Some Market Thoughts on Short-Term Rentals in San Diego

The topic of short-term rentals in San Diego continues to be debated and potential rules / changes to rules will be a hot topic in 2016.  After ending 2015 with a well attended Planning Commission meeting in December it looks like the next official meeting / hearing will be in late February or March at the City Council.  It is sure to be a long hearing, with hundreds of San Diegans attending and providing commentary both for and against short-term accommodations in San Diego neighborhoods.

In the meantime, I wanted to jot down some thoughts about short-term rentals in San Diego from a market economy perspective, which follow.

Serving unmet demand – Short-term rentals in San Diego (and many places globally) have grown briskly in the past 5 years.  Airbnb was founded in August 2008 and is the largest short-term rental platform today although it was preceeded by Craigslist, Vacation Rental by Owner, and many other “more traditional” short-term rental uses like bed and breakfasts, room-letting, and others.  Today Airbnb has more than 2 million listings worldwide in more than 190 countries and 34,000 cities.  On New Year’s Eve 2015 the site was expected to host more than 1 million guests in a single night, up from 550,000 a year previous – nearly 100% growth in a year.

In San Diego the total number of short-term rental units in the city was estimated at 6,116 in a National University System Institute for Policy Research (NUSIPR) study released in October 2015.  This report was paid for by Airbnb and the San Diego Vacation Rental Managers Alliance which has lead some to believe it is biased. (The Union-Tribune article linked to states that the Short-Term Rental Alliance of San Diego (STRASD) paid for the study as well – I am part of STRASD and our organization paid for a not a cent of the study, just to clarify.)  With vested parties paying for the study this may be true although NUSIPR does studies on a number of topics in San Diego and is a credible research organiation.  Regardless of intent or paying party, this study remains the most comprehensive, and I believe only, one on the subject in San Diego.

In the study a few figures stick out:

  • Hotels have increased their occupancy rate and nightly room rate consistently over the past 5 years despite the growth in short-term rentals.  Occupancy increased from 68.4% in 2010 to 76.7% in 2015. Over the same period revenue per available room, a figure that measures both occupancy rates and average room rates, increased from $84.72 in 2010 to $103.52 in 2014.  It would seem short-term rentals are not hurting hotel business and are a complementary offering, at least to date.

    airbnb - hotel rates in sd
    Image from NUSIPR study, click for link.
  • Total short-term rentals now comprise a maximum of approx. 1.1% of total housing stock in San Diego.  This is based on a total of 6,116 short-term rentals per the NUSIPR study and a total housing stock of 518,300 per the American Community Survey 5-year estimate (2010-2014) for housing information, Table DP04.  This estimate treats all short-term rentals as whole unit rentals although many are a room in a unit or the use of a primary home on a part-time basis.  I’ m using the total number to be conservative and over-estimate the total impact on housing stock.  6,000 units is not a small number, although it is much smaller than the number of vacant units in San Diego.  Per the same ACS study there are 39,221 vacant units in San Diego – approx. 1.6% of homeowner occupied units and 4.2% of rental units.  A similar question could be posed regarding vacation homes or second homes owned in San Diego, I do not know the figure for such property holdings here.
  • Short-term rentals are blunting the ability of hotels to increase room rates during high-demand special events.  The Economist recently wrote about the impact of increased short-term rental supply around large special events like the Olympics or the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting.  Traditionally, hotels have been able to greatly increase rates during high-demand events but more recently the higher prices have incentivized property owners to add to the existing short-term rental stock.  In San Diego this can be seen in the increase of short-term rentals around Comic-Con.  Interestingly, as reported by Voice of San Diego, “It turns out getting Comic-Con to stay in town for 2017 and 2018 is more about discounted hotel rooms than the size of San Diego’s Convention Center.”  Spending millions of dollars to expand or renovate the Convention Center gets much press and attention when perhaps we could secure the future of Comic-Con by simply encouraging local homeowners to house attendees or take a full paid vacation to Hawaii for the weekend.
An Airbnb listing in Barrio Logan.
An Airbnb listing in Barrio Logan.
  • Short-term rentals keep more money in local pockets. Per the same Economist article, “more room rentals should also mean that more money flows directly to residents every time small cities stage a tourist-magnet event. (Airbnb passes on around 85% of guests’ total payments to hosts, whereas hotels spend just 30-35% on labour.)”  The NUSIPR study put the total rental revenue to property owners at $110M and the total economic impact, including government tax receipts, restaurant spending, etc. at $285M.  If spread evenly across the total number of short-term rentals that means an economic impact of $46,599 per short-term rental property in San Diego, with $17,985 going to the property owner in direct rental payments.
  • San Diego is an expensive place to live. This is due to many factors and not a new phenomenon.  For example, in the Morena Boulevard area a recent plan to add units (read: increase population density in a manner consistent with housing patterns in an urban portion of a major city rather than suburban land use) would have added 4,800 units to a blighted area near I-5.  It was widely panned by local residents and scrapped.  San Diego does not have to build more housing at all, but if we do not it is not logical or reasonable to think that housing prices will not increase.  San Diego is a very desirable place to live and priced at a discount to other California hubs like San Francisco.  Static housing stock and increased demand and/or population will yield increasing housing prices and rent costs.  Short-term rentals with a total of 6,116 units in the city pale in comparison to the anti-build / anti-growth / anti-height / anti-density sentiment common in many areas of the city.
  • Relative to income levels, the costs of rent in San Diego have fluctuated both up and down in recent years.  Per an October 2015 article in the Union-Tribune 55% of San Diego renters are “cost-burdened”, spending a third or more of income on rent.  As shown in the image below, this ratio is about the same as in 2007 – before Airbnb existed and prior to the rapid growth in the number of short-term rentals. The ratio has been both higher and lower than the 2015 figure in recent years.  Interesting sidenote from the article: “In Miami, 66 percent of residents are paying a third or more on rent. In Detroit, because of low incomes, more than 65 percent of renters are cost-burdened”.  Both low income levels and high housing prices can result in a high percentage of income going to rent.
    Data and image from Union-Tribune (click for full article)
    Data and image from Union-Tribune (click for full article)

