By Joel A. Harrison
Photo: Swedish bike lane, creative commons
February 18, 2019 (San Diego) -- While the following editorial uses my neighborhood as an example, other cities in San Diego County face similar housing problems and the currently proposed one for the city of San Diego will NOT solve them.
My family has been in North Park since 1936. My mother graduated from Hoover High, class of 1941. Currently there are 17 two-story apartments and seven houses on my block. At 5 a.m. every morning I walk my dog about a mile, where I often count between 25 and 30 cars parked at the North Park public library. Sometimes I don’t see a single empty space within several blocks. If not for the library, where would they park? And now the push is to build multiple story apartments with NO parking space requirement. So, let’s look at the issues:
- Riding the bus. Many living in my neighborhood work in areas where buses don’t go or they would have to transfer, perhaps several times, resulting in twice to three times the commute time. During rush hours, usually standing on a crowded bus.
- Let’s assume that people were willing to take the bus. I shop at Costco down in Mission Valley. Even if a bus could take me there, how would I carry things home? I like to visit the Wild Animal Park, Mt Palomar, etc. My primary care physician of almost 20 years is now in Rancho San Diego. If buses even go there. It would take transfers, and a long commute time for a 15 minute visit. In other words, even if people used public transit for work, many individuals and families would still need one car.
- I lived and studied in Gothenburg, Sweden for a number of years where I bicycled year-round, except if there was ice on the streets. There were bicycle lanes throughout the city. On some streets, there was the sidewalk, then bicycle lane, then high curb with car parking. On one-way streets a two-way bike lane was next to the sidewalk on the left side and car parking only on the right side. And wide streets had a park-like center with a pedestrian path and two-way bike path. When bicyclists or pedestrians pushed the button at intersections, the light changed. Sweden spends about 7% of GDP on infrastructure as opposed to US about 3%. So, the streets and bicycle paths were in excellent condition despite extremes of weather. And the traffic lights functioned to support pedestrians and bicyclists. On side streets and residential areas, though no separate bicycle paths, the streets were well-maintained and lighted. At key points on bus and streetcar routes were places to lock one’s bike.
- I live two miles from the Copley YMCA where I go daily to work out. I would love to be able to bike there; but dare not. I would have to watch for opening car doors, cars pulling out, cracks and potholes, and cars pulling into lane to park or turn at intersection. I also shop weekly at Trader Joe’s in Hillcrest. Though in my 70s, I could easily manage the hills to bike the two miles; but wouldn’t dare. The City did some street repair, including a designated bike lane, sandwiched between parked cars and traffic. For that section they could have easily put the bike lane where cars park, a high curb, and then the street; but they didn’t. In addition, before getting to Hillcrest, I would have to bike on University Ave or some side street with little protection from traffic and cracked streets. San Diego has paid out millions of dollars for bicyclist injured on our poorly maintained streets. I don’t intend to be one of them!
- San Diego has developed along with the car. Swedish cities and American cities on the East Coast are more compact. Yet, in Sweden, though many bike and/or use public transit, they also own cars for weekend shopping and outings to countryside.
- North Park is already a dense urban environment, small stores, homes, condos, apartments, and many senior citizens; yet, no post office and the public library is long overdue to be replaced. If a packet can’t be delivered to my home, it has to be picked up in Mission Valley where previously only a short walk to the Post Office was required. With so many apartments and tenants who come and go, there is little sense of community compared to years ago. And as mentioned above, not enough parking for tenants, let alone for visitors.
People will continue to move to San Diego, so we need more housing, so what are the options?
- Distribute permits for apartments, including minimum required parking spaces, throughout the city, not just within blocks of mass transit. Also require they meet energy efficiency standards with solar panels on roof and available outlets for electric cars. Start with issuing for streets where there are currently no apartment complexes, two permits for each side of the street. As explained above, the current proposed plan won’t work and will just turn some neighborhoods into urban slums.
- During rush hours, add small vans to the city bus system that go to these neighborhoods, allowing people to connect to bus lines.
- Develop Swedish-type bicycle lanes where possible. Prioritize these streets first for repairs. If the city wants to increase bicycling and walking, create the infrastructure first.
- If possible, find land 20 - 30 miles from city. Build modern complexes of quality apartments with reasonable rents for, say, 30,000 people with parking spaces, public parks, recreational facilities, including swimming pool, supermarket, hair salon, outpatient health center, solar powered & possibly wind turbines, and include Express Buses that go to five or more areas based on where large number of people work (with connecting buses), encourage people who work in these areas to move there. Subsidize the costs of the buses and make sure they run even in off peak hours so those needing to get to work early or stay late still can easily get to and from home.
San Diego has a long history, as documented in UCSD Professor Steven Erie’s book “Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failures in San Diego”, where city hall has benefitted developers at the expense of the rest of us (watch UCSD presentation at: https://www.ucsd.tv/search-details.aspx?showID=22932 ). It’s time to stop. My neighborhood is already overcrowded. If multistory buildings without parking are allowed, it will become a nightmare. If I were younger, I would move. Though the weather is nice, I’ve lived in cold and snow and would survive. San Diego is certainly NOT American’s Finest City and is definitely on a downward spiral. Broken sidewalks, potholed streets, inadequately lighted streets, wall to wall traffic, and it will only get worse.
People are coming here in order to improve their quality of life; but as more and more arrive, the quality of life will get progressively worse, especially if the city continues its current course. While one cannot stop people from coming, City Hall could develop a plan that, at least, attempts to lessen the reduction in quality of life by distributing growth evenly and fairly, building an infrastructure of safe bicycle paths, vans that connect to bus lines, and not by completely destroying a few communities.
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH is a retired epidemiologist who has been writing articles over the past years supporting vaccinations for Every Child By Two, an excellent non-profit founded in 1991. Every Child By Two has changed to Vaccinate Your Family, expanding its mission to include vaccines for people of all ages. You can find Executive Summaries of his previous ECBT articles that hyperlink to the complete articles as well as his brief biography on the archived ECBT Expert Commentaries page. Dr. Harrison has studied and worked in several countries, including Sweden (where he earned his doctorate) and Canada (where he earned a Master’s degree). Having experienced both the Swedish socialized health care system and the Canadian non-profit single-payer system, over the past 30 years he has devoted considerable time to studying health economics and health care systems, concluding that, though the Swedish system is excellent, given American culture, he believes that a non-profit single payer system would be best option for the United States (see his article “The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System”. Dr. Harrison is a long-time member of Physicians for a National Health Program.
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