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Professionals work to complete San Diego's streets

For a street to be considered complete, bikes, cars, pedestrians, health and sustainability all need to be taken into account in the decision-making process -- but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

A group of professionals working to complete San Diego’s streets met recently for a roundtable discussion hosted by The Daily Transcript and sponsored by KTU+A Planning + Landscape Architecture.

“You’re integrating this idea of everyone in all of your decisions, and that’s what we need for our region,” said Kathleen Ferrier, policy manager at Circulate San Diego. “Whether you have some streets where cars will be more dominant, you’re still thinking about people walking and hiking. You’re still thinking about kids trying to get to school.”

Carol Dick, development services director for the city of Lemon Grove, discussed the extension of the city's main street promenade, which just finished the first phase of construction.

When considering different areas, Dick said, “The hierarchy of who you’re serving changes.”

“For our promenade it’s going to be pedestrians, bikes and then cars. Whereas on other streets it might be cars first, but you still need to make room for pedestrians and bicycles,” Dick said.

Creating a complete street addresses how space is allocated in public rights of way, but the definiton of what "complete" is may differ between people and neighborhoods.

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all [solution]. It’s not a complete street because a complete street to you will have a bike emphasis; a complete street to you might have a stormwater emphasis; a complete street to you might have kids walk to school,” said Howard M. Blackson III, president of the California chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism. "So you need different tools for south of [Insterstate] 8, because it’s a different pattern than you do for north of the 8. And then you need different tools for the timeframe for whenever that subdivision or development came out of the ground. So there is no one-size-fits-all, it’s a matter of context.”

David Schumacher, principal planner at San Diego Association of Governments, said he’s learned that people want choices -- and where children in the 1950s and '60s would choose to walk or bike, communities have to spend money to invent programs to get kids to do those same activities now.

“They’re frustrated by the inability to walk or bike or take transit -- not that they would do it for every single trip, but there’s a lot of occasions where they could bike or walk and parents are frustrated having to be chauffeurs all day,” Schumacher said. “That’s very frustrating and it takes away from the quality of life.”

Mike Singleton, principal at KTU+A, said the concept is about providing more options and not telling people they have to change their behavior.

The idea for a complete street isn’t new, but it has taken on different names over the years, Singleton said. In the past the concept has been referred to as multimodal or traffic calming.

Singleton recalled a project from the early 1980s when some of the first roundabouts were developed on Harbor Island and Shelter Island.

“That was an example of how you take urban design principles, planning principles, landscape architecture, and traffic and engineering, and transportation planning, and merge all of those things together,” Singleton said. “I’m not saying things have changed dramatically, but the conversation has been stepped up a lot and people who didn’t know anything about some of these topics are talking about them now.”

That conversation has been elevated by the success of projects near and far, building on the grassroots effort for political support.

“What we’re still working on is the middle -- those folks that tend to be in agencies that have been there for a long time," Singleton said. "They’ve always done something a certain way and there’s really no direct benefit to them that they see to stick their neck out and try something new.”

Those who fear change and who are risk averse need to be shown the benefits of the proposed change, said Michael Stepner, professor at the NewSchool of Architecture & Design.

Marco Sessa, senior vice president at Sudberry Properties, has been working on one such project in Mission Valley -- Civita. The project is in the infancy of its development phase even though it’s been more than a decade in the making, Sessa said, and the design has incorporated many of the complete street and complete community ideas discussed at the roundtable.

Scott Taylor, senior vice president at RBF Consulting, said public support will increase when there are more multi-objective elements built into a project, which also attracts more funding. He credits himself and Dawn Wilson, senior traffic engineer and project manager at Fehr & Peers, with coining the term “complete green streets.” This concept includes water supply, water quality enhancement and the integration of those elements into an aesthetic part of the street.

Wilson said that for years the level of service has been oriented toward automobiles and how big the streets would be, but the city has a movement to soften that and look at ways to integrate other modes of transportation.

“The city of San Diego is striping bike lanes all over the city, narrowing traffic lanes from where they used to be 12 feet to 10 feet to accommodate new buffered bike lanes,” Wilson said. “And SANDAG is looking at a complete streets policy for the region, which will help set the tone for the county, not just the city, and I think the city is building upon that.”

