Plaza De Panama – A Host of People-First Changes Make a Big Impact

Plaza de Panama is the central plaza in Balboa Park and for many years was devoted to automobile parking.  In June 2013 reviled former Mayor Bob Filner led a push that removed the parking spots from the Plaza de Panama and created a public space for strolling, sitting, and enjoying the surrounding museums and sunshine.

san diego metro - plaza de panama parking
Photo from San Diego Metro

Here’s a photo of what the plaza looked like as a parking lot.

 

Below is what the plaza looks like now, less than three years later.  Today our family had a small picnic lunch on the plaza and there were people everywhere – a newlywed couple taking photos on the steps of the Museum of Art, small children riding bikes and scooters, people of all ages sitting or taking photos.  In short, it felt like an authentic plaza: “a public square, marketplace, or similar open space in a built-up area“.

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While a lack of parking at Balboa Park continues to be a prominent point of public discussion and debate the Plaza de Panama proves that empty parking spaces do not a great space make – no one was hanging out at the parking lot it formerly was, other than the valets for The Prado restaurant.  People enjoying life and each other are what make a plaza great and if you visit Balboa Park today you’ll find such a place at its heart.

The removal of the parking lot was the start of this new public life, but there have been many other elements that have contributed to the engaging place it is today.  Below are a few and it’s encouraging to see a range of different players contributing – I look forward to see what other improvements lie ahead.

  • The Balboa Park Explorer Pass – This pass grants access to the museums and cultural institutions in the museum campus area of Balboa Park.  Our family has had the annual pass ($229) since the inception of this program.  It is fantastic and has us visiting the park more frequently and a wider variety of museums than we previously had.  A great idea to increase the amount of visitors coming to the museum campus.

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  • Trees and tables – After the parking was first removed the plaza felt empty – it’s a big expanse and needed to be populated to make it more inviting.  The addition of a variety of chairs, tables, umbrellas, planter boxes, and other items have made it a pleasant and comfortable place to sit and people watch.

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  • Panama 66 Restaurant – The owners of local favorites Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger!Tiger! Tavern now operate a full service restaurant adjacent to the Plaza de Panama (and technically part of the Museum of Art).  This is a photo from March 13, 2016 at 11 AM – the line out the door says all that is needed about the popularity of the venue.  The restaurant includes a sculpture garden area and sitting on the grass in the evening while the California Tower is aglow is a newly classic San Diego experience.  [Caution: check schedules for sometimes irregular hours.]

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  • Art of the Open Air – The newest addition to the Plaza de Panama is a series of sculptures set up around the plaza.  In the central seating area there are information cards about the works including pieces by Rodin and Miro.  A great addition and fitting complement to the Museum of Art which stands on the Plaza de Panama.

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  • Improvements for walking and biking – Improved crosswalk markings and Balboa Park themed bicycle racks in prominent locations have made it more convenient to visit the park without a car.  Hopefully in future we will see the Laurel Street bridge closed to automobile traffic and made into a full-time pedestrian promenade.

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Thank you to the many people that are working to enhance Balboa Park and the experience of visiting for locals and tourists alike.  The Plaza de Panama shows that even on a short time frame big changes can be made through thoughtful, low-cost projects that put people first.  Cheers!

Car Rage – A More Fitting Term

Road rage is defined as “violent anger caused by the stress and frustration involved in driving a motor vehicle in difficult conditions”.  The term has some nice alliteration but a more fitting term would be “car rage”.  Perhaps we use road rage because we don’t want to acknowledge the damage and deaths that our passionate and loving embrace of the automobile causes.  Tens of thousands of deaths every year, yet rarely a headline in the paper.  The deaths are in the paper, just in the small print area inside with some short explanations that will impugn the non-auto parties at every turn.  Lots of mentions of crosswalks, lighting conditions, and visibility of clothing but few notes about Big Gulps, radio fiddling, use of phones, makeup application, driving history, or attention paid to road.

If you walk, or ride the bus, or ride a bicycle you don’t experience the same elevation of pulse, stress level, and anger as experienced when driving – especially at high speeds.  It seems mostly confined to the experience of driving in an automobile.  So perhaps we should retire “road rage” and start using “car rage”.  It won’t do much for the victims but it will at least change the conversation a bit and recognize that the most aggressive parties on our roads (which includes in front of our homes, schools, and businesses) are those using motor vehicles.

