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Gloria orders review of all planned road widenings in San Diego

A sign indicates the sidewalk is closed on El Cajon Boulevard, with the Fair at 44 plaza and construction work in the background.
Andrew Bowen
A sign indicates the sidewalk is closed on El Cajon Boulevard due to construction of a new right-turn lane for motorists, Oct. 19, 2021.

Mayor Todd Gloria is ordering city staffers to review all planned road widenings in San Diego to determine whether they're consistent with his sustainability and traffic safety goals.

The review is a massive undertaking that will likely last several months and involve dozens of city staffers across multiple departments. The order came after KPBS reported on the widening of a block of El Cajon Boulevard. That project broke ground this month despite cries from activists that it will set the city back on its quest to reduce driving and make the street — already one of San Diego's deadliest — even more dangerous.

City officials determined it was too late to halt that project, which was approved under former Mayor Kevin Faulconer. But Gloria said he hopes the review will prevent similar projects from reaching the point of no return.

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"One of the challenges with capital improvement projects, really in any city but particularly in San Diego, is they take a long time to do," Gloria said. "What we've identified are a number of legacy projects that are working their way through the system that may envision stuff that made sense in the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s, but no longer make sense in the 2020s when we understand we have an urgent climate crisis."

City staff are in the very early stages of the review, developing a scope of work and determining whether it will require new funding or can be absorbed into the city's adopted budget. The review will cover the city's "unfunded needs lists" — infrastructure projects that are planned but have no identified funding source.

The widening project on El Cajon Boulevard will shrink the size of the pedestrian plaza to add a right-turn lane for motorists. It has long been on the wish list of the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Group, which says it will reduce traffic volumes on adjacent neighborhood streets.

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When the project started last week, construction crews initially closed the El Cajon Boulevard sidewalk between Fairmount Avenue and 44th Street, leading dozens of children to walk into the street on their way to and from Hoover High School. City officials later said the sidewalk closure was unpermitted, and crews have since opened a pedestrian pathway.

Gloria has declined to say whether he agrees with the widening project, and he has not specified precisely how he will evaluate whether similar road widenings are consistent with his values. But he said he believes in the well documented phenomenon of "induced demand," which says adding lanes to streets or freeways does not solve congestion but only encourages more driving.

"As a general rule, I think widening roads is not the solution for climate action," Gloria said. "This does not mean you may not ever see them again, but my hope is that we'll do that on a much more limited basis."

Gloria orders review of all planned road widenings in San Diego