    There is a finite demand for short-term rentals.  Although short-term rentals are not new in San Diego and have existed for many decades in some areas of the city – particularly beach areas like Mission Beach – the recent growth has been fueled by new techonology and trends.  Ubiquitous smart phones, social media and the internet connecting the world market, and increasing global travel are all major causes.  At the onset of a new trend growth can be explosive but will decline over time.  At some point the supply will meet, or exceed, demand.  It is hard to predict what the total demand for short-term rentals is.  Per the NUSIPR study, short-term rental room nights totaled 456,000 in 2014-15 compared to 11,300,000 total room nights for hotels and motels.  Short-term rentals were an estimated 4% of the hotel total night stays.  Perhaps this ratio could reach 10%, maybe even 25% – it’s hard to predict but seems unlikely that short-term rentals would entirely replace hotels, or even rise to an equivalent level.  My best estimate is we are relatively close to meeting demand – 5% or perhaps 10% of total hotel nights would be my estimate.  This is based on discussions with other short-term rental owners / hosts and I have not found a study or formal estimate of this.  Especially over the past few months I’ve spoken to many hosts / owners that have seen a large drop in occupancy and/or reduced nightly rates.  This is partly due to the slower winter season but likely also due to increased competition as the number of short-term rental units have increased.  Given the low vacancy rate and rising rent levels for rental units in San Diego and the reduced labor hours, taxes, and hassle to operate a long-term rental vs. a short-term rental I would not be surprised to see some short-term rentals being converted to long-term rentals.  It may not be a trend today, but whenever the demand is met (or approached) each unit entering the short-term rental pool will reduce the revenue per unit for the short-term rental market.

The future for short-term rentals in San Diego is cloudy and could go any number of ways – we’ll have to wait and see.  To date, short-term rentals have provided a meaningful economic opportunity for many property owners in San Diego.  For the reasons above and many others, I hope to see this opportunity continued.

At the same time, non-economic factors remain important and seem the cause of the bulk of the disagreements between those supporting and opposing short-term rentals.  The OB Rag has written most about this topic and I think best presents the major issue dividing people – that of community character.  Community character is hard to define and it is difficult to measure social impacts or make comparative examples.  That doesn’t make it unimportant – the “feel”, personality, or culture of a place is often the most enduring and compelling attribute it can possess.  I’m sure that qualitative factors will continue to play an important role and I hope the prominent one.  Economically and quantitively I see short-term rentals as very much to the good of individuals (hosts and guests / owners and customers) and the region at large.  The impact of short-term rentals on our communities is less clear and should be well considered.

Temescal Creek – 374 Acres Of Beautiful San Diego Back Country

I was very happy to be included in an invitation to view and explore a new acquisition by the San Diego River Park Foundation just outside of Julian, California on Saturday, December 5.  Below are a number of photos of the 374 acres that the Foundation is in the process of buying from the current owners.  This acreage surrounds Temescal Creek, a coldwater creek that is part of the San Diego River watershed.  This acquisition will ensure the land is preserved for future generations and remains a wildlife corridor preserve for mountain lions, deer, turkey, hawks, and many other animals.  Executive Director Rob Hutsel noted that the vision is for this space to be open to the public and to host youth for overnight trips to explore and participate in science-focused lessons in nature.

Each September I organize a weekend bicycle ride, Ride For The River Park, from Ocean Beach to Julian and back to promote and support the idea of a continuous path for the entirety of the San Diego River.  2016 will be the 5th year for the event and if you’d like to join we’d love to have you.  My goal is to see this path be a reality by the 10th year of the event – by September of 2021.  The idea and the work is not mine, it is that of the River Park Foundation, I simply want to support and spur on the work they are doing.  At the event on Saturday, a mile marker post was debuted showing the start / end of the San Diego River Trail.  What a beautiful sight to see.

