The photo above shows how the historic Cabrillo Bridge was conceptualized to serve as the grand and ceremonial entrance to Balboa Park. The bridge was designed by Bertram Goodhue for Panama California Exposition of 1915. It has fulfilled its concept admirably. However, a bypass bridge will soon mar the bridge in such as way that defeats the intended effect of the design, i.e., the lone elegant arched viaduct entrance into the park.
The bypass bridge can be seen in this rendering in the San Diego Reader. The purpose of the bypass bridge is to serve a planned underground parking garage in order to simultaneously increase parking capacity for the park and remove cars from the Plaza de Panama portion of the park, all the while not losing any convenience for those arriving by car. The plan survived several lawsuits and is generally unpopular. But strangely, it has bipartisan support on the City Council. The reason for this is most likely because it has the support of the museums and businesses within the park, including the well connected board members of the museums. Short term parking solutions are always popular with entities dependent on cash flow. In this regard, private businesses and non-profit museums are similar. However, it highlights the hazard of hosting cash flow dependent entities in public parks. They soon control the Park. While the museums are an integral part of what makes Balboa Park special, it’s something to keep in mind in this age of increasing encouragement and reliance on P3s (public – private partnerships).
There were many alternatives to the bridge. For example, the conversion of the parking into a pedestrian plaza that took place under Mayor Filner’s short reign has worked well. Another alternative was the do nothing alternative: Not building additional parking and focusing on transit solutions is referred to as nudge theory, i.e., not always catering to the convenience of cars with additional auto-oriented infrastructure “nudges’ people into alternative transportation modes. But if that was too radical or risky for the park’s cash flow dependent entities, building the parking garage with access only from the Park Blvd entrance was feasible and less expensive. Perhaps the best alternative was to put additional parking infrastructure on the perimeter of the park with shuttle service (such as in the form of the historic streetcar) would have spared the Cabrillo Bridge and helped create another park amenity. There has been a long planned extension of the Park over I-5 to reconnect it to downtown. Such a freeway cap can accommodate two levels of parking underneath it. Imagine a project that vacated pedestrians from the Plaza de Panama, preserved the Cabrillo Bridge, reconnected downtown with the park, revitalized the freeway adjacent properties, and resurrected the original John Spreckles streetcar designed specifically for the Exposition. Expensive? Sure. But much better value too as a synergistic project accomplishing multiple goals.
However, at this point, the adulteration of the Cabrillo Bridge appears fait accompli. Just as destined, perhaps 25 – 50 years from now, will be an expensive project to restore the Cabrillo Bridge to its original splendor, by removing the bypass bridge.