There is also a definition for “bike rage” and helpfully included in the examples section are all the different attack methods of cyclists.  For some reason, in the road rage entry (below) there not similarly prominent categories regarding attacks by car drivers.

bike rage

Here’s the road rage entry with some bland categories.  The mentions of violence included regard shootings: guns = dangerous, cars = Hello Kitty.  It’s almost like we don’t take the responsibility and risk of driving a massive vehicle at high speeds seriously.

 

 

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Drive safe, drive slow, drive less.  Avoid car rage.

Pershing Drive Bicycle Corridor – It’s Go Time

SANDAG is preparing to implement bicycle improvements to Pershing Drive in the near future, creating a safe and functional route from North Park and surrounding communities to Downtown.  This is part of the $200M SANDAG bicycle corridors program which has yet to stripe a single foot of bike lane in the nearly 3 years since being announced.  The first project, running through Hillcrest, gutted the most important segment – an east-west connection to North Park – at the last moment as detailed in this film by Dennis Stein.

Pershing Drive is very different from University Avenue; it lies in a park rather than popular communities.  Pershing Drive is currently a fantastic bicycle connection in many ways.  It runs through the middle of Balboa Park’s open space area.  Heading into town it offers gorgeous views of Los Coronados islands, Coronado Bridge, and Downtown.  It connects the densely populated neighborhoods of Uptown and Mid-City to Downtown.  However, it is also very intimidating to bike on.  The painted lanes are adjacent to high-speed roadways with speed limits of 45-50 MPH (and we all know that 5-10 above that is the likely reality).  Heading into Downtown, cyclists need to cross two separate onramps to Interstate 5, while drivers are ramping up to Interstate speeds. Both onramps lie behind curving corners with limited visibility.

I’ve been writing about the dangers of biking on Pershing Drive since early 2014 and serious injuries continue to accrue.

So how do we best create a functional, safe and protected bicycle corridor on Pershing Drive? Following are a number of specific ideas for what this project should look like.  We should start with context and a general guideline.  This project lies in the heart of Balboa Park – it should connect with and enhance the park, not take away from it.  A guideline that should lead any transport project is to put people first – and that means pedestrians first, bicycles second, public transit third, and private automobile fourth.  This is the hierarchy of preference used by the City of Chicago Department of Transportation and one that San Diego should adopt.

The Pershing Drive bicycle corridor should establish a two-way bike lane and two-way walking / running path adjacent to the Balboa Park golf course on the south / east side of Pershing Drive.  The entry point would be located at Redwood & 28th.  By siting the path on this side of Pershing the major friction points of the I-5 onramps are avoided (which fall under CalTrans purview and would be very difficult to address).  It also presents the opportunity to put those biking or jogging in a shaded and enjoyable place along the roadway.

  • Connect the two halves of Bird Park at the north terminus of Pershing Drive (at 28th Street) and direct traffic either east on Redwood or north on Arnold.  This will add parkland and avoid much of the backup that results from the awkward and overly large intersection now present at that location.
  • Reduce speeds for the entirety of Pershing Drive from the current 45-50 MPH to 35 MPH maximum and 25 MPH within 1,000 feet of the terminus at either end.
  • Add a path for those biking, walking, or jogging along the south side of the Naval Hospital to add a connection from Golden Hill and South Park to Balboa Park, as well as a connection for those traversing the improved Pershing Drive bicycle corridor.
  • Create dedicated and protected space for running / walking / jogging as well as for bicycling.  Pershing Drive runs through the heart of Balboa Park and the context of this project matters.  We should seek to improve the park as a whole with any project lying inside it.  The space for biking and jogging should be protected by a concrete barrier or other substantial method.
  • Reduce Pershing Drive to one travel lane in each direction.  There is one through street that intersects Pershing Drive currently – Florida Drive / 26th Street (the road changes names at the intersection).  Other than this street there are only entry points for service yards and parking lots at the Velodrome and the Morley Field frisbee golf course.  This matters because a prominent reason for back-up on a street can be waiting for an opportunity to turn.  That option is very limited on Pershing Drive, greatly reducing the need for additional traffic lanes.
  • Establish trees on both sides of Pershing Drive as protective barriers for the bicycle lanes (on the south / east side) and for the running paths on the opposite side of the roadway.
  • Establish vines on the high fences adjacent the Balboa Park golf course and a tree line inside the fence on the golf course to provide shade for the bicycle path, better utilize the irrigation on the course, provide privacy for golf course users, and improve the aesthetics of the road for drivers.
  • Utilize a maximum lane width of 10 feet for all travel lanes on Pershing Drive.  Any additional space should be reverted to parkland and narrower traffic lanes will decrease the incentive to speed on the roadway.
  • To connect the Pershing Drive bicycle corridor to adjacent neighbors add additional bicycle infrastructure on adjoining streets.  These include: close Florida Drive to vehicle traffic to restore Florida Canyon while incorporating a biking and walking path.  Add a painted bike line going up 26th Street into Golden Hill – the current road width does not appear to have sufficient space for a lane on both sides and the high speed differential going uphill warrants a lane before one descending onto Pershing or Florida.