The state eliminated the requirement for level of service analysis through Senate Bill 743, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2013, Wilson said, who added that the city is already requiring SB 743 be taken into consideration during street planning.

According to the bill, its intent is to “more appropriately balance the needs of congestion management with statewide goals related to infill development, promotion of public health through active transportation, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Blackson said today's children understand sustainability and the need for multimodal complete streets, and that today's plans won’t keep up with what kids know and are taught in class.

“The culture has shifted and we need to go ahead and realize that the plans we’re making today need to catch up to them, not us,” Blackson said.

NewSchool's Stepner said the health of the community, not traffic or transportation, will be a driving force for change. Americans are increasingly less healthy and Stepner said it’s because we drive everywhere and have designed neighborhoods that aren’t walkable.

When asked which streets in the city of San Diego aren’t walkable, Stepner said “almost everywhere.”

In addition to the safety issues when crossing some of the city’s streets, Stepner said, “There are neighborhoods where there isn’t a reason to walk very far because there’s nothing to walk to.”

“You can walk anywhere if you have enough time. But if the quality of the walk is horrendous and the quality of the drive is better, you’ll take the drive," Blackson said. "Like in Sabre Springs -- there are sidewalks all over Sabre Springs, but you won’t see someone walking around the cul-de-sac all day because there’s nowhere to go and there’s nowhere to be.”

The concept of a complete street is just a component of a broader idea for a complete community.

“The idea of the complete street is also the idea that it’s integrated well into that neighborhood -- it’s a complete neighborhood, which makes it a complete community, which makes a complete city,” Singleton said. “And we all know when we see incomplete streets, we all know when we see incomplete communities, but knowing how to make them complete is still a very important part of the dialogue.”

Ferrier hopes to create a complete streets policy to “reinstate the city’s commitment to creating these kinds of neighborhoods and streets we’re talking about today and it would integrate that decision -making process in all departments.”

The roundtable participants voiced frustration over the disconnect between the different departments in the city. Sessa said projects have to go through 20 different jurisdictions or disciplines to get a street design approved, and if anything is different from the standard, there has to be a maintenance plan in place.

“And any single one of them can raise their hand and slow you down for six months or a year while you’re trying to design this and that adds to the cost,” Sessa said.

Andy Hamilton, board vice chair at Circulate San Diego and air quality specialist for the county of San Diego’s’ Air Pollution Control District, said the city of Charlotte, N.C., sets a good example by inviting people in the beginning of the process to discuss how they get to their destination within the proposed project.

“When you begin to ask those questions and you require in every decision that those questions be asked, which can only happen from the top down, then some solutions start coming out. All of us are extremely familiar with the solutions, it's just getting the questions asked in the first place so our ideas are brought in,” Hamilton said.


KTU+A's Michael Singleton on Landscape Architecture Month, Daily Transcript roundtable (video)

Complete streets and the role of the landscape architect (article)

Roundtable Participants

Howard M. Blackson III, President of California Chapter, Congress for New Urbanism

Carol Dick, Development Services Director, City of Lemon Grove

Kathleen Ferrier, Policy Manager, Circulate San Diego

Andy Hamilton, Board Vice Chair, Circulate San Diego

Dave Schumacher, Principal Planner, San Diego Association of Governments

Marco Sessa, Senior Vice President, Sudberry Properties

Mike Singleton, Principal, KTU+A Planning + Landscape Architecture (sponsor)

Michael Stepner, Professor, NewSchool of Architecture & Design

Scott Taylor, Senior Vice President, RBF Consulting

Dawn Wilson, Senior Traffic Engineer and Project Manager, Fehr & Peers

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User Response
1 UserComments
Jay Arnett 5:45pm April 28, 2014

How about we just pave some of them? They are a mess.

Sudberry Properties, Inc.

Company Website

5465 Morehouse Dr. Ste., 260
San Diego, CA 92121

Sudberry Properties, Inc. Executive(s):

Colton Sudberry

  • President

MArco Sessa

  • Director

Charles Todd

  • Chief Operating Officer

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