Mayor Sanders Wants a Car-Free Balboa Park Plaza

i Jan 16th 20 Comments by

The 2009 Earth Day celebration provides a glimpse of a car-free central plaza in Balboa Park. Mayor Sanders hopes to have the plaza car-free by 2015.

In his State of the City speech on Wednesday, Mayor Jerry Sanders revealed his strong support for a plan that would take the cars and parking spaces out of Balboa Park’s central plaza.  Sanders said of the plaza:

It was built for the 1915 Exposition as a grand ceremonial plaza for the public. Over time it was transformed into a grand ceremonial parking lot for cars.

We will reclaim that plaza for ourselves and posterity before the park’s centennial celebration in 2015. And in doing so, we will celebrate a moment that’s a century in our past.

For what it’s worth, Bike San Diego would like to join the other park supporters and institutions that have already voiced their endorsement for this project.

Read Sanders’ entire speech here.

Read more about the plaza plan at SignOnSanDiego. But don’t read the comments, it’ll just make you mad.

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  • This is great news!

  • Haha! You’re right about the comments.

  • Great news: we’re years behind other city’s in this regard!

  • Larry Hogue

    I was at a “charette” for a Balboa Park vision plan about 10 years ago. Getting the cars out of the plaza was the big idea then too. Let’s hope they’re really serious about it now.

    I wish the article had gone into specifics about how exactly this would work. Would the Laurel Bridge also be closed to cars? How would people drive from one side of the park to the other? I think there was some talk of a tunnel under the park (seems to me there’s something like this in Golden Gate Park?). If there is no driving route through the middle of the park, how much traffic would be diverted to Robinson and the neighborhoods north of Roosevelt Middle School?

    This is similar to what we’re dealing with in University City in regard to the proposed Regents Road Bridge in Rose Canyon Park — these issues of “connectivity” don’t go away easily.

  • I think we all owe the mayor love notes for this.

    I saw the headline on the paper, and I could not believe it. I thought I was seeing things or perhaps misreading the story. This news severely makes my day. Or perhaps my week.

    I appreciated the notion to not read the comments. I won’t even bother reading the story. We all know the negativity so we don’t need to read the same anger over and over again.

    For readers who don’t know Balboa Park, it’s actually impossible to bicycle through the park w/o encountering cars many who think they are on the highway even while in heavy ped areas. Going E and W there is an especially tight bottle neck. If you can’t ride yer bicycle in a park in peace where can you go?

    Go Mayer!

  • I would be for closing that area of the park to cars. However, through traffic still needs a way to get through, but really slowed down. Too many go through there at high speed during commute hours. I would also like to see the area still open to bicycles, as there aren’t many places to get through there easily by bicycle, especially if that were to be closed.

  • Actually, there’s at least one other entrance to the same parking lots from Park Blvd, so traffic doesn’t _have_ to get through.

    In fact, most people driving on El Prado are lost and don’t need to go over the bridge at all. Stand at the rotary and watch as car after car zooms into the park then turns around again and goes the opposite direction over the bridge again. 🙂

    The last thing a park needs is frustrated people speeding around the park.

    A few better signs could save people a lot of time, frustration, and petrol. Better signs would make motorists and non-motorists more relaxed.

    El Prado was originally a pedestrian only bridge. From time to time, the bridge is closed to cars, and the experience is like night and day. At those (rare) times, I can actually relax and feel as if I am in a park rather than a normal, busy street.

    Balboa Park is very beautiful, but there’s a HUGE amount of space devoted to the automobile which is ironic because many people like to walk around the park once they get there.

    Recently, a couple of tourists parked on 6th and asked for directions to a museum. I told them how to get there, but I let them know that there was parking closer by. They wanted to walk anyway as it was a lovely day as usual. When people go to a park, they have the expectation that they are going to walk a little unless someone puts parking in front of every single venue which is the problem with Balboa Park.