Additional details will follow this post, including street sketches and other visuals.  The important thing is to gather community support for real improvements now, and to do so in a constructive way.  This is not about bikes vs. cars – it’s about taking real action about public health, climate change, quality of life, park space.  In general, it’s about making the project area better for all San Diegans.  We cannot afford to let basic, functional bicycle infrastructure get axed in a program specifically designed to create bicycle infrastructure, as happened in Hillcrest.

I would love feedback and criticisms or additional suggestions regarding Pershing Drive.  Please drop them in the comments, social media, or email.  Thank you.

Balboa Park – A great place for a bunch of new parking lots

KPBS recently ran a story mostly lamenting the lack of parking for vehicles at Balboa Park in San Diego.  I strongly disagree with this premise, particularly because of the lack of parking studies to support this viewpoint.  I posted a bit on my Facebook page (re-posted below) and was surprised and grateful to see it included the next day in both the San Diego Free Press Starting Line and the Voice of San Diego Morning Report.

If you live in San Diego or like to follow news from San Diego these are my two favorite daily sources for information and viewpoints from the area.  You can subscribe to both of these sources via email if you’d like to get them in your inbox.

Here are my brief thoughts on proposals to pave more of Balboa Park for parking lots, garages, and roadways.  It is very sad to me that in some of our most precious locations – the beachfront, the bayfront, Balboa Park, and so many others – we actively go out of our way to spend millions to erase the natural beauty that exists here.  Hopefully we can start to change our ways and live in a more sustainable, and enjoyable manner in the future.

This is so terrible it’s not even funny. In San Diego, our biggest and most well-known, and well-visited, park is Balboa Park. If you’ve been to San Diego you may have been there.

Instead of preserving our park space we are actively trying to pave more and more and more of it to accommodate vehicle parking. If parking were difficult, this might be a cause worth considering.

But facts like usage of existing parking spots won’t be found in articles like this or conversations with our “Balboa Park leaders”. Maybe a quick anecdote to note that yes, there are almost always open parking spots, but then back to visions of parking garages and multi-million dollar roadways that taxpayers will pay for.

Fresh on the heels of a huge parking garage built by the San Diego Zoo (which all San Diego property owners pay for) we have visions of parking on the East Mesa (which is already a parking lot used by city trucks), and a parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion.

More parking, more cars, more pavement. Less open space, worse air, and more congestion. Everybody clap.

SANDAG Bicycle Corridors – Finished Before They Even Started

Two and a half years ago SANDAG announced $200 million for bike projects to create a regional network.  The first of these projects is a $40 million project in Uptown.  It would create a critical connection both East to West and North to South in the heart of San Diego’s most densely populated neighborhoods.

University Avenue at Park Blvd. Clearly our streets are too small for bike lanes.
University Avenue at Park Blvd. Clearly our streets are too small for bike lanes. And how would bikes fit with so many cars?

Since the original announcement SANDAG has repeatedly trumpeted these funds as a sign of commitment to healthy transport in the form of bicycles.  During the time since Uptown was selected for the first SANDAG bicycle project what has changed in the area?    Population, businesses, traffic, and roadways all remain the same.  There remain only two real options for an East to West connection – University and Washington.

