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Traffic Debate Not New For Balboa Park

Plans to revamp Balboa Park with new roads and a parking garage have sparked heated debate and threats of lawsuits. But the controversy isn’t anything new for San Diego.

Plans to revamp Balboa Park with new roads and a parking garage have sparked heated debate and threats of lawsuits. But he controversy isn’t anything new for San Diego.

If you’ve been around San Diego long enough you may remember a time when you could drive straight through Balboa Park from Park Boulevard to 6th Avenue. That began to change in 1972 when part of El Prado was closed and traffic was diverted around the Natural History Museum. At the road’s eastern end a fountain was built in the revamped Plaza de Balboa to create a better entrance for the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. John Henderson was an architect for the project. He said people were originally upset by the road closure.

"It was a thoroughfare from the east side of the park to the west. So it carried a lot of traffic," he said.

Henderson said, at the time, it was one of the only east-west streets in the area. But despite the opposition the project went forward.

In 1976 the city was looking for ways to unify the Plaza de Panama with the eastern edge of the park. Henderson worked on that project as well. The city decided to close the rest of El Prado east to traffic for a trial period. Henderson said there was even more opposition to this plan and it took people a while to get used to the changes. He used to visit the park to see how people were responding.

"And I’d see people come out of the arcades and go over to the curb and they’d stop and look both ways," he said. "And of course there were no cars. And then they’d scurry across the street. But there weren’t too many people on the El Prado itself."

But he said that changed over a few months as people became more comfortable with the promenade. The city never reopened the street to cars.

Henderson said he’s happy the latest project will get cars out of the Plaza de Panama entirely. But he said it could make it more difficult to get cars out of the southern part of Balboa Park in the future.

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