Gloria plans new bike, bus lanes on Park Boulevard through Balboa Park
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria on Friday announced his preferred design for a 1.2-mile section of Park Boulevard that runs through Balboa Park, opting to remove a car lane in each direction and most street parking in order to install protected bike lanes and intermittent bus-only lanes.
The changes, which are due to take effect later this year after a pipeline replacement, come after months of community outreach that turned the project into a test of Gloria's commitment to his own climate goals. Last month Gloria signed an updated Climate Action Plan that commits the city to getting half of all trips by 2035 to be made by biking, walking, public transit or other car-free modes of transportation.
"Park Boulevard is a major thoroughfare in our city and I’m excited that the city is finally going to fix the road and make improvements for all types of transportation — driving, biking, and transit," Gloria said in a statement. "This is part of our continued efforts to fix our streets and give San Diegans more choices on how to get around our city — choices that are safe, feasible, and good for the environment."
The new design creates four loading zones and retains 67 of the existing 335 street parking spaces on Park Boulevard. The street parking will be located near the Rose Garden, the WorldBeat Center and Centro Cultural de la Raza — two organizations that had been especially vocal about their need for street parking because of their relative isolation from the rest of the park institutions and parking lots.
The city is also planning on adding roughly 100 new parking spaces to Balboa Park's west mesa after the resurfacing of Balboa Park Drive.
City spokesperson Anthony Santacroce said the Park Boulevard project should be completed in December "ahead of the holiday season so that the increase in visitors in the area can benefit from the transportation safety and efficiency improvements that this project will bring."
Cyclists, transit riders and climate activists had been rallying support for a slightly different design of Park Boulevard, called "Option D," that would have removed all street parking and installed protected bike lanes and a continuous, uninterrupted bus-only lane. The street serves two of the most popular MTS bus routes — routes 7 and 215 — which can sometimes face delays because of congestion through the park.
Monica de la Cruz, a Golden Hill resident who spoke at several meetings in support of Option D, said the bus lanes will help keep public transit on schedule.
"We hear constantly in San Diego, 'Transit is not good enough, I can't rely on it,'" de la Cruz said. "Something as simple as bus rapid transit is going to get people where they need to go on time, faster."
Nevo Magnezi, a board member of BikeSD, said the bike lanes will make Park Boulevard safer and more inviting, especially for less experienced cyclists, families with children and people with disabilities.
"Also, with a lot of visitors who perhaps are renting scooters, now that there's going to be a bikeway there, I think they'll be put in a position where they can find somewhere safe to ride," Magnezi said.
MTS spokesperson Grecia Figueroa said city staff collaborated with the agency to minimize potential disruptions to transit service.
"While the new design retains some parking in the southern section of the corridor, it also provides an exclusive bus lane in the approach areas to intersections, where queues are most likely to otherwise delay buses," she said. "MTS will actively monitor the efficacy of the changes for any disruption to operations. The city committed to MTS to continue our collaboration, and to make future adjustments as needed to ensure priority for transit vehicles."
Several Balboa Park institutions have argued most visitors to the park still arrive by car, and that any loss of street parking would make the park less accessible. The mayor's decision to preserve a small amount of street parking appeared to be a concession to their concerns.
Peter Comiskey, executive director of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, which represents the park's attractions, said his membership organizations “remain concerned” about the traffic changes..
"However, we thank the city for choosing the hybrid option that will not isolate the WorldBeat Center and Centro Cultural de la Raza — two of the most important venues in Balboa Park," Comiskey said in an email.
Balboa Park's central mesa has nearly 7,500 parking spaces, all of them free. The park also offers a free tram to allow people to park farther from their destination.
The Balboa Park Committee, which advises the mayor on matters related to the park, voted in July to support the "Option D" design that would have included no street parking and an uninterrupted bus-only lane.