City Heights CDC paves the way to safety

It's now safer to cross University Avenue and 50th Street because City Heights community leaders convinced the city to install high-visibility crosswalks and signs. Photo courtesy of City Heights Community Development Corporation.

Road users of all stripes – from bicyclists to walkers, young to old, transit-riders to drivers –  can face dangers and obstacles in City Heights.

“Many of the sidewalks aren’t even really sidewalks in City Heights,” said Randy Van Vleck, active transportation manager for the City Heights Community Development Corporation. “They are driveways,” he said, referring to the design of six-pack apartments where drivers cross the sidewalk to access their parking spaces.

Improving traffic safety is the mission of the City Heights CDC in its role as a partner in the Built Environment Team collaborative. The group also includes the International Rescue Committee, Environmental Health Coalition and Proyecto de Casas Saludables. It’s funded by The California Endowment. The Mid-City Community Advocacy Network, also known as Mid-City CAN, serves as the coordinator for Cal Endowment’s grantees.

The four partners in the collaborative are working on a leadership academy in February to teach residents to advocate on issues such as street safety improvements. Each organization will pick at least a dozen residents to attend the nine-week academy. Participants will learn about the history of City Heights, land-use policies, and the basics of being an advocate.

Community-driven advocacy has already made a difference in City Heights. Van Vleck cited the transformation of 50th Street and University Avenue into a safer intersection as an example. Community leaders convinced San Diego’s traffic engineering department to not block the crossing with a fence at the intersection and instead make the area safer with high-visibility crosswalks and other traffic calming devices, including signs.

City Heights CDC also is working to promote green space as another way to improve pedestrian safety.

City Heights is one of the most park-deficient areas in the region so kids often end up playing on the sidewalk. Accidents happen when the ball rolls into the street, and they run after it. Van Vleck said a report from about two years ago found that within the span of four years, 114 kids were struck by motorists within a quarter of a mile of a school in City Heights.

Despite these challenges, City Heights has its share of desirable attributes. It has one of the highest rates of transit ridership and one of the lowest rates of automobile ownership in the region. That means a high percentage of residents here commute by walking or biking, which is good for the environment and health.

The Colina Park area has the lowest auto ownership rate of all the neighborhoods in City Heights, and City Heights CDC is completing a draft of the Full-Access Community Transport System, or FACTS, study that focuses on Colina Park.

“The No. 1 community demand was a walk-able, bike-able neighborhood,” Van Vleck said.

Adam Ward is the Mid-City CAN staff writer and a former San Diego Union-Tribune editor. Adam has lived in San Diego for nearly a decade and is the father of a young son. Contact him at award@midcitycan.org or (619) 283-9624 ext. 210.