in this plan, in accordance with the University Avenue Mobility Study’s recommendation, is the elimination of the free right turns at University Ave and 54th Street to increase safety, especially for pedestrians and cyclists. Due to the advocacy of the City Heights Built Environment Team, a protected intersection is included in preliminary design for the North Park-Mid City Bikeway, a portion of SANDAG’s regional bike plan funded by the TransNet Early Action Plan. City Heights CDC and the local resident Built Environment Team have been actively engaged in shaping the NP-MC Bikeway for the past two years and see it as a crucial link to transit and healthy food outlets.
- While much of the development outlined in the plan will depend on market forces to create high density housing over street-level retail, it also calls for the closure of Chollas Parkway to allow for a 5-acre creekside park. This park will help address the severe local park deficit, providing active and passive fields, restored riparian habitat, and a wide multi-use path to enhance neighborhood connectivity. City Heights CDC is advocating for the City to commit full funding for the Chollas Creek Park in the 2016-2017 budget.
- City Councilmember Marti Emerald has expressed support for funding the implementation of the Chollas Creek Master Plan in the 2016-2017 City budget and reached out to City Traffic Engineers to support near-term safety improvements.
- And finally, just this month [November 2015], UrbanCorps won a nearly $1 million state Active Transportation Program grant to construct a multi-use trail along the Oak Park branch of Chollas Creek from New Roots Farm on 54th Street to Sunshine Park on Federal Boulevard, which will increase active transportation options, improve neighborhood connectivity and enhance the creek as a community amenity.
As a resident, my work here in CHCDC’s Active Transportation program affects my immediate environment and people I love. Though I didn’t know Jonathan, I have friends and neighbors who did. I bike that same corridor. Let’s work together to demand street design that prevents future fatalities.
Our mission as a community development organization is to work with residents to identify and support these kinds of necessary improvements. We are organizing working groups that will continue to urge the City and SANDAG to design and implement solutions that foster safety, health, and connectivity for all users, however you move through our community. Contact me directly if you want to join our efforts at email@example.com (619) 961-1057.
Anastasia Brewster is Active Transportation Coordinator at the City Heights Community Development Corporation and a Chollas Creek neighborhood resident.