    You find that most pedestrians huddle together in the tiny area between the rotary and the fountain because people love to walk in places without fear of getting hit. I think that less parking and more pedestrian areas would actually draw more people to the park because there would be more places to walk.

    I don’t know all the answers, but I suggest looking at other cities to see how they have done things such as Central Park in NYC. Central Park serves more people and with much less parking so this is possible.

    I feel that the current design actually discourages walking. Venues are often very far apart because there are enormous parking spaces in between each area. Removing the parking spots and adding more venues (or more nature) will make walking seem shorter. Try walking down a busy street with many store fronts vs. the same distance past one monolithic building with no windows. The former is psychologically shorter and more fun.

    I think we all agree that Balboa is improving, and again, I thank the mayor for his wonderful ideas.

  • The through traffic I refer to comes from Park Blvd and 6th Ave via El Prado (Laurel St) and Presidents Way. Weekdays there is a lot of through traffic along that corridor. Much of that traffic going way too fast, especially considering it is within a park. The trouble with removing that through route is the lack of alternate routes, there aren’t any except for routes outside the park.

  • Mike, you can get to all those parking lots (such as in front of the Automotive Museum) from Park Avenue which goes through the park.

    Also, I was wrong about there not being a bike path through the park E and W. You can take Upas all the way; I did it today.

  • Access to the parking lots isn’t the issue I refer. Getting from one side of the park to the other is the issue I refer. See it during peak hours, especially afternoons and you’ll see. There is also no Park Ave, only Park Blvd, El Prado, Presidents Way, and Pan American Rd. For access from one side of the park to the other, by car, there are no options within the park other than going through that plaza. To detour around that, you have to go through downtown or along Robinson Ave. If that plaza were to be closed off to bicycles as well, it would make trans-park traffic far more difficult. Yes, Upas is an option, but not the best of options.

  • OK, Mike, you win. If you think that getting around the park in a car is a problem then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    I thought that the whole point of a park was to relax. If driving around in a car is relaxing to you, there are thousands of miles of freeway in which to enjoy yourself.

    For me, the whole purpose of a park is to get away from it all including autos. In an ideal world, I’d also like to get away from cyclists. Again, in NYC, their parks have separate pedestrian and cycling lanes. I don’t think that cycling and pedestrians really mix.

    While on a bicycle, I’d prefer not to have to worry about a stroller getting pushed in my path. I’d have to hurt myself to save the child. While walking, I don’t like being screamed at, “On your left” or whatever nonsense they are yelling this week.

    Seriously, the park isn’t much more massive than my example of Central Park where many places are completely car free.

    I guess that this illustrates the HUGE difference in point of view from the East vs. West Coast POV. West Coasters just can’t seem to wrap their head around getting anywhere more than a few feet w/o a motor. I think that if people change a little, they will benefit a great deal.

  • Michael Ballard

    I’m not trying to win, and I’m most definitely not for driving everywhere. I also take issue with the “west coasters” reference. Not all drive everywhere. I bicycle more than I drive, at least around town. I ride to work, even this week. My point is that, if closing the plaza to cars means no cars will be able to travel through the plaza, that creates a problem for others. I’m all for removing the parking.

    Travel from Bankers Hill to the eastern end of the park would be very circuitous, forcing those cars into downtown or Hillcrest to get to the other side of the park. Remember, there is only ONE vehicular crossing between downtown and Hillcrest, that is via the Prado bridge AND the plaza in question. It is also the only level crossing, which is easier for most cyclists. This is my concern. I could care less if people whine about having to walk farther to a parking lot. So, closing the plaza to motor traffic would create other problems. Closing it to parking would be much better.

  • Fred

    Well, I didn’t mean to be insulting at all. Sorry.

