City leaders are pushing San Diegans toward vehicle-less mobility whether they like it or not by making changes to roadways and eliminating hundreds of parking spots, this time in one of the city's most popular destinations — Balboa Park.
Parking along Park Boulevard -- a 1.4-mile thoroughfare that cuts through Balboa Park and runs alongside popular destinations like the San Diego Zoo, the Natural History Museum, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the World Beat Cultural Center -- has been reduced from its original 300 spots to 67.
The loss of parking doesn't come as a surprise. The city held community meetings about the Park Boulevard Bikeway Project last year and released information about the changes as early as Sept. 2022. But the city's recent red-striping of the curb along the 1.4-mile stretch has allowed San Diegans to visualize the project's effects.
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"We came here today to visit some friends who are coming in from out of town to hang out at the park. A little surprised to see the [red-striping]," San Diego resident Scott Leishman said on Wednesday. "We did find parking, I guess it's sort of an off-peak time but I can imagine if you come back on a Saturday afternoon, it's going to be pretty brutal trying to find a spot... It's not going to be good and I don't really understand what the benefit is right now, just seeing this."
Specifically, the change was made as part of the Park Boulevard Bikeway Project that got underway in early February. More broadly, it's part of Mayor Todd Gloria's Climate Action plan, which aims to make half of all trips in San Diego carless by the year 2035. The goal is to create a mobility-friendly utopia connecting to a much larger infrastructure of byways crisscrossing the city that will purposefully push travelers toward getting around San Diego by bike, bus or feet.
For this portion of the project, the city first repaved the street between Upas Street and Presidents Way. Then, crews added a three-inch layer of asphalt. Next, red paint was added to the curb in late February, formally eliminating about 300 parking spots along the popular stretch of road.
Next on the agenda, the city plans to restripe Park Boulevard starting late next week, adding a redesigned roadway that includes a separated bike lane, one car lane and a dedicated bus lane on each side of the street for a majority of the thoroughfare. Once restriping is started, it should take about a week to complete, meaning San Diegans should see the finished roadway in about two-and-a-half weeks. The process was scheduled to get underway at the end of February, but San Diego's stormy weather has delayed its start.
Only 67 parking spaces will be added back along the route, mostly on the west side of the street. City spokesperson Anthony Santacroce said their research into traffic patterns showed congestion was mostly a factor on busy park days and that will remain, but overall, the project would not affect the flow of traffic. The city is touting it as a positive in the long run -- after all, there are still some 7,500 parking spots elsewhere in the park.
"The area will benefit from quicker access to buses and shuttles utilizing the dedicated transit lane and safer access for cyclists and micro-mobility device riders using the separated bikeway," Santacroce said. "We continue to seek out ways to maintain acceptable traffic flows in the dedicated auto lane including adjusted traffic signal timing."
Bicyclists are also in support of San Diego's push towards mobility. The San Diego Bike Coalition has advocated for better bikeways throughout the city and while they praised the changes surrounding Balboa Park, they said in a written statement to NBC 7 their work is not yet done.
"For decades, cyclists have been forced to risk their lives on a freeway-like road to reach the vital cultural resources of Balboa Park, while transit riders have been forced to wait in standstill traffic on their daily commutes. By providing separated bike and bus lanes, this project will empower all of the people who can conveniently ride their bikes or take transit through Balboa Park to do so, leaving more road and parking spaces for people who need to drive to the Park.
"While we're thrilled that the City is moving forward on these bike and bus lanes, we will continue pushing them to extend the project South to C Street in order to complete a fully connected and safe corridor."
But some, including Leishman who lives in Normal Heights where a similar project was completed in 2022, haven't seen the payoff just yet.
"I don't see it used as often by bikes," he said. "There is definitely people going through it but not as much [use] as maybe, you know, 400 parking spaces or whatever it could be."
The Balboa Park Planning Committee is working on a plan to bring an additional 100 parking spaces to the west side of the park by transforming the inlet street of Balboa Drive -- which is a one-way, two-lane road that runs parallel to 6th Avenue -- into what could be a one-way road with back-in diagonal parking and a bike lane. Santacroce said the city is still evaluating if Balboa Drive can accommodate more parking than that.
There are no future parking plans currently in the works for the east side of the park, which could affect guests attending the San Diego Zoo or Balboa museums and attractions on the busiest of days. Santacroce said the Zoo and other institutions were part of the planning process, so they are well aware of how the changes could affect them. NBC 7 reached out to the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, which represents several of those organizations and had previously expressed concern with the plan but a willingness to work with the city on a solution. We have not heard back.
Guests are encouraged to park in some of the 7,500 off-street parking spaces around Balboa Park, which includes 3,000 for the Zoo. At Inspiration Point, just down the way from the new restriping, parking for 1,600 is available and a shuttle can take guests to other parts of the sprawling park. Roosevelt Jr. High also offers overflow parking with a small donation to the school.
The $200-million Regional Bikeways Projects, which aims to add about 12 miles of bikeways in the North Park and Mid-City areas, along Pershing Drive, Fourth and Fifth avenues, Washington Street and several other roadways in San Diego, is being funded by TransNet, a half-cent sales tax increase approved in 2013.