The idea for grand pedestrian routes through downtown San Diego is not new. In 1908, John Nolen famously had vision of a Promenade from Balboa Park to San Diego Bay along what is now Cedar Street. Just imagine how that would be today if it had been implemented 100 years ago, with the beautiful County Administration Building at the bottom of the gentle hill from Park to Bay. Sometimes I think ‘so many opportunities lost’ should be San Diego’s motto.
But, in the fertile minds of planners, this idea hasn’t died. Now, they are being called Green Streets, and six are planned for downtown.
More recently, Park Boulevard was nominated to fill the park-to-bay objective, as it already is a route from Balboa Park to… well, almost to the Bay. But Park Blvd. will never be a grand promenade; being hampered by the Twin Terminators of Pedestrian Friendliness: trolley and traffic; any hope for this being a true park-to-bay walking route was dashed before it even began.
However, just 2 blocks away, 14th Street is being imagined as a new corridor for a Promenade.
Under the aegis of the loose coalition called East Village People, a group of interested parties is actively looking at extending 14th Street south along National Avenue into Barrio Logan, and north to Balboa Park. This group includes representatives from San Diego Unified, San Diego City College, Circulate San Diego, New School of Architecture, Barrio Logan Planning Committee, Citizens Coordinate for Century Three (C-3), and UCSD.
Grand 14th Street Promenade
This vision came from the East Village South (EVS) planning workshops last year that were a direct push-back to the idea of locating a football stadium in the neighborhood. The EVS Focus Plan produced from this series of workshops was submitted to CIVIC San Diego and is being reviewed by the Downtown Community Planning Council for adoption. At that time, workshop participants also knew that CIVIC San Diego had approved a design to upgrade the central portion of 14th Street, from “C” Street to Commercial Avenue. This was one of the plans that would have been terminated if the football stadium had been approved.
But, another idea that also came from this effort was connecting East Village with Barrio Logan, just to the south. We thought a great way to do this would be extending 14th Street along National Avenue into Barrio Logan. We also discussed somehow connecting to Balboa Park.
Not only because it will take urban explorers from Balboa Park all the way to Chicano Park, but also because there aren’t many physical barriers to it actually being done (such as the railroad tracks at Harbor Drive — and Harbor Drive itself — that must be crossed to access the bay from Park Blvd.).
And, unlike Park Blvd., the 14th Street Promenade is being planned with walkers and cyclists in mind, not as an afterthought. Oh, and there’s no trolley on 14th. But, it’s just 2 short San Diego blocks away if it’s wanted.
So, on Saturday June 10, about 50 good people met at the New School for a planning workshop on the extended 14th Street Promenade. Arranged by the good people at the agencies noted above, this workshop was organized similarly to the EVS planning sessions last year — with the addition of an actual walk along 14th Street as it now exists.
Introduction Before the Walk
In the EVS workshops held last year, the concept of El Nudillo was created. Spanish for joint or knuckle, this is the place where 14th Street ends at the trolley tracks on Commercial Street just at the intersection of National Avenue. This is where the familiar N-S, E-W grid pattern of downtown streets turns 45 degrees. Both literally and figuratively, El Nudillo is the joining point of downtown and the barrio. From the germination of the concept, El Nudillo was seen as a perfect place for a circle, or roundabout, with an obelisk or artwork of some sort in its center. This would echo the traffic circles of Tijuana and many other cosmopolitan cities, and also serve as a visual tie-in to other public artworks imagined along the Promenade. We would pay special attention to this on our walk.
Also suggested for consideration is the fact that building height and density varies greatly along the route and we were asked to note this.
Because we are dealing with the entirety of 14th Street, and National Avenue as far as Chicano Park, the route was split into north and south sections with F Street as the approximate divider.
I joined the southern contingent.
During the Walk
We observed and talked about many things on the street including integrating the existing communities into the new streetscape. This included encouraging businesses to reach out to the enlarged sidewalk, and keeping the character of the residential blocks, especially in the Barrio Logan portion of the proposed Promenade.
Of course, a major topic was and is the homeless situation in the East Village area. Again and again, participants mentioned the problem, asking what could be done; fearing that the answer is not much. One person kept saying that, once construction was completed, she could imagine tents across the entire 30’ width of the sidewalk promenade.
After Walk / Presentation of Ideas
We all gathered back at New School and divided into smaller groups, 2 from the north route and 3 from the south, to convert the various things we all saw into actual ideas.
As it was for me at the EVS/Stadium Alternative workshops last year (organized by the same cadre of civic-minded professionals), this was the most exciting time. This is when the magic synthesis happens.
Being in a group of like-minded creative people all sharing ideas that build upon other ideas is a special kind of mental high. Some concepts are bought up in many/all groups; they are consensus issues. Some issues are mentioned by only one group and some of those are quickly forgotten… but, some are golden. It’s almost too bad that it comes at the end. Because time is always too short, there’s no additional time to talk about ’em after they’re presented.
Ah, but there is a solution for that little trouble: another workshop! The professionals at the organizing table are now taking all that was done that Saturday and further distilling that into 2 or 3 possible design proposals. In a few weeks, we will again meet to further refine those into a final plan for the corridor.
Some of the items that workshop participants brought up are:
- Public facilities needed to make it a true promenade. The necklace of small parks planned along the Promenade will help make its entire length an inviting trek and will add amenities like public restrooms to the route.
- All signage on the entire promenade would be bi-lingual (of course).
- Folks in this workshop further noted that, with the MTS building/station and Greyhound Bus terminal at El Nudillo, it would make a great spot for a transit hub. Also, four MTS bus routes currently stop there.
- The issue of contrasting heights and densities on 14th Street was noted. Not only does density go from small residential lots to a transit bus yard, in the Barrio Logan section densities shift within the neighborhood. Workshop participants suggested several ways to address this.
Several items with particular attention to the Barrio segment were also discussed.
- Implementation of this project into Barrio Logan could have a real positive affect by its linkage to the neighborhood of East Village.
- Having National Avenue as a walking street will hopefully help discourage some commercial truck traffic, which has been a great problem for the neighborhood.
- Historic plaques, signs, or photos could be used to enhance walking tour experience.
As noted above, there will be another 14th Street Promenade workshop to continue the work done last weekend. This will probably be at or near summer’s end. If you would like to be notified of subsequent meetings, email: email@example.com.
All Photos by Michael-Leonard Creditor