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Much work to be done, but a goal to strive towards.

In the same vein of supporting the vision of a full River Trail, 2015 is the first year for which I am donating 1% of my Airbnb income to charitable causes.  For this year that money is going to the San Diego River Park Foundation.  I got the idea from the 1% For the Planet movement, in which “Members donate at least 1% of sales to nonprofit partners we’ve vetted for participation in the 1% for the Planet network.”  I’m just a single person so after further research it doesn’t seem the 1% For the Planet program is a good fit for my giving.

Instead, I’m working with Airbnb for a roll-out to San Diego of their Charity Donation Tool which currently allows hosts in Portland to opt-in to donate a portion of their revenue to a local charity.  I’m hopeful that this will soon be an option for hosts in San Diego to automatically and regularly support great local charities like the River Park Foundation.  If you’re a host in San Diego and would like to help make this a reality please contact me.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll consider a voluntarily donation to the charity of your choice from your Airbnb (or VRBO or other platform) earnings.

The acreage surrounding Temescal Creek features many mature oaks, ravines, and all sorts of native plants thriving.  A beautiful, peaceful place to enjoy and savor the natural splendor of San Diego and a reminder that without support it will not endure.  It takes the efforts of many to protect and preserve our natural bounty.

[The Temescal Creek property is located at 5030 Eagle Peak Road, Julian, CA 92036 but is not currently open to the public.]

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Balboa Park Plaza de Panama – More Shade, More Seats, More People

Plaza de Panama is the central plaza in San Diego’s Balboa Park and a great place for meeting friends, reading, and enjoying children running around.  Until recently it was an ugly parking lot.  Converting parking spaces to park space was a great improvement to this area but we can do more.

sdma_and_fountain_2010_r900x493 - previous plaza - ut sandiego
Previously a parking lot, now a public plaza for people. #winning (Photo: San Diego Union-Tribune)

In the center of the plaza there is a gorgeous fountain (currently running intermittently due to drought concerns in California).  The small earth area surrounding the fountain has been replanted many, many times over the past year.  The plantings have primarily been small flowers – not drought tolerant, not native.  The planting area also precludes visitors from sitting near or on the fountain which would be a natural setting to relax, especially if the fountain was tree shaded.  I propose to improve the fountain area and Plaza de Panama in general by adding trees to surround the fountain to provide shade for people sitting and a focal point for the plaza.

sd flag
San Diego flag
spain flag
Spain flag

 

 

 

 

 

Surrounding the fountain eight beautiful trees would shade those enjoying the plaza and echo the colors of San Diego and Spain – red and yellow.  This shows civic pride and affirms the Spanish heritage of the park and many of the building structures which were built in Spanish-Renaissance style and feature Spanish names.

At each of the cardinal directions, Autralian Flame Trees would be planted.  These trees would grow up to 60 feet tall but have a root structure that is well suited for street curbs or other small spaces.  Flame trees also require little to moderate water once established and love full sun and heat which is present at Plaza de Paname.

flame tree

Between the cardinal point Flame trees Tipu trees will provide the yellow prominent in both flags.  Tipu trees grow 25-40 feet tall so would be a lower level canopy beneath the taller Flame trees.  Tipu trees also have a root structure that would be appropriate for a small space planting as is the case here.

tipu tree

How does this vision become reality?

  1. Feedback from landscape architects regarding size, type, coloration, cost, and other considerations
  2. Approval from Balboa Park / City of San Diego Parks & Recreation to donate trees and labor to Balboa Park for beautification of Plaza de Panama
  3. Funding for purchases and volunteers for planting from community. Total cost is estimated at $5,000.  I selected 36 inch box trees, which would likely be the largest planting size advisable.  Flame trees would be $500 each and Tipu trees run $425 each at that size.  This estimate includes some money for mulch, soil, and nutrients but does not include labor which is hoped to be provided by volunteers.  If labor is hired the cost would likely rise to around $10,000.
  4. Select date for delivery of trees and planting.
  5. Install trees, water, enjoy shade which will increase with each year to come

Thoughts on this idea? Let me know in the comments or via email.  Cheers!

San Diego County Spends $36M To Give Employees Free Parking

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors recently cut the ribbon to officially open a new $36,000,000 parking garage at Cedar and Kettner in Little Italy.  The garage has 640 spaces, built at a cost of $56,250 per space.  The garage will primarily be used for free parking for county employees and will also be available for paid public parking use on nights and weekends.

Here’s a laudatory video from the ribbon-cutting:

Supervisor Diane Jacobs noted “this truly is the best looking parking garage in the entire region and the most needed parking garage”.  The “stalls are a little wider than you’ll find in most commercial parking structures”.

