Durable Growth

Street observations from La Jolla and San Diego

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego

I recently spent a couple of days in San Diego County.  The reason for my visit wasn’t urbanism, although I’d like to return with more time to look around, especially in downtown San Diego.   There were many interesting urban settings in which I’d like to wander about.  And they have streetcars!

Even though my tourism wasn’t about urbanism, I couldn’t turn off my urbanism mindset.  As a result, I have a couple of insights to share.

We began our visit in La Jolla, looking for a seafood restaurant.

Downtown La Jolla has an unusual traffic management approach, but is an easy place to drive.  The streets are wide.  Even with angled parking on both sides, all of the streets still had comfortable travel lanes.  However, what was surprising was the near-absence of traffic lights.  Instead, nearly every downtown intersection was controlled by a four-way stop.

Little deciphering of traffic control was required.   A driver approaching an intersection could assume it would be a four-way stop and instead focus on navigation.  For a first-time visitor looking for a seafood restaurant, it was a surprisingly comfortable environment in which to navigate.

The traffic moves calmly and slowly, which is also good for pedestrians.  It’s a long way from curb to curb, but pedestrians have no sense of risk while crossing streets.  It’s a safer pedestrian environment than some parking lots.

The near-exclusive use of four-way stops may not be the right solution for every downtown, but it’s a fine fit for La Jolla.

Parking was nearly as easy.  I don’t know if La Jolla has a parking management plan in place, but it felt as if it did.  Approximately 15 percent of the street parking spaces were open.  We paid $2 for our lunchtime parking, a price that was quite acceptable for a convenient parking place.

Bungalow court

Bungalow court

I never did find a seafood restaurant, which seemed odd with the ocean only a few blocks away.  But the brew pub for which we settled offered fine food.  Even better, they served a low alcohol lager with a smooth taste and one of the best beer names I’ve come across this summer, Endless Summer.  It would have been the best name, except for the Polygamy Porter that I enjoyed in Salt Lake City.

Near the end of the trip, we had breakfast in the University Hill neighborhood of San Diego.  The restaurant we selected had little parking, so we parked in the adjoining neighborhood, which is a better approach than requiring every business to provide an expanse of asphalt.

It was a classic neighborhood, probably dating from the 1920s.  Tidy little homes and attractive bungalow courts.

The only downside was street width.  It was 60 feet curb-to-curb.  For those not

familiar with typical widths, 36 feet is a frequent California residential street width.  Urbanists often suggest lesser widths of 32 feet, 30 feet, or even 24 feet, depending on the parking requirements.  Sixty feet felt like a river of asphalt, perhaps good for a good game of streetball, but nothing else.

Bungalow court

Bungalow court

Even with parallel parking on both sides, over 40 feet was left for two-way travel, when 20 feet should have been perfectly acceptable.  Luckily, San Diego uses almost as many stop signs as La Jolla, so I saw little evidence of speeding, just a waste of gravel, petroleum byproducts, and street maintenance resources.

I’ve pondered what could be done t o remedy the street width and mostly come up empty.  The street width could be reduced and the sidewalks relocated, giving more frontyard space.  But much of the neighborhood charm is in the small frontyard setbacks, connecting pedestrians with residