Residents Fight To Preserve San Diego's Last Remaining 'Slow Street'
Residents in Pacific Beach are lobbying city officials to preserve a "slow street" designated in the neighborhood last year to encourage safe biking and walking during the pandemic.
Former Mayor Kevin Faulconer launched the Slow Streets program last April as a way to give people more opportunities to recreate outside without fear of cars whizzing by. City officials placed sandwich boards at intersections along a handful of streets signaling they were closed to through traffic but open to pedestrians and cyclists.
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Many of the streets became popular as people sought a respite from the COVID-19 lockdown. But as time went on, they also drew backlash from some residents and businesses upset over the disruption to parking and car travel.
In January and February, the city quietly removed slow streets in the College Area, North Park and Emerald Hills. Now Diamond Street in Pacific Beach is the last that remains of the program.
Katie Matchett, president of the community group Beautiful PB, began organizing neighbors this month to support keeping Diamond Street slow. She said the street has been wildly popular among families with young children who have few places they can bike together safely.
"This is a place people come and they get to interact with their neighbors, and they get to meet people and they get to have this sense of community," Matchett said. "And that's important at all times, regardless of whether or not we're in the middle of a pandemic."
Matchett's nine-year-old daughter, Cora, said the slow street has made bike riding much more fun.
"On other streets the car will go pretty close to you really fast, and I don't really feel comfortable with that," she said. "On this street the cars are going slower, so I feel more comfortable."
San Diego's program has not been without logistical challenges. Some people knocked down, moved or vandalized the sandwich boards, which required city staffers to spend time fixing them. Matchett said that problem could be solved with permanent signs or paint on the streets.
City spokesperson Anna Vacchi said the slow streets program was not expanded because the city decided to place its focus on approving permits for outdoor dining and outdoor special events. However, officials are "looking at ways to make permanent improvements along this roadway that would prioritize biking, rolling and walking, such as new signage about awareness and slowing," Vacchi said.
A digital survey of city residents found 73% of respondents supported the slow streets program during the stay-at-home order, and 64% supported keeping it beyond those restrictions. The strongest support — 81% — came from disadvantaged "communities of concern."
"The city is continuing to work with community groups to gather data around the use and roadway circulation on Diamond and parallel streets to inform the city's efforts," Vacchi said.
Versions of the slow streets concept have been implemented in cities across the country as a response to the pandemic. The San Diego Association of Governments is also offering local cities grants of up to $5,000 to create similar programs throughout the county.