The Little Italy neighborhood is home to many of San Diego’s most highly regarded restaurants including Bracero, Buon Appetito, Monello, Ironside, Davanti Enoteca, Juniper and Ivy, and many others.  Most of the restaurants have little, or zero, private parking provided.  The area has also seen tremendous growth in the number of residential units in recent years.  The result has been a thriving neighborhood that is among the most vibrant places in the entire county.  A large part of the enjoyment of Little Italy stems from the many people and attractive buildings present – I doubt India Street would be improved by the addition of a massive parking garage.  In recent years the need for parking of unused vehicles has been further reduced due to the explosive growth of taxi-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber.

The new county parking garage is the second portion of the “Waterfront Park project” that created a 12-acre park across Harbor Drive from San Diego Bay, replacing 8 acres of surface level parking lots adjacent the County Administration Building.  That project cost $49.4 million dollars after an initial project cost estimate of $44.2M with $19.7M for building the park, $18.5M for building underground parking, and $6M for design and administration costs.

In total, between the two projects $54.5M was spent on moving parking spaces and $18.5M was spent on the actual park that people enjoy.  This is excluding the $5.2M of difference from the original estimate to the actual construction costs and the $6M of design and administration costs.  Those cost breakdowns yield a result of 75% of funds used to move spots for empty cars and 25% of funds used to build a park.  For purposes of this article let’s assume the admin and cost over-run figures split on the same lines.  The vast majority of the funds used for these joint projects was for moving parking spaces, not for building a park.

locations
This is how far the parking spots moved, for more than $50 million.
before pic
Here is the before photo – this is how San Diego uses prime bayfront real estate. Shake your head.

This project was sold as a project to build a great park – it would seem fitting if most of the funds were actually used to build a great park.  Instead we spent 75% of the funds to relocate parking spaces, not creating new spaces but moving existing parking spaces.  251 spaces moved approximately 15 feet, they were undergrounded in the same location as the previous surface level lots.

To boot, the county demolished an historic building in Little Italy to make room for the large new parking garage.  The Star Builders Supply Company building was built in 1911 and added to the county list of historic buildings in 1991.  County supervisors unanimously voted to demolish the building.  It’s now gone but you can enjoy the below video of the beautiful piece of San Diego history that has now been erased like so many others.

From the total 891 parking spots that were moved, 71.8% were moved about 1-2 blocks east from their previous location.  28.2% were moved about 15 feet underground.  To accomplish this feat, county taxpayers spent $54.5 million dollars.  As enjoyable as the the new park is and a huge improvement to the ugly surface parking lots perhaps it would have been better to save that money or spend it on a better use.  To move so many parked cars such a small distance seems a pyrrhic victory.  A small consolation might be that the total number of parking spots went from 1,200 in the surface lots to 891 in the new underground and multi-level parking garages, a net reduction of 25.75%.  We could have spent even more money if we moved all of them!  A legitimate question would be if the previous 1,200 spots or the new 891 spots are actually needed or not. But as so often happens when it comes to accommodating automobiles, too much is never enough and no cost is too high.  More lanes on I-5 for $6 billion? Of course!  More parking lots in Balboa Park? Of course!  Analysis of the actual demand and cost comes far behind the populist appeal of free goodies for motor vehicles.  The environmental impacts of our car culture is even further down the priority list than our dollars.

Enjoy the Waterfront Park (aka Parking Lot Relocation Park); it’s a great place.  Building beautiful things is something a great city does.  I’m proud that San Diego built it.  In total, though, this project was a massive use of taxpayer dollars to move parking spots a small distance – not to build a great public park.  They are distinct items and taxpayers did not need to spend tens of millions to provide a tax-free employment perk that most employees, government-employed or not, do not enjoy.  We also did not need to use prime real estate to do so.  Taxpayers must demand better stewardship of public funds and assets.

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Many thanks to Streetsblog, San Diego Free Press, Bike San Diego, and Voice of San Diego Morning Report for sharing this article!

Cities Are What We Choose To Make Them

This summer I was fortunate to take a bicycle trip across part of Europe, from Budapest to southern Bavaria (just south of Munich).  It was the first time I had taken a trip primarily by bicycle and it was great.  Unknown to me before our trip, Europe has created a number of cross-continent bicycle routes, named the EuroVelo routes.

We used EuroVelo Route 6, which goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea – most of the route is bicycle only with some portions sharing the road through small villages.  We were only on a small portion of this route since our journey was much shorter than the route.  Here’s an overview of the whole network, it’s amazing.

eurovelo map
Europe’s current network of EuroVelo routes. Likely to expand.

The amount of people we encountered while riding was awesome.  Groups large and small, single riders, day trippers, and those camping along the way.  All enjoying the beautiful Danube River and a peaceful, quiet ride through the countryside and towns both big and small.

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One town we stopped in for a night was Tulln, Austria.  It was a charming town in central Austria with a well-kept town square.  It’s a very old town, first noted in 859, but is making proactive changes to thrive in 21st century and put people first.  The center city recently moved to a 20 kph speed limit for their city center. That’s 12.4 mph.

