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.
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:
Immediately install temporary concrete bollards blocking Florida Drive to automobile traffic at the Intersection of Morley Field Drive and Zoo Place.
Monitor traffic counts on adjacent roadways to determine impact on traffic flows and overall safety for a 6-month period.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.