The contentious debate over the best way to remove cars from Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama has divided community members for years.

That makes the reaction to Mayor Bob Filner’s plan to change the route many San Diegans use to visit the park on weekends so remarkable: It’s been mostly positive.

Last week, Filner said he wants to return most of the plaza to pedestrians and close the Cabrillo Bridge on weekends. His plan will require relocating handicapped spots and the park’s current valet hub. The city will also need to add barriers to keep motorists out of the plaza.

Filner proposed that bridge closures begin Memorial Day weekend.

But those who attended a Wednesday night meeting at Balboa Park Club to hear Filner’s plans were largely relieved by the temporary nature of the mayor’s plans.

If it doesn’t work, he’ll fix it.

We asked Voice of San Diego readers for their take on Filner’s proposal. Like meeting attendees, commenters were largely supportive, partly because the city can easily reverse course.

Walter Chambers, founder of Great Streets San Diego, was among the plan’s backers:

It may not be the perfect plan, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s the beauty of it. However, it’s a darn good start. The Filner Plan allows San Diego to try it out, get community feedback, tweak and refine it … all at a low cost. Once we get the right solution, then it can be made permanent.

David Cohen agreed and noted that the mayor’s plan to close the bridge comes at a convenient time. The city already must close the bridge for construction that begins in January so he said leaders might as well use the extra time to assess the effect of closing it:

The four-month bridge closure for repair work offers the opportunity to see the effects of doing that. We should know a lot more a year from now.

A few commenters expressed some concerns, though.

Bankers Hill residents have long feared that shuttering the Cabrillo Bridge would crowd their neighborhoods with cars.

William Hamilton , who commented on Facebook, is one of them:

For those of us who live immediately west of the park in Bankers Hill, I can’t say I’m delighted by the idea of closing the bridge to traffic. It will make parking in our neighborhood horrific on the weekends …

Judith Swink zeroed in on the impact to another route to Balboa Park:

The main difference will be that, on weekends, all vehicles will need to use Park Blvd. to get to the same parking lots they now drive through the Plaza de Panama to reach (Organ Pavilion, Palisades, 500+ spaces between the Hall of Champions and Park Blvd., and Inspiration Point), just as those arriving from the west today must do because, even on weekdays in winter, there are rarely spaces to be found in the Plaza or the Alcazar Garden lot after 10 a.m.

Jim Peugh would like the city to transform the bridge into a gathering place with an experience similar to the one that’s been etched out for the Plaza de Panama:

It would be great if the bridge would evolve an extension of a car-free Prado for pedestrians, bikes, low speed trams, and emergency vehicles when needed. It could be lined with food carts, entertainers, art for sale, drinking fountains, benches, potted plants, etc. I hope that the mayor’s plan is a step in that evolution.

Fred Williams had an education-themed idea for the plaza:

Reach out to the schools and offer them time on weekends at the former parking spaces in the plaza. They could set up displays telling of their achievements, use the spots for fundraising, perform music or dance, and similarly take advantage of the city’s newest public place for encouraging and recognizing San Diego’s students and teachers.

Setting this as a defined city goal for this newly freed area in the heart of Balboa Park could avoid the area becoming overrun with hot dog carts, and ensure that public spaces are used for the public good.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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    This article relates to: Balboa Park, Community, News, Parks, Share
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    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    32 comments
    Virginia Silverman
    Virginia Silverman subscriber

    I definitely support the Mayor's plan. However, one thing the park definitely needs is some park benches. I would be happy to donate funds, and I am sure others would too. A small plate could be afixed to acknowledge the donor.

    Virginia
    Virginia

    I definitely support the Mayor's plan. However, one thing the park definitely needs is some park benches. I would be happy to donate funds, and I am sure others would too. A small plate could be afixed to acknowledge the donor.

    Jim Neri
    Jim Neri subscribermember

    This plan is all talk and no guts. If the planners of the original exposition had taken this approach it would be a long-forgotten folly in San Diego History. Good thing we still have all of their inspired work to help hide the small-mindedness of this half-measure.

    Jimmer
    Jimmer

    This plan is all talk and no guts. If the planners of the original exposition had taken this approach it would be a long-forgotten folly in San Diego History. Good thing we still have all of their inspired work to help hide the small-mindedness of this half-measure.

    Janice Fahey
    Janice Fahey subscriber

    Agreed. I have used the same route for the same reason for 30 years, except during the times when the Plaza or the bridge was closed. I also attend events in the park regularly. I have never had a problem parking to go to the Globe or the museums except when there are very big special events.

    Jafa
    Jafa

    Agreed. I have used the same route for the same reason for 30 years, except during the times when the Plaza or the bridge was closed. I also attend events in the park regularly. I have never had a problem parking to go to the Globe or the museums except when there are very big special events.

    Fred Fredsky
    Fred Fredsky subscriber

    This park is within a big city. If you want to avoid "oppressive road noise" take a bus to places like Mission Trails Park. Or bike. Better yes, just walk all the way there.

    Fredsky
    Fredsky

    This park is within a big city. If you want to avoid "oppressive road noise" take a bus to places like Mission Trails Park. Or bike. Better yes, just walk all the way there.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Accommodating the disabled and elderly with turnouts for drop offs in the plaza would be a good tweek to this plan on the open days.

    mgland
    mgland

    Accommodating the disabled and elderly with turnouts for drop offs in the plaza would be a good tweek to this plan on the open days.