What has changed in that period is the will of SANDAG and the Transportation Committee to support and implement real bicycle infrastructure.  SANDAG is now taking unilateral action, walking back any commitment to bicycles for this corridor and setting a poor precedent for the future.  Worse yet is the toxic effect this will have on the many, many San Diegans that spent thousands of hours attending the public forums to give input and show support for this improvement in Uptown only to be trumped by back-room dealings hidden from the public eye that gutted the project in recent months.

We need safe streets today.  There are too many deaths, too many injuries, and too little justice (or even simple apologies) to those left dead or injured.

We are a real, vibrant, beautiful city – not a collection of suburbs.  We need to behave as such.

SANDAG is doubling down on the failed policies of 50 years of planning and building roadways in our region.  More and wider roads, more cars, more congestion.  Less open space, weaker communities, a weaker economy for both households and government, and more deaths and negative health impacts.  This is the most recent example of a car first-last-and-only approach to transportation.

San Diego has many natural advantages that blunt the effects of these poor policies.  These will not last forever.  Cities such as Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Paris, London, Stockholm, and many others showcase the real, tangible benefits derived from creating a livable and safe streetscape and city.

We need a firm, meaningful commitment to healthy, safe, and responsible transport.  Cars and bicycles are not equivalent transport.  Bicycles are better for safety, health, wealth, and should be put at a higher priority than cars.  Chicago Department of Transportation does exactly this by using the following order of priority for transportation:

  1. Pedestrians
  2. Public Transportation
  3. Bicycles
  4. Private Automobiles
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Chicago gets it right.

San Diego and SANDAG should take a page from this leading example and do the same, backed up by the allocation of funding and policies.  The opposite is the reality.

The lion’s share of all money goes to cars and roadways for cars while all other modes are made to beg for scraps or sue to compel what should be the course being set by our own leaders.  We need to create a true network for bikes, starting with University Avenue.  It will be a major step forward to improve our city and the individual well-being of our citizens.

If SANDAG is unable to implement the Uptown bicycle corridor with real, safe bicycle infrastructure throughout this $40 million should be moved to a different neighborhood where such a project can be realized.  If you can’t walk the walk, stop talking the talk.  Greenwashing is not a substitute for responsible, forward-thinking action.

More than two and a half years have passed since $200 million was promised for bike projects by SANDAG.  77 miles of bikeways in 42 projects was promised to be finished within ten years.    Where do we stand today?  Without a single foot of paint striped and the first project gutted and providing a maximum of three blocks of protected bike lanes.  A poor omen for the future projects, unless the desire to see a bicycle network was not genuine in the first place.  Hopefully the remaining projects will see real, on-the-ground results in quick order.  I would not hold my breath.

Why I Donate Monthly to BikeSD

I am writing to you today to ask you to join me in the fight to make San Diego a world-class bicycling city by pledging to make a monthly donation BikeSD.  Give today.

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My family and I at San Diego Bay

BikeSD is a bicycle advocacy organization with the vision to “transform San Diego into the world’s best city for bicycling”.  Although a young organization in its third year of existence this vision has already been pushed from complete fantasy to “probably not going to happen”.  Every day this push continues and the vision comes closer to reality.  This ongoing progress is due to the efforts of the organization and the many, many members, volunteers, friends, and supporters working together each day.

I first became familiar with BikeSD a few years ago when I began regularly attending meetings relating to SANDAG bike corridor projects.  I quickly became reliant on the BikeSD TwitterFacebook, and website for news of meetings I could not attend.  The sources, especially Twitter, were pretty much the only place to get a true picture of what was going on and being said for those not present.  At the meetings I was present for it was very clear to me who the voices in the room that I supported most belonged to – those of BikeSD volunteers and members.  This is the biggest reason I contribute monthly to BikeSD, to ensure my opinion has a voice at those meetings I can’t attend personally, and to increase the reach of the voice of the organization.  If you look around the city today and compare to five years ago the difference in the policies, infrastructure, and discussion around bicycling is starkly different.  The major change in that time period?  The arrival of BikeSD as a powerful force for the interest of bicycle riders of all experience and ability.

