It was 1962 all over again at the San Diego City Council yesterday as the Council voted to construct a freeway-style by-pass bridge and road through the heart of Balboa Park, terminating it at a city financed parking garage.
The new bridge and road are designed to carry nearly 2X as many cars than what pass over the Cabrillo Bridge today, and the parking garage will hold an additional 260 new parking spaces. The bridge and road are designed strictly for vehicular traffic and purposefully exclude bicycle lanes and sidewalks.
With the ghost of Robert Moses ever present in the Council Chambers, supporters hid behind the guise of a more pedestrian friendly park, while speaking mostly about traffic, moving cars into the park and providing more parking. Supporters took great pains to emphasize that (mature) landscaping would hide the by-pass bridge, inadvertently driving home the fact that the flawed design needs to be camouflaged. Unfortunately, for current users of the park, the landscape will take 10-15 years to mature.
The ultimate goal of removing parking from Plaza de Panama and returning it to pedestrian use is laudable, and a goal everyone in the Council Chambers seemed to share. The archaic, auto-centric plan to achieve that goal divided the room, as it has divided the City.
60 years ago, Robert Moses finalized plans to put a 4 lane street through Washington Square Park. Jane Jacobs thought that was a bad idea, and by 1959, Washington Square Park was closed to all vehicular traffic. Not only was there no new street through the park, the streets bordering the park were not widened to accommodate additional traffic.
Yet in 2012, San Diego took a look at Balboa Park and wondered “how are we going to get more cars into the Park and provide parking for them?” How could this city, one that wants to be a first class city, be so far behind, seemingly locked in a time warp?
An image of Dr. Jacobs (substitute Mayor Sanders, Todd Gloria, etc.) comes to mind – an image of him standing defiantly, holding a steering wheel over head in his tightly clutched fists, and saying, “From my dead, cold, hands.” (apologies to Charlton Heston).
One can only hope that the citizens of San Diego will rise up, like Jane Jacobs and her fellow citizens did in 1952, and drag San Diego kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
What does 21st century design vs.1962 look like?
- In 2012, most cities don’t approach Park design with the goal of accommodating cars, traffic and parking.
- In 2012, streets are designed for all users, and when the majority of users are pedestrians, cars do not take priority in the design.
- In 2012 strict separation of uses, as we see with the by-pass bridge and road, is relegated to highway design. (This may account for the freeway off-ramp look of the bridge.)
- In 2012, Place Making for people is more important than traffic management for cars. This is especially true for Parks.
- In 2012 …