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Officials Propose Diverting Funds From Sidewalk Project

Cars drive along a section of Market Street that lacks sidewalks on one side,...

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: Cars drive along a section of Market Street that lacks sidewalks on one side, May 2, 2018.

Residents of southeastern San Diego have long been asking city officials to create more sidewalks in their neighborhoods, where pedestrians and bicyclists are often at a high risk of injury or death. But a city-led effort to put sidewalks on a particularly dangerous street appears to be slipping further from reach.

Transportation staff are asking the City Council on Wednesday to transfer $125,000 out of a fund dedicated to creating sidewalks and bike lanes on a section of Market Street near the Malcolm X Library. Market Street was called out in a 2015 report as one of the most collision-prone corridors in the city. The section slated for improvements has no dedicated bike lanes and sidewalks on only one side of the street.

The money would be transferred to a project nearby to place better traffic controls on the SR-94 interchange at Euclid Avenue, which the city says has a higher than average collision rate. The city's most recent budget rates the freeway interchange improvements as a "medium" priority, while the Market Street sidewalks are "high" priority.

Such fund transfers are fairly routine as some infrastructure projects come in under budget and others need additional resources to get finished. But depleting funds dedicated for a specific project that is not yet built can slow down its completion.

It is not the first time transportation staff have diverted money from the Market Street sidewalks. In 2017, council members took $282,500 out of the project's fund to spend mostly on upgrades to a storm drain in University Heights.

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The following year, Mayor Kevin Faulconer included a partial replacement of that funding — $200,000 — in his $18 million "Vision Zero" budget aimed at ending traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets.

The sidewalks on Market Street are still several years away from being built and need at least another $4.6 million to be fully funded through construction.

Barry Pollard, head of the nonprofit Urban Collaborative Project, said the pace of creating new sidewalks in southeastern neighborhoods was far too slow. But he said both Market Street and the Euclid Avenue/SR-94 interchange are unsafe for pedestrians and that one project should not lose funding to help pay for the other.

"Perhaps what they should do if they want to balance the books is go to University City and get some money out of there," he said.

The fund transfer away from the sidewalks will be one of the first actions taken up by the council's newly renamed Active Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Council President Georgette Gomez renamed the committee to shift its focus toward bicycle and pedestrian safety.

An accompanying staff report states the $125,000 "is not needed in the (sidewalks) project due to the project having sufficient funding to support on-going project activities." The freeway interchange needs the extra money because of "unforeseen complexities," the report said.

Gomez has said one of her top priorities as council president is ensuring equity in the city's budget process — an acknowledgement that neighborhoods such as southeastern San Diego have been historically neglected and may require more resources than other neighborhoods.

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