Due to 40 years of community organizing, advocacy, and participatory planning and designing, the State Route 15 freeway in Mid City hosts California’s only freeway cap park, two transit plazas, two bike/pedestrian bridges, two adjacent parks, a parallel-running bike path, and the region’s first-ever in-line Bus Rapid Transit Stations known as the “Centerline.” These amenities are the results of a multi-generational community-led effort that started in the late 1970s and has never stopped until project completion this past year.
In the 1970s, Caltrans proposed to an extension of the I-15 freeway through the middle of Mid City. This plan would have displaced 8 blocks of homes and businesses without any plans to adequately mitigate this impact. In 1978, Mid City community leaders began to organize and develop an alternative plan. They formed the City Heights Community Development Corporation in 1981 and launched the SR-15 Visions Project. City Heights CDC hired their own architects to develop a plan to underground the freeway and build 8 blocks of cover on top with park space, housing, and rapid transit running down the middle. As negotiations ensued with the City of San Diego and Caltrans, 8 blocks turned in to 5 blocks of cover. After a frustrating turn-of-[political]-events in the early 1990s, the plan for 5 blocks of cover turned into one block of cover.
Although community leaders experienced this setback, they were nevertheless victorious in securing the only freeway cap park in the entire state — known as Teralta Park in City Heights. In addition to Teralta Park, they secured a set of amenities:
- Two transit plazas (Blvd Transit Plaza at El Cajon Blvd and the City Heights Transit Plaza at University Ave)
- Two adjacent parks (Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park in Normal Heights and Park de la Cruz in City Heights which is home to two new skate parks)
- Two bike/pedestrian bridges (at Landis St and Monroe Ave)
- SR-15 Commuter Bikeway (providing a non-motorized connection from Mid City to Mission Valley alongside the SR-15 from Adams Ave to Camino Del Rio).
- Centerline Stations, the region’s first-ever in-line bus rapid transit stations and transit-only lanes along.
With the opening of the Centerline Stations this past spring and the opening of the SR-15 Commuter Bikeway last fall, the last major milestones of the SR-15 Visions Project are now complete. On February 24, 2018 community leaders, Caltrans, SANDAG, City of San Diego, and elected officials came together to celebrate this multi-generational urban planning initiative. At the event a plaque was unveiled dedicated to the community leaders of City Heights.
Urban planning and large-scale design can be intimidating, but the story of the SR-15 Visions Project is that it’s possible for communities to participate in the planning process and influence plans in a way that leads to innovative and transformative urban environments.
Teralta Park, the Centerline Stations, and the SR-15 Commuter Bikeway were designed in collaboration with Caltrans, City of San Diego, SANDAG, City Heights Community Development Corporation, and residents of Mid City. CH2MHill (now known as Jacobs), IBI Group, and KTUA were the main consulting firms involved in the planning/design. The projects were constructed by Caltrans. They’re owned by Caltrans and the City of San Diego.
More information can be found at City Heights CDC’s webpage, including a one minute video about the history of this initiative: http://www.cityheightscdc.org/centerline/
A longer, 12 minute documentary about the social history of the SR-15 Visions project, called “From Visions to Victory: City Heights and the SR-15 Freeway,” can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Brrc4UUHeUc&feature=youtu.be
Orange Ave & 40th St on top of the SR-15 in City Heights
Caltrans, City of San Diego, SANDAG, City Heights Community Development Corporation
Caridad Sanchez, Caridad.Sanchez@dot.ca.gov
Jim Bliesner, Mike Singleton, Stephen Alvarez, Fu Sun, Mike Stepner, Steve Russell, Maria Cortez