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This small town, with cobbled streets and narrow roadways went out of it’s way to actively change in a way that makes people feel safe, valued, and welcome.  The EuroVelo system has been created the same way – many people actively choosing to make Europe a place that increasingly values people and is a great place to live.  In Tulln, and many of the other places we visited you were far more likely to see people walking, biking, or sitting and enjoying some sun than you were to see cars rushing to and fro.  In America it is the opposite nearly everywhere – elementary schools, downtowns, suburbs, office parks.  It is this way because we have chosen to build a place that incents and endorses cars above people and community.

The same applies to any community in the world – what it is and what it will become are choices constantly being made.  Our roadways, our buildings, our speed limits are all man-made creations.  The status quo exists because we continue to choose and support it.  Cities like Tulln that are many centuries old have existed through great and terrible periods yet continue to thrive in the 21st century.  Economies change, and so do trends – valuing people and creating great places to live and celebrate life are timeless practices.

What happens when you reduce speeds and limit vehicles? You get more people, more money, and a livelier place to live and visit.  To Tulln – Prosit!

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Neighbors Lying About Neighbors – The STR Debate Continues

Below is a Facebook post from an Airbnb host that was shared last night after the Community Planners Committee meeting on the issue of short-term rentals.  I plan to meet with the commenter to get additional details but see little reason to doubt the story below given the amount of details included and don’t see a reason for that person to lie.

I wanted to share this today because it seems that in the debate in San Diego there is much scorn being placed on those hosting via platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.  Few are questioning the validity of complaints about noise, trash, and parties – they are taken at word.  The few times I’ve had to call the police or a towing company they have arrived and addressed the issue promptly and completely.  I find it hard to believe that in the wealthier parts of town (where many of the complaints and anti-STR groups are centered) this would not be the case.

In the below instance you can see the power that this default trust gives to complainants.  I’ve removed specific names from the below post but everything else is verbatim from the host being accused of bad behavior.

I need to know who to write to in order to speak my voice. Three of the speakers lied. I have proof because I’m the big corporation with a water park in my back yard. I’m a mom of 3 whose son has brain cancer so make a wish gave him his wish to have a small waterslide added to the pool already there and I’m called a water park. I rented it out for the summer to pay bills and they knew that but adopted the “not in my neighborhood” signs, harassed me and my family (yes I was the one who broke down in tears talking about it at the PB mtg). All before a single guest arrived. C. harassed every renter and at 2pm in the afternoon when a family came out back and she saw they were not white she left voicemails which I kept with her displeasure. I could go on and on about her C. C. who said he is native and moved here from Texas a few years ago and doesn’t live on the street,etc. Their complaints that they put in writing was a baby cried and one renter dared to have food delivered. I have proof all my renters were families and not parties. I drove by day and night just to make sure. Sorry I had to get that out.

There remains much to be discussed in the STR debate in San Diego but hopefully we can step away from name calling and outright falsities to impugn those we disagree with.

Pershing Drive Bicycle Corridor – It’s Go Time

SANDAG is preparing to implement bicycle improvements to Pershing Drive in the near future, creating a safe and functional route from North Park and surrounding communities to Downtown.  This is part of the $200M SANDAG bicycle corridors program which has yet to stripe a single foot of bike lane in the nearly 3 years since being announced.  The first project, running through Hillcrest, gutted the most important segment – an east-west connection to North Park – at the last moment as detailed in this film by Dennis Stein.

Pershing Drive is very different from University Avenue; it lies in a park rather than popular communities.  Pershing Drive is currently a fantastic bicycle connection in many ways.  It runs through the middle of Balboa Park’s open space area.  Heading into town it offers gorgeous views of Los Coronados islands, Coronado Bridge, and Downtown.  It connects the densely populated neighborhoods of Uptown and Mid-City to Downtown.  However, it is also very intimidating to bike on.  The painted lanes are adjacent to high-speed roadways with speed limits of 45-50 MPH (and we all know that 5-10 above that is the likely reality).  Heading into Downtown, cyclists need to cross two separate onramps to Interstate 5, while drivers are ramping up to Interstate speeds. Both onramps lie behind curving corners with limited visibility.

I’ve been writing about the dangers of biking on Pershing Drive since early 2014 and serious injuries continue to accrue.

So how do we best create a functional, safe and protected bicycle corridor on Pershing Drive? Following are a number of specific ideas for what this project should look like.  We should start with context and a general guideline.  This project lies in the heart of Balboa Park – it should connect with and enhance the park, not take away from it.  A guideline that should lead any transport project is to put people first – and that means pedestrians first, bicycles second, public transit third, and private automobile fourth.  This is the hierarchy of preference used by the City of Chicago Department of Transportation and one that San Diego should adopt.

