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Sports Arena redevelopment plan still lacks walkable routes to the trolley

San Diego city leaders are close to selecting a plan to redevelop the 48-acre Sports Arena property with thousands of new apartments, nearly half of them set aside as affordable for low-income renters.

But as things stand today, those new residents will not have a pleasant or safe walk to the nearest transit hub, said the leader of the Midway District’s community planning group.

The Old Town Transit Center, a major hub for buses, trolleys and trains, is roughly a half mile from the eastern end of the arena property. Depending on the time of day and the frequency of connecting bus routes, walking can be the best way to get there.

Yet, the walk can be treacherous. Several streets along the way don't have sidewalks. Some intersections lack crosswalks or curb ramps, making them inaccessible to wheelchair users. Shade and trees are few and far between. Street lighting is also sparse.

And many of the streets are six to eight lanes wide with vehicle speeds easily topping 40 miles per hour.

Dike Anyiwo, a Midway resident and chair of the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group, wants to make sure the transformational development plans improve the unwelcoming situation for pedestrians.

"For a long time, the Midway District has been more of a through-point than anything else," Anyiwo said. "My ambition is to address that as we move forward with the redevelopment of this overall community."

Mayor Todd Gloria announced Monday he is recommending Midway Rising, a proposal led by Encinitas-based development firm Zephyr. The plan envisions some 4,250 apartments — 2,000 of them affordable for low-income households — a hotel, a new arena, retail space and 20 acres of parks and open space. The City Council is scheduled to vote on his recommendation on Sept. 13.

Jeff Meyer, spokesman for the Midway Rising team, said the proposal includes a "mobility hub" along Sports Arena Boulevard that would include a bus stop and access to bike and car sharing.

"Midway Rising will employ a range of (transportation demand management) strategies to reduce reliance on single vehicle trips for residents and Sports Arena visitors alike while also improving overall site accessibility for vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, people with disabilities and the economically-disadvantaged," Meyer said in an email.

But it's not clear to what degree the Sports Arena development will coincide with pedestrian, bike and transit improvements offsite. Those details are likely to be hashed out during negotiations between the city and the development team chosen by the City Council.

Further complicating matters is the fact that pedestrian, bike and transit improvements often come at the expense of motorists, who may lose a travel lane or have to wait longer for a green light while other travel modes take priority. Residents in neighboring Point Loma have already raised concerns about the Sports Arena project's impact on traffic and their ability to access the I-5 and I-8 freeways.

Anyiwo said it's less important to him who pays for offsite improvements that make the area more walkable and transit friendly. More important, he said, is that those improvements simply happen.

"I'm very much looking forward to being involved in that process, to the degree that I can on behalf of the community, to make sure that our priorities are considered," Anyiwo said.

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