    The point is that over and over again, bicycle advocates seem to put the automobile first which I frustrating. I’m all for seeing people’s points of view, but when did the tobacco lobby start seeing second hand smokers as more important than cigar aficionados? Remember the AAA actively campaigns against any money being spent on any infrastructure other than roads. They are not pro-auto, but also anti-cycling. They are one of the biggest lobbies in the country so trust me when I say, motorists will get by somehow. They will not be short-changed in the least. No worries.

    Balboa Park is pretty small when you are traveling 60 MPH, and there are plenty of freeways to choose from. My goal is to get through the park without getting buzzed everyday. Sorry if I sound so annoyed, but I am starting to realize how much stress this El Prado bridge actually is.

    We get buzzed daily and once a car tried to run us off the road. This bridge is less than a quarter mile and the speed limit is 15 MPH. We were riding 16 MPH (bike speeders) and yet we still get harassed daily. That’s why the excitement over Upas.

    Also, I’m now curious on how this bridge is used. I was under the impression that there was a cul-de-sac in many of the parking lots. Now, I’m realizing that the bridge is used as a through street. Is this correct. Where does it go on the other end after the rotary? Surely driving through a busy park where there are multiple stops is not the fastest way to drive the short distance through the Park. It may be the shortest distance, but that rarely works out as fastest in an auto.

    Anyway, I’ll be interested in hearing how this bridge is used. The guy who almost killed us in his SUV told us that El Prado wasn’t for riding bicycles, but for putting automobiles through the city as quickly as possible. Perhaps this is why I feel so strongly about this teapot. 🙂

  • The through roadway goes south from the plaza onto Pan American Rd, then onto Presidents Way to meet with Park Blvd. That is the through path I speak of. While I’m not for using that as a “fast” route through the park by car, I am for slowing it down substantially. I’ve had many bad encounters with speeding cars on the El Prado Bridge myself, considering its 15 mph limit. I take the lane now, which is quite legal, and let the cars deal with it. I’ve also seen too many pass dangerously on the bridge (narrow and illegal to pass).

  • Larry Hogue

    I wonder if there are any studies that show where the through-traffic is going? Balboa Naval Hospital? Museums on the Park Blvd. side of the park? If you were trying to drive to the zoo, I don’t think this is the way you’d go (unless you were a lost tourist). Doesn’t seem like there’s much else over there that would draw traffic.

    If you really want to follow the process of this as it develops, I’d suggest getting in touch with Mike Kelly of the Committee of 100. I can probably get his contact info if you can’t find it elsewhere.

  • Michael Ballard

    It may not seem like a lot, but I see a lot of cars on the Prado Bridge during commute, and many cars at Presidents Way/Park Blvd. Most speed, sadly. I rarely drive through there, not sure the last time I did. I usually am bicycling there.

  • KK

    Feb 15 might be a good time to voice an opinion – the Balboa Park Task Force (who are trying to figure out all things Balboa Park) meets Monday Feb 15, Reuben H Fleet Science Center community room, 6 p.m. There’s a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting where you can voice your support for making Balboa Park car-free. 🙂

  • Kathy

    good article in today’s UT re: the proposal
    the proposal would keep auto traffic on the Laurel St bridge, just cutting it over onto the street before the fountain rather than going all the way round it. Not an optimal solution for cyclists, but a step in the right direction.
    There’s a Balboa Park Committee meeting this Thursday, Feb 4th, 6:00 at the Santa Fe Room of the Balboa Park Club. come on out!

  • I’m all for restoring the plaza by removing the parking… but how is this a bicycling issue?

  • Larry Hogue


    At one point, years ago and even when this was brought up last month, there was talk about not just removing the parking and rerouting the street, but closing off the through traffic completely (and I always assumed bikes would still be allowed in some fashion). That would definitely make it a bicycling issue. See my and other comments at the beginning of this thread.

    With the most recent article in the U-T, it’s clear that they’re now just talking about moving the travel lanes over to the west side of the fountain and getting rid of the parking. So it’s more of a quality of life issue especially if Balboa Park is your neighborhood park (as it used to be for me). But still of interest to a lot of people on this blog.