The Pershing Drive bicycle corridor should establish a two-way bike lane and two-way walking / running path adjacent to the Balboa Park golf course on the south / east side of Pershing Drive.  The entry point would be located at Redwood & 28th.  By siting the path on this side of Pershing the major friction points of the I-5 onramps are avoided (which fall under CalTrans purview and would be very difficult to address).  It also presents the opportunity to put those biking or jogging in a shaded and enjoyable place along the roadway.

  • Connect the two halves of Bird Park at the north terminus of Pershing Drive (at 28th Street) and direct traffic either east on Redwood or north on Arnold.  This will add parkland and avoid much of the backup that results from the awkward and overly large intersection now present at that location.
  • Reduce speeds for the entirety of Pershing Drive from the current 45-50 MPH to 35 MPH maximum and 25 MPH within 1,000 feet of the terminus at either end.
  • Add a path for those biking, walking, or jogging along the south side of the Naval Hospital to add a connection from Golden Hill and South Park to Balboa Park, as well as a connection for those traversing the improved Pershing Drive bicycle corridor.
  • Create dedicated and protected space for running / walking / jogging as well as for bicycling.  Pershing Drive runs through the heart of Balboa Park and the context of this project matters.  We should seek to improve the park as a whole with any project lying inside it.  The space for biking and jogging should be protected by a concrete barrier or other substantial method.
  • Reduce Pershing Drive to one travel lane in each direction.  There is one through street that intersects Pershing Drive currently – Florida Drive / 26th Street (the road changes names at the intersection).  Other than this street there are only entry points for service yards and parking lots at the Velodrome and the Morley Field frisbee golf course.  This matters because a prominent reason for back-up on a street can be waiting for an opportunity to turn.  That option is very limited on Pershing Drive, greatly reducing the need for additional traffic lanes.
  • Establish trees on both sides of Pershing Drive as protective barriers for the bicycle lanes (on the south / east side) and for the running paths on the opposite side of the roadway.
  • Establish vines on the high fences adjacent the Balboa Park golf course and a tree line inside the fence on the golf course to provide shade for the bicycle path, better utilize the irrigation on the course, provide privacy for golf course users, and improve the aesthetics of the road for drivers.
  • Utilize a maximum lane width of 10 feet for all travel lanes on Pershing Drive.  Any additional space should be reverted to parkland and narrower traffic lanes will decrease the incentive to speed on the roadway.
  • To connect the Pershing Drive bicycle corridor to adjacent neighbors add additional bicycle infrastructure on adjoining streets.  These include: close Florida Drive to vehicle traffic to restore Florida Canyon while incorporating a biking and walking path.  Add a painted bike line going up 26th Street into Golden Hill – the current road width does not appear to have sufficient space for a lane on both sides and the high speed differential going uphill warrants a lane before one descending onto Pershing or Florida.

Additional details will follow this post, including street sketches and other visuals.  The important thing is to gather community support for real improvements now, and to do so in a constructive way.  This is not about bikes vs. cars – it’s about taking real action about public health, climate change, quality of life, park space.  In general, it’s about making the project area better for all San Diegans.  We cannot afford to let basic, functional bicycle infrastructure get axed in a program specifically designed to create bicycle infrastructure, as happened in Hillcrest.

I would love feedback and criticisms or additional suggestions regarding Pershing Drive.  Please drop them in the comments, social media, or email.  Thank you.

Climate Action Event in San Diego – Notes

On Tuesday evening, September 8, a large group of San Diegans concerned with climate change gathered at the South Park Whistle Stop bar to wet their whistle and enjoying the air conditioning.  It was a very hot day in San Diego breaking records in the region – darkly fitting for a discussion of climate change.

Speakers at the event included City Planning expert Dr. Bruce Appleyard from SDSU and Nicole Capretz, Executive Director of Climate Action Campaign.  The event was organized and emceed by Howard Blackson – a man born to play the role of gregarious host.

Following are selected notes from the meeting – any mistakes are mine, I did my best to takes notes during the event.

Bruce spoke first and stressed the importance of supporting local planners.  There are good plans and talented planners in San Diego but too often they are not supported politcally, undermining the planning work done and resulting in little action on the ground.  Examples include the University Avenue bike corridor project, the Barrio Logan Community Plan, and the Clairemont Trolley station plans.  In each of these cases, and many others, years of planning and community input were scrapped at the eleventh hour.

On the topic of greenhouse gases Bruce noted that each mile of driving a car adds one pound of CO2 to the atmosphere, of which 80% will remain for approx. 200 years.  The remaining 20% will remain for millenia.  Utilizing our natural topography of “mesas, canyons, coastal plains” is critical to reduce our contribution to climate change – specifically our coastal plains.  Our coastal plans are centrally located and connected to transit, which avoids further sprawl and vehicle miles, and also can utilize the natural cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean.  The 30 foot height limit needs to be considered for adjustments if we are to take meaningful steps to leverage our coastal plains.

