The central theme of Todd Gloria’s campaign for mayor was that San Diego is a big city that too often acts like a small city. And larger cities, he explained, have better options for people to get around without a car, which is the city’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“I’m the guy who wrote the climate action plan,” Gloria said during a debate in August 2019. “Now I’m running…to be the guy implementing the action plan for the climate.”
During her first year as mayor, Gloria announced a new and a more ambitious climate plan which aims for 50% of all trips in the city to be made on foot, by bicycle or by public transport.
But how far Gloria is willing to go to achieve that goal is being tested with an upcoming transportation project on Park Boulevard in Balboa Park, where the city is preparing to replace an underground water pipe. Once the street has been repaved, the authorities want to redesign it.
A presentation at the Balboa Park Committee on May 5 presented the options. The one that offers the biggest improvement for cyclists and transit users would remove on-street parking and a lane for cars to make room for a protected bike lane and a dedicated bus lane.
“Improving safety for all road users is one of our primary goals,” said Everett Hauser, program manager at the city’s Department of Transportation. “This area is right in the heart of the city center and serves a large number of people. It is one of the busiest bus routes in the city. So increasing this efficiency makes public transport more attractive for people to move around.”
Dedicated bus lanes are rare in San Diego, although they are widely considered one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve public transportation, as they allow buses to bypass traffic jams. In the same way, data exposure protected cycle paths are safer for cyclists and more efficient for attract new runners — especially womenthe elderly, children and people with disabilities – compared to cycle paths made with paint but without physical barriers.
Park Boulevard includes bike lanes north and south of Balboa Park. But on the roughly 1.4-mile stretch through the park itself, cyclists must share a lane with cars.
Madison Coleman, policy advocate for the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said Gloria’s administration hasn’t shown a clear roadmap for how it will achieve its sustainable transportation goals.
“It’s really, really important that (the mayor) stand up and be the role model for the region to create really safe and efficient transport opportunities so that people feel like they can’t rely on their cars. as much as they’re probably doing right now,” Coleman said.
Resistance from inside the park
But like several other bike and transit projects in San Diego, the Park Boulevard redesign is facing resistance. The Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, which represents the park’s museums and attractions, argues that removing the parking lot would make the park less accessible, especially for people traveling long distances who can’t ride a bike or take the bus.
“About 90% of people coming to the park, or more on most days, would come in vehicles,” said Peter Comiskey, group chief executive. “And they often come in groups, very often as families. These families cannot use carpooling. These are not solutions for them.”
The park’s central mesa currently offers 7,468 parking spaces, including 335 on Park Boulevard. Removing this on-street parking would represent a roughly 4% reduction in parking supply in the area, according to city officials.
The city is exploring design options that would preserve on-street parking at the expense of cyclists and transit users. But Comiskey said he doesn’t like those options either, and the city should do a mobility and parking management study first.
“Historically, a lot of the solutions that are forced into the park are done … in a very piecemeal and reactive way, instead of having a really solid strategic approach,” Comiskey said.
Meanwhile the city’s own measures indicate that he is late on daily trips away from cars. The modeling also suggests that the county’s regional transportation plan is terribly insufficient to achieve the city’s climate goals.
Prior to his election, Gloria acknowledged that he would have to do much more than his predecessor to improve car-free transportation in the city.
“When we have these fights about bike lanes and pedestrian improvements, it’s often about a paint job and the ability to move forward with leadership,” Gloria said during the debate in 2019. “We will start supporting public transit and active transportation because it is essential to the future of our quality of life.”
Whatever design Gloria chooses for Park Boulevard, the street should be restricted by December.