    Carrie Schneider
    Carrie Schneider subscribermember

    I bet this will work great. Then we can expand it to Florida Drive. The Balboa Park plan calls for closing this road through Florida Canyon, but a good compromise would be to close it on weekends so that people can walk the nature trails without the oppressive road noise.

    Carries
    Carries

    I bet this will work great. Then we can expand it to Florida Drive. The Balboa Park plan calls for closing this road through Florida Canyon, but a good compromise would be to close it on weekends so that people can walk the nature trails without the oppressive road noise.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Golden Gate Park and Central Park manage to exclude cars on weekends with no problems and a boon to pedestrians and bicyclists. Don't we aspire to be like those great public spaces?

    fryefan
    fryefan

    Golden Gate Park and Central Park manage to exclude cars on weekends with no problems and a boon to pedestrians and bicyclists. Don't we aspire to be like those great public spaces?

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    More generally, the tram policies and procedures need to be controlled by Balboa Park, not the Old TownTrolley contract operators.

    fryefan
    fryefan

    More generally, the tram policies and procedures need to be controlled by Balboa Park, not the Old TownTrolley contract operators.

    David Lundin
    David Lundin subscriber

    Not to mention the introduction of Paid Parking to Balboa Park for the first time in 100 years.

    DavidnPB
    DavidnPB

    Not to mention the introduction of Paid Parking to Balboa Park for the first time in 100 years.

    devy62
    devy62 subscribermember

    As a Native San Diegan; I welcome this compromise. Weekends are the busiest time in the Park & above all SAFETY should be the first issue. I remember when the area btwn the Natl History Museum & the Plaza was block off. It was a a nice change & the rest was to eventually to follow with closure. Remember, it is a PARK & should be for Pedestrians & Bicyclists. Cars do not need to be there. As for the parking issue, park Downtown & take the bus up or walk!

    devy62
    devy62

    As a Native San Diegan; I welcome this compromise. Weekends are the busiest time in the Park & above all SAFETY should be the first issue. I remember when the area btwn the Natl History Museum & the Plaza was block off. It was a a nice change & the rest was to eventually to follow with closure. Remember, it is a PARK & should be for Pedestrians & Bicyclists. Cars do not need to be there. As for the parking issue, park Downtown & take the bus up or walk!

    Douglas Scott
    Douglas Scott subscriber

    here, as well, and we can safely expect the same outcome. Finally, do not be fooled by the so called spokespeople for Bankers Hill who rush to the microphone and say "Bankers Hill opposes this!" They are members of a couple of small exclusive groups with overlapping memberships who are out of touch with the larger community. Journalists need to contact residents and inclusive groups like the Bankers Hill Residents Group to obtain a better gauge of public opinion in our neighborhood.

    Doug Scott
    Doug Scott

    here, as well, and we can safely expect the same outcome. Finally, do not be fooled by the so called spokespeople for Bankers Hill who rush to the microphone and say "Bankers Hill opposes this!" They are members of a couple of small exclusive groups with overlapping memberships who are out of touch with the larger community. Journalists need to contact residents and inclusive groups like the Bankers Hill Residents Group to obtain a better gauge of public opinion in our neighborhood.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    To continue, there are several thousand parking spaces available, without including the Zoo parking lot, and the reduction by 65-70 spaces in the Plaza de Panama is a drop in the bucket. The main solution for those who do not wish to or cannot easily walk from parking to their destination is a good tram system. As Mayor Filner announced last Wednesday night, that tram system was ordered in November and will soon arrive. What is left to do is create a tram schedule that is frequent and convenient.

    LibraryLover
    LibraryLover

    To continue, there are several thousand parking spaces available, without including the Zoo parking lot, and the reduction by 65-70 spaces in the Plaza de Panama is a drop in the bucket. The main solution for those who do not wish to or cannot easily walk from parking to their destination is a good tram system. As Mayor Filner announced last Wednesday night, that tram system was ordered in November and will soon arrive. What is left to do is create a tram schedule that is frequent and convenient.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    Derek - there rarely are "parking problems" - those parking problems occur mainly on the infrequent days there are huge events on the Central Mesa such as EarthFair. The main objection people express is walking from parking to their park destination. I believe that reality of that objection is exaggerated

    LibraryLover
    LibraryLover

    Derek - there rarely are "parking problems" - those parking problems occur mainly on the infrequent days there are huge events on the Central Mesa such as EarthFair. The main objection people express is walking from parking to their park destination. I believe that reality of that objection is exaggerated

    Tim Dierks
    Tim Dierks subscriber

    How does the Filner plan not violate the same minicipal code (126.0504(i)) that killed the Jacobs plan? I thought that Judge Timothy Taylor's ruling against the Jacobs plan said that the City cannot remove parking from the Plaza de Panama because parking is considered an existing "reasonable beneficial use" of the Plaza. Will the City Council need to provide a waiver for the Filner plan?

    td
    td

    How does the Filner plan not violate the same minicipal code (126.0504(i)) that killed the Jacobs plan? I thought that Judge Timothy Taylor's ruling against the Jacobs plan said that the City cannot remove parking from the Plaza de Panama because parking is considered an existing "reasonable beneficial use" of the Plaza. Will the City Council need to provide a waiver for the Filner plan?


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