Nicole started talking by showing the mix of energy used in San Diego – 54% of our total energy usage goes to transportation.  The average driver in San Diego goes about 35 miles a day and 80% of those driving to work do so driving solo.  Climate scientists no longer discuss how to reduce the greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, it’s now about trying to slow the growth of emissions.  We’ve already passed the point of being able to stop severe impacts and many of the projections are downright scary.  With world leading climate research going on at Scripps it’s a shame that San Diego isn’t leading on how to adjust our lifestyles and cities to be more responsible and sustainable.  The city’s Climate Action Plan (which Nicole developed during Todd Gloria’s term as Interim Mayor) gives some hope, but needs to have teeth.  Nicole pointed out some of the areas she views as weak and needing to be adjusted.

Joe LaCava, candidate for Council District 1, gave a few remarks and implored those gathered to join local planning groups.  He noted that planning groups are important and would benefit from the backgrounds and skills of those in attendance.

Chris Taylor, former board member of Bike San Diego, questioned the speakers about how to support our planners and get vetted, community-supported plans to be implemented.  Specifically he asked about the University Avenue bike project and what supporters could have done differently to secure a better outcome.  This was a bit of a general theme of questions and comments – how do we get our on-ground reality to meet our expectations and plans, many of which are quite good.

Suggestions included having better communication to sell planning ideas and to avoid misunderstandings that can cause anger and resentment.  There were a few other suggestions but the ending tone of the meeting seemed to be one of slight dejectedness.  Those assembled are prominent community members in urbanism, sustainability, architecture, etc.  The shared experience of seeing good projects upended at the last moment due to lack of political support or a vocal minority was clearly on the minds of many.  How to create better outcomes going forward remains a challenge to be confronted.  Sustained efforts on education and communication may work, but the best argument doesn’t always win the day.  Hearts and minds need to be won if we are to see broader support for taking on climate change.  The dilution of an ambitious climate-focused law in California this week, SB350, is not a good omen of the current status of hearts and political clout in California.

Renee Yarmy from the San Diego Port Authority noted an upcoming presentation by Gil Penalosa – Creating Great Cities – which will take place on on October 8 at 6:30 PM at the Central Library.  Mr. Penalosa is renowned figure internationally and “over the past 8 years, Gil has worked in over 180 different cities across six continents”.  It should be a fantastic panel and details and registration can be found on here.

climate change event photo - 9-8-2015
Many thanks to Howard Blackson for organizing, and to all those that attended.

Bicycles Are Most Energy-Efficient Transport

The following is from Dr. Gabe Mirkin’s website, www.drmirkin.com.  It was forwarded to me by a friend and I couldn’t locate it online so am posting here to share the information.


Really enjoyed this somewhat quirky study of energy efficiency in transport and comparing human transport efficiency to a handful of animals.  Enjoy and ride on!

Dr. Gabe Mirkin’s Fitness and Health e-Zine
September 13, 2015
Bicycles Are Most Energy-Efficient

If you ride a bicycle, be proud. Humans riding on bicycles are more energy-efficient than any other animal and any other form of transportation. Vance Tucker of Duke University compared bicyclists to humans and animals running, birds flying and fish swimming, as well as to people in motor-powered cars, boats, trains and planes (J. Exp. Bio, 1973;68(9):689-709). The less energy per weight you use to travel over a distance, the more energy-efficient you are. Vance found that the most efficient creature without mechanical help is a condor. With mechanical help, the cyclist comes out on top. Here is a partial list, ranked from most to least energy-efficient:

human on a bicycle
condor
salmon
horse
human in a jet plane
human walking
human running
human in an automobile
cow
sheep
dog
hummingbird
rabbit
bee
mouse

Mice, bees and hummingbirds use the most energy per weight and therefore are very inefficient and tire the earliest. This concept explains why pre-historic human hunters could catch faster-running animals. The human would tire later, so it didn’t matter how fast the animal could run; if the human ran long enough he would eventually catch the exhausted animal.

A person on a bicycle is more energy-efficient than one using an automobile, motorcycle, train or plane, even though he is much slower. If you compare the amount of calories burned in bicycling to other forms of locomotion, you will find that 100 calories supplies an average cyclist for three miles, a walker for one mile and a car for only 280 feet. A walking human uses 0.75 calorie of energy per gram of body weight for each kilometer traveled, while a cyclist uses only a fifth as much, 0.15 calorie per gram per kilometer. The WorldWatch Institute reports that when you ride a bicycle you use only 35 calories per mile, while walking requires 100 calories per mile, buses and trains use about 900 calories per mile per person, and a car uses 1860 calories per mile (Ergonomics, 2008 Oct;51(10):1565-75).

