The Escondido City Council voted February 14 to seek grants for a $15 million Grand Avenue Vision Plan that would include some basic changes to the downtown.
• Diagonal parking on one side of the street
• Widen sidewalks on both sides of the street
• Roundabouts at Broadway, Maple and Kalmia
• Eliminate median and turn lanes from Maple To Kalmia
The council approved the Grand Avenue Vision Plan and authorized the Engineering Department to apply to SANDAG (San Diego Assn of Governments) for the Smart Growth Incentive Program.
City Engineer Julie Procopio told the council it would cost $15 million to implement the Grand Avenue Vision Plan between Escondido and Juniper. The city is applying for two grants, each for $2.5 million, to fund the first two phases.
Phase 1, for $2.5 million, would focus on Maple to Broadway, include bus realignment, sidewalk improvements, environmental, design and construction.
Phase 2 would cost $2.8 million, and would include the roundabout at Broadway, remaining sidewalk extensions, from Maple to Broadway.
The concept plan was developed after a series of meetings between staff and the public that included downtown merchants, property owners, residents and technical professionals.
Some merchants and property owners contacted the city in August 2015 about incorporating diagonal parking and improving the ambiance for downtown businesses. The council directed staff to work to apply for a Smart Growth Incentive Program grant from SANDAG.
Last August a committee gave input to staff, led by transportation engineer David Sorenson of Kimley-Horn and Associates.
According to the staff report, “Stakeholders expressed a desire to improve the economic vitality of Grand Avenue by creating a pedestrian-friendly and aesthetically appealing streetscape with convenient parking and access.” A committee of 24 members honed the concept.
Comments were used to create a plan that would narrow Grand Avenue to one lane in each direction and use the excess width to create wider, 20-foot sidewalks and diagonal parking.
Another meeting was held last October in which 80 members of the public attended, and, said staff, gave “strong support for a narrower roadway, wider sidewalks, outdoor dining areas, enhanced lighting, and diagonal parking.”
January 11, the committee voted to support the concept of diagonal parking on one side of the street, parallel parking the opposite side, and sidewalk widening on both sides. This concept would require rerouting buses.
The concept of a roundabout at Broadway and Grand, with smaller roundabouts at Kalmia and Maple, was added.
“The committee really supported the roundabouts,” said Procopio. “They’d like to extend them to Ivy.”
The city is applying for funds from the TransNet Smart Growth Incentive Program (SGIP) that supports smart growth development. Its goal is to fund comprehensive public infrastructure projects and planning activities to facilitate compact, mixed use development focused around public transit, and increase housing and transportation choices. Applications are due March 15. SANDAG will select projects to support this summer.
Procopio said the application has broad community support and noted that the Downtown Business Association is donating funds toward design and materials to make interim improvements to replace median landscaping.
She added that the Escondido Charitable Foundation will fully fund the construction of a welcoming structure to span the intersection of Grand Avenue and Centre City Parkway, marking the entrance to the historic downtown center. An anonymous member of the Foundation has donated $1 million to complete the work.
If SANDAG approves the grants, design would involve public input, with a goal of construction beginning in mid-2020.
Removing the medians would, by necessity, mean removing the trees in the median. Councilmember Ed Gallo quipped, “I’ll tie myself to the trees.”
During the hearing on the proposal, several members of the public expressed dismay at reducing Grand Avenue to a single lane and removing the median.
Tracy Bass declared, “I love Grand Avenue just the way it is. I love the street. When you have a one lane street and people are backing out, no one is going to want to drive on your street.” She added, “Don’t take down the trees. It’s beautiful, we love it. For you guys to tear it up. I think you are wrong.”
Speaker Sharon Strong said she didn’t recall the strong support at the public meetings. “I recall two or three strong supporters. The vast majority of people around me were against that plan.” She added, “Who wants to sit on a hot pavement, without the trees? Part of what makes a town graceful is trees. My concern is the one lane traffic. They look just adorable but driving through them is frustrating. If someone backs out I back out, everyone stops.”
Carol Rea, president of the Old Escondido Historic District said, “There may not have been enough involvement among community members.” She polled her members on the proposal. “I asked if it was a good idea to remove the medians. Only one out of twenty-eight thought it was a good idea.”
Gallo said, “People have been trying to redesign downtown for decades. I’ll put up Grand Avenue against any main street.” He was “not too sure about one lane traffic in each direction.” As to the need for additional parking of about 70 new spaces diagonal parking would create, he said, “Any time I look downtown there’s a hundred available spaces. I’ve never had a problem.”
Councilmember Olga Diaz said that with the 5,000 residential units expected in the urban core, “you need more parking.” She supports removing the median trees because the trees are not healthy and not native. “The trees need to go, but whether we replace them is something else. Removing the medians is a necessity for fire trucks.”
Diaz added that the purpose of a roundabout is “not to make traffic easier but to calm traffic.” She was also concerned about Cruisin’ Grand if this concept is passed and said she hoped there would be more public input.
Procopio promised that if the grants were approved they would be seeking more public feedback.
Diaz added, “I like the downtown the way it is, but I don’t want to see it die again. One of the beauties of a downtown like ours is that the shops attract the traffic. I like what you are doing with this proposal.”
Under questioning from Deputy Mayor John Masson, Procopio said parallel parking could be allowed for Cruisin’ Grand and that widened sidewalks would provide more opportunities for trees. Masson said, “I like the idea.” He said those who currently use Grand Avenue for just driving through would probably need to take a different route. “You want to cruise downtown don’t take Grand.” He added, “I like the traffic calming, the enhanced experience, creating energy and vibrancy. I think it’s exciting, and I’m a little concerned that maybe the community hasn’t bought into the vision. But I think we are heading in the right direction.”
Councilmember Morasco added, “I agree the eucalyptus trees have got to go. I love the design. I see more beautiful enhancements in the middle of the roundabouts. I know it’s not complete, but more community input would be welcome. The idea is to create a walking living and partially drivable street. What’s going to change the game is what is coming to the hospital property. I think we are going to be seeing a lot more pedestrian enhancement.”
Mayor Sam Abed declared, “We have a beautiful historic downtown; we need to protect that historical value and at the same time adapt to change.” As a member of the SANDAG board he said he has seen many similar designs. “I know a lot of people hate roundabouts, but this is an opportunity for us to take a smart growth program.” He added, “I’m not going to subscribe to the opinion to leave it as it is. Let’s create some vibrancy, a walkable community. I think this vision is great. We may need to refine it.”
He said that the idea is “To make downtown and Grand Avenue a better place to visit. People opposed the Mercado, but it’s very nice.”