Until this year, BikeSD was solely a volunteer organization.  All the time and efforts put forth were done by people that care about San Diego and were willing to devote significant time to make this a better, safer place to live.  This year the organization is increasing the capacity to create positive change and that requires dollars.  Recently the first part-time hire for BikeSD was made – Kyle Carscaden receives a small monthly payment and is working to partner with businesses to provide secure, attractive bicycle parking for customers and employees.  Samantha Ollinger, Executive Director, is now receiving a small monthly stipend for her time.  We need to increase the ability to support these people, hire additional resources, and pay for physical materials and campaigns.  You can help and ensure that the ability of BikeSD to make San Diego great is amplified and safer streets become a reality.

BikeSD is doing great work in San Diego and though many have helped and supported the organization, that has largely been due to the efforts and sacrifices of one person – Samantha Ollinger.  Any city in the country would be lucky to have such a capable individual leading the push for safer streets and a healthier, happier city.  The impact that Sam has had on the city is hard to overstate and shows how important it is to support her voice, and add more voices, with enhanced resources for advocacy.  We need to support Sam and enable her to continue working full-time on these important issues.  Her leadership and rational, uncompromising approach to building a better city has pushed the entire conversation in San Diego in a meaningful way.  We need more of this, and more voices joining her.

I hope you’ll join me and support BikeSD Outreach* on a monthly basis.  Whether $5 or $500, you will help to make San Diego a better place to live for all.  Thank you.

[This post originally appeared on the BikeSD blog.]

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* Contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent permitted by law

Bike to Work Day – Postponed to Friday, 5/29 (Meet Me at 28th & B!)

NOTE: Edited due to postponement of Bike to Work Day to Friday, May 29th.


Friday, 5/29, is the postponed date for Bike to Work Day in San Diego and many other places across the U.S.  (Of course, there’s no reason that every day can’t be bike to work day but that’s largely reserved for the ultra-awesome.)  I’m going to be hosting a “pit stop” on behalf of BikeSD in Golden Hill at the corner of B Street and 28th Street.  The pit stop will be open from 6 AM to 9 AM.

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Up for grabs – official T-shirt, Clif Bars, Zico coconut water, Suja juice, magazine, bike lights, and more!
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Stop by our pit stop, get 25% off at SD Bean Bar Downtown (next to Central Library). Sweet!

You should come by and enjoy free shirts, snacks, drinks, and other goodies.  There is potential for rain in the forecast so I’m also packing extra tents you can relax under while enjoying the cool morning with other fun people.  I’ll also be tallying everyone stopping by the pit stop so help me represent and top the attendance list.  (No, I don’t think there’s a prize for that but I’m crossing my fingers for official bragging rights.)

Check out these photos for a sampling of what’s waiting for you at 28th & B on May 29th.  Even if you’re not going to work, cruise on over and hang out for a bit!  May is also “Bike Month” in San Diego and BikeSD is hosting a Bike Month Bash party on May 30th to celebrate.  If you’re not already biking this month, start today and you’ll have something to celebrate on the 30th.  Register today!

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Some quality reading material you can read while pretending to work!
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I organize the annual Bikes & Beers SD event so you can score a free sticker and glass. Exclusive to 28th & B pit stop!

Close Florida Drive Now. Right Now.

As I recently wrote about, Balboa Park is a city treasure, enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.  It is also home to many high-speed roads which greatly diminish the quality of the park, use large amounts of high-value land, and pose health dangers immediate (being crushed by a car) and long-term (developing asthma and other disease due to very poor air quality in San Diego).  It is time to eliminate the most superfluous high-speed road in Balboa Park – Florida Drive.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Balboa Park and there would be no better way to celebrate that than by returning a significant portion of the park to it’s natural state.  (Or at least we can offset the deletion of another canyon in Balboa Park by the San Diego Zoo that is currently approaching completion.)  We can expand the size of the open park space, and the quality, by closing Florida Drive to automobile traffic.  To avoid inconvenience to cars – which must be the first consideration for a conversation to even start – this would only be a closure of Florida Drive from Morley Field Drive to Zoo Place.

Area of Florida Drive to close to autos immediately
Area of Florida Drive to close to autos immediately

San Diego’s canyons are a tremendous asset for the city and residents.  They are a tiny foothold for local flora and fauna in our beautiful and bio-diverse region.  They provide an opportunity for our youth to experience the outdoors in their backyards, across the city.  They show that we value nature, heritage, and the environment.  They are well worth protecting and in this case, worth restoring.

