Friday, February 5, 2010

Pedestrian Nearly Struck by Motorist Outside "Car-free Balboa Park" Meeting

Earlier this evening, I--the pedestrian mentioned in the headline--was walking to the Balboa Park Committee meeting to support Mayor Jerry Sanders' proposal to make the park 'car-free,' when a speeding, negligent motorist nearly struck and killed me.

The incident took place at the intersection of President's Way and a small street that connects to the Plaza de Panama, a former (pre-1950s) pedestrian-space turned (post-1950s) parking-lot which the Mayor wants to take back for people who aren't surrounded in 3,000 pounds of metal and glass. I entered the street at the ramp in a 100% legal fashion when an older (late 60s) man in an early 2000s silver Honda Accord came speeding up to the intersection, showing no signs of yielding to me or stopping behind the line. At this point, I was already in the intersection and when it became apparent that his speed of travel was too fast and too close to the stop sign to be able to stop behind the line in time, I rose my arms to the side in a 'What are you doing?'-fashion. The motorist then slammed on his brakes in a manner so sudden that his tires screeched. The man's car was about 4 to 5 feet over the line and only a few feet from me. If I had kept walking, I most certainly would have been seriously injured or killed by this negligent man, only 150 feet away from the 'car-free Balboa Park' meeting.

Frustrated w/ this man's vehicular negligence, I continued walking through the intersection w/ my hands still held to my side while making eye contact w/ the motorist. This man offered no sign of apology whatsoever. There was no open-handed hand gesture or any type of conciliatory body language. Nothing. Perhaps, this man considers such intense motorist-on-ped encounters to be a normal facet of his day to day driving experience. As I passed his car and continued on to the meeting, I looked at him and said 'slow down.' The man then drove on in a hurried manner, parked his car, and walked into the Santa Fe room in the Balboa Park Club building--the exact room I was walking to!

Being in the same room w/ this man felt awkward; especially considering that the main topic of discussion was curbing motorist travel throughout the historic Balboa Park.

As I sat there, I thought about the nerve this motorist had for attending a meeting about making Balboa Park more pedestrian friendly, when moments before, he was (1) speeding in an area known for high pedestrian traffic volume, (2) partially ran a stop sign, (3) nearly struck me w/ his vehicle, and (4) offered no visible apology whatsoever. In my eyes and even in the Mayor's eyes, this man and his negligent driving practices represent a serious threat to the quality of life for Balboa Park users. This motorist was/is part of the problem.

If this man had also been walking to the meeting, we probably would have crossed paths and exchanged a friendly "hello." Instead, our encounter, which was borne out of his mistake, nearly resulted in my death.

The Mayor's plan, once implemented and complete, may reduce the likeliness of such incidences. However, it's important to realize that Mayor Sanders' vision of the Plaza de Panama is not completely 'car-free.' Motorists will still be able to drive several feet away from the Museum of Man and into the heart of our park. The only difference is that they wont be able to make laps around the small fountain and the 67 parking spaces will be removed so that a pedestrian-friendly area may replace what Mayor Sanders has called a 'ceremonial parking lot for cars.'

(Ahh yes, the world-class Balboa Park in all its glory. The park is truly a marvel in design; at least up until the 1950s when a 70+ space parking lot replaced a grand pedestrian plaza. Currently, automobile travel within the park is so unrestricted, that motorists can literally drive several feet away from the stairs that lead to the Museum of Man tower (center-left area of the above photo). Pedestrians who want to walk from the Museum of Man to the visitor's center in the lower-right corner of the picture must contend w/ motorists eager to temporarily store their giant metal boxes (pictured below), rather than park for free on the public streets outside the park. Above image via Below image by Sean M Haffey, SDUT).

One proposal, which has won support from a number of bike advocates, is to completely close off Laurel Street access to cars and open it up exclusively for pedestrians, cyclists, etc. If Laurel Street--labeled 'El Prado' on the map--were to be completely closed off from cars, the motorist who nearly killed me 150 feet away from the 'car-free' meeting would never have been on that road and would have had to enter from President's Way--an alternative which would improve the quality of life for pedestrians and cyclists in the Laurel St./El Prado and Plaza de Panama area.

(This diagram, from the San Diego Union Tribune, shows the center of Balboa Park in its current state while also representing the area planned for pro-pedestrian remodeling).

Though restricting motorist-travel on Laurel Street would create a safer and more enjoyable environment, the Mayor's plan is a step in the right direction. The Mayor recognizes that some areas in San Diego can be improved by removing cars. For San Diego standards, that's huge. The Balboa Park Committee agreed w/ the Mayors' plan and thus motioned unanimously in support of the plan. The motion was met with applause from the audience. Finally, some real livable streets infrastructure improvements are getting done and it's exciting!

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