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The word on Filner's new Balboa Park plan

(This post originally appeared HERE in Voice of San Diego.)

The contentious debate over the best way to remove cars from Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama has divided community members for years.

That makes the reaction to Mayor Bob Filner's plan to change the route many San Diegans use to visit the park on weekends so remarkable: It's been mostly positive.

Last week, Filner said he wants to return most of the plaza to pedestrians and close the Cabrillo Bridge on weekends. His plan will require relocating handicapped spots and the park's current valet hub. The city will also need to add barriers to keep motorists out of the plaza.

Filner proposed that bridge closures begin Memorial Day weekend.

But those who attended a Wednesday night meeting at Balboa Park Club to hear Filner's plans were largely relieved by the temporary nature of the mayor's plans.

If it doesn't work, he'll fix it.

We asked Voice of San Diego readers for their take on Filner's proposal. Like meeting attendees, commenters were largely supportive, partly because the city can easily reverse course.

Walter Chambers, founder of Great Streets San Diego, was among the plan's backers:

It may not be the perfect plan, but it doesn't have to be. That's the beauty of it. However, it's a darn good start. The Filner Plan allows San Diego to try it out, get community feedback, tweak and refine it ... all at a low cost. Once we get the right solution, then it can be made permanent.

David Cohen agreed and noted that the mayor's plan to close the bridge comes at a convenient time. The city already must close the bridge for construction that begins in January so he said leaders might as well use the extra time to assess the effect of closing it:

The four-month bridge closure for repair work offers the opportunity to see the effects of doing that. We should know a lot more a year from now.

A few commenters expressed some concerns, though.

Bankers Hill residents have long feared that shuttering the Cabrillo Bridge would crowd their neighborhoods with cars.

William Hamilton , who commented on Facebook, is one of them:

For those of us who live immediately west of the park in Bankers Hill, I can't say I'm delighted by the idea of closing the bridge to traffic. It will make parking in our neighborhood horrific on the weekends ...

Judith Swink zeroed in on the impact to another route to Balboa Park:

The main difference will be that, on weekends, all vehicles will need to use Park Blvd. to get to the same parking lots they now drive through the Plaza de Panama to reach (Organ Pavilion, Palisades, 500+ spaces between the Hall of Champions and Park Blvd., and Inspiration Point), just as those arriving from the west today must do because, even on weekdays in winter, there are rarely spaces to be found in the Plaza or the Alcazar Garden lot after 10 a.m.

Jim Peugh would like the city to transform the bridge into a gathering place with an experience similar to the one that's been etched out for the Plaza de Panama:

It would be great if the bridge would evolve an extension of a car-free Prado for pedestrians, bikes, low speed trams, and emergency vehicles when needed. It could be lined with food carts, entertainers, art for sale, drinking fountains, benches, potted plants, etc. I hope that the mayor's plan is a step in that evolution.

Fred Williams had an education-themed idea for the plaza:

Reach out to the schools and offer them time on weekends at the former parking spaces in the plaza. They could set up displays telling of their achievements, use the spots for fundraising, perform music or dance, and similarly take advantage of the city's newest public place for encouraging and recognizing San Diego's students and teachers.

Setting this as a defined city goal for this newly freed area in the heart of Balboa Park could avoid the area becoming overrun with hot dog carts, and ensure that public spaces are used for the public good.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.