Florida Drive mirrors Park Boulevard and a closure of this portion of Florida would have little to no impact on vehicle traffic.  It certainly would not cause back-ups.  At the same time, it would provide a peaceful setting for those enjoying the canyon and an expanded sanctuary for the snakes, lizards, birds, and other animals that call this area home.  A park should be a park, not an extended Interstate on-ramp that is a park in name only.

How to proceed:

  1. Immediately install temporary concrete bollards blocking Florida Drive to automobile traffic at the Intersection of Morley Field Drive and Zoo Place.
  2. Monitor traffic counts on adjacent roadways to determine impact on traffic flows and overall safety for a 6-month period.
  3. Remove three-quarters of Florida Drive (East side) and replant with native trees which will flourish in the natural creek setting of the canyon bed.  Convert remaining one-quarter to a two-way bike path and install a gravel running path on the West side of the pavement.
  4. Enjoy the quiet and peacefulness of a greatly improved piece of San Diego’s premier park, all done at little cost and with great benefit that will only increase in the coming years.

We can do this, and so much more to make our city better.  All we have to do is choose to do so.

Beautiful trees and shrubs with many birds are found in Florida Canyon, but loud and dangerous cars diminish the area.
Beautiful trees and shrubs with many birds are found in Florida Canyon, but loud and dangerous cars diminish the area.

[Also posted on San Diego Free Press website. And thanks to VOSD for inclusion in the 5/13 Culture Report!]

Balboa Park – A Great Place to Drive a Car Through

Balboa Park is frequently referred to in loving tones by San Diegans, guide books, and articles.  It’s our “Crown Jewel” and an asset for the entire region that draws visitors from all over the globe.  There are a number of very enjoyable museums in the park and it’s a great place for a picnic or to take the kids to.

Apparently it’s also a great place for high-speed auto traffic to speed through.  Here’s a map of the speed limits for the roadways going through Balboa Park.

The speed of cars trump people throughout San Diego
The speed of cars trumps people throughout San Diego

These type of speeds are more appropriate for highways than access roads to the premier park and open space for a major city.  As a result of the abundance of these types of roads in Balboa Park there is essentially nowhere in the entire park you can enjoy without the sound of automobiles.  There are very few spots you can even be out of sight of cars whizzing by.  The very nature of these roads shows you that they are not for visiting the park, but for moving as many cars as possible through the park area quickly.

In addition to high speed roads, we continue to pave ever more of the park to provide automobile parking.  On the East Mesa area the city has established a growing parking lot for park service vehicles.  It is huge.  The San Diego Zoo is building an $18 million parking garage behind the Old Globe Theatre with 650 parking spots for employee use.  The access for this garage will be via Village Place and Old Globe Way – small roadways that are currently very quiet and provide access for only a few dozen parking spots, maybe a hundred at most.  Now there will be hundreds, maybe thousands, of cars traversing this area throughout the day.  Oh – and a native canyon space has been razed and replaced by an enormous garage.  San Diego Zoo – shouldn’t conservation start at home?

East Mesa Parking Lot in Balboa Park
East Mesa Parking Lot in Balboa Park

All of this amounts to an area that professes to be a park but would more appropriately be described as an auto park.  We recognize that we live in a beautiful region with an incredible amount of natural beauty worth preserving.  We can recognize that land is very valuable here.  But when it comes to roads and parking we choose to annihilate our native habitats along with the plants and animals, including us, they support and spend exorbitant amounts of money (nearly all public money, not private) to do so.  As you can see with the massive interstates built through our coastal wetlands and the decades old surface level parking lot that is the San Diego Downtown bayfront, there is literally no land too valuable or beautiful for us to not pave the ever-loving piss out of it and call it improvement.

So we’ll continue to pave Balboa Park, widen the roads, and raise the speeds.  We won’t even have to waste our time walking in the park to “enjoy” it.  Why waste the time?  Speed in, take a selfie, and speed out.  Progress.  It’s disgusting, unhealthy, and a terrible message for San Diego to spend to the world.  New Yorkers value Central Park and you can bet your bottom dollar they would never allow their “Crown Jewel” to suffer the fate that we continue to actively choose for our own.

So enjoy your next visit to Balboa Park.  Maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse of the museums or zoo while you’re speeding past.