Slow Riders Use Less Energy Than Fast Riders
Cycling is so energy-efficient that a good rider can go just about any distance. In 2014, Christopher Strasser won the Race Across America by cycling 3,098 miles in seven days, 15 hours and 56 minutes. He averaged 16.42 miles per hour. The record for a woman was set in 1995 at an average speed of 13.23 MPH. Interestingly, slow riders use less energy per mile than fast riders. During a one-hour ride, a person riding a touring bike for nine miles burns 135 calories with an average power of 50 watts. In an hour an experienced bicycle racer can go 30 miles but will burn 2150 calories and produce approximately 500 watts or 0.67 horsepower. You burn more calories per mile because the faster you ride, the greater the wind and air resistance. Resistance varies with the square of your speed. A recumbent bicycle is more energy-efficient because being lower to the ground reduces the size of the bike and body that is being blocked by wind and air resistance (Proc Biol Sci, 2001 Jul 7;268(1474):1351-60).

More Cars Than Bikes in North America
The world’s 6.1 billion people own 1.2 billion bicycles and only 600 million motorized passenger vehicles. That’s one bike per five people and one automobile per 10 people. However, the highly-developed countries are dominated by automobiles. The United States has:
* Twice as many automobiles as bicycles
* More than 90 percent of transportation trips done in automobiles
* Less than one percent of trips done by bike

Benefits of Riding a Bicycle
More people should ride bicycles because:
* Bicycles require the least energy to go places. Cars use 30 percent of world’s petroleum.
* Bicycles are far more energy efficient than running or walking.
* Bicycles produce less air pollution than motor-driven transportation.
* Bicycles are manufactured with far less material and labor than engine-driven forms of transportation.
* Bicycles help to prevent disease and prolong life by giving you the health benefits of exercise.

2015-07-07 13.15.25
Biking through the Wachau Valley along the Danube River in Austria – fantastic fun!

North Park – San Diego’s Weak Excuse for a Bike Friendly Place

North Park is an urban neighborhood in San Diego.  It is often cited as the “hipster” area of town and is generally known for being one of the more walkable areas in San Diego.  North Park is home to the only 2 parklets in San Diego, the majority of the bike corrals in the city, and it is not uncommon to see people biking on the streets.

If there is anywhere in San Diego you would expect to find good bicycle infrastructure North Park would be high on the list, perhaps along with East Village, Downtown, Little Italy, or a beach community like Ocean Beach or Pacific Beach.  The reality on the ground is far from good.  The reality is a near absolute lack of any bicycle infrastructure.

Here’s a complete map of all the bike lanes in North Park, highlighted in red.  The gray, white, orange, and red lines indicate all roadways.  There are a total of 2 streets in North Park that have painted bike lanes.  One of them is a portion of El Cajon Boulevard, with cars regularly exceeding 40 and 50 MPH. There are no protective measures for biking anywhere in North Park.  There is no system or grid to bicycle – if you ride on a roadway with a lane you will be forced to connect to another roadway without any dedicated space for biking whatsoever.

north park bike lane mapSan Diego, and particularly North Park, has very wide streets.  There is plenty of room on many of the streets to add bike lanes with the minimal cost and effort of applying paint.  Paint is not protection, but it is much better than no dedicated space at all.  When conflict occurs due to lack of separated space, as on Adams Avenue recently, drivers can literally run over those biking without likelihood of prosecution.

If a place like North Park that is promoted as being a good place to bike or walk has so little accommodation for bikes what does that mean for other areas that are more explicitly car-first?  If our Climate Action Plan rightly targets transportation as a focus area to create a better future, how do we increase biking by a factor of 18 as the plan seeks without facilities to support that growth?  We will not get there without meaningful change on the ground.

A couple of bike lanes in a neighborhood of 50,000 people in the core of our city is not good enough.  It’s barely even laughable as an attempt at being bike and environmentally friendly.  It underlies how unserious we are about moving away from the private automobile as the overwhelming primary transport option.  It is no surprise that so few people bike in San Diego when the reality on the ground is unless you are confident and strong enough to bike with zero accommodation on wide, high speed streets you are out of luck.

Parents, myself included, fret about biking with their children or letting their kids bike to school.  Would you put your child on a bike on University Avenue (where SANDAG just scrapped a plan to add a bike plan) or El Cajon Boulevard?  Or even smaller streets like 32nd Street or Arnold Avenue?  On a recent speed survey on Arnold “City Engineers determined 85% of the traffic was indeed exceeding our 25 mph speed limit by at least 10 mph – one vehicle was going 71 mph – and that test wasn’t even on a Friday or a weekend!”  Quoted portion from North Park Nextdoor website.

Perhaps the good news is we can only improve from our current status.  That is little comfort for those working and fighting to create a safer, healthier future for our neighborhoods and city.  Real support for real improvement is needed from our elected officials and transportation authorities.  Foremost we need leadership from SANDAG to pursue a responsible future path on both transportation and land use – not plans that ignore climate change, encourage sprawl, and commit billions and billions to more highways and scraps for biking, walking, and transport.  Even the scraps committed to healthier transport are back-loaded and likely to be walked back when push comes to shove.

North Park – I dig you.  But bicycle friendly you are not.

2015-04-30 17.23.37
Granada Avenue – 54 feet wide but not an inch for bicycles or crosswalks. Good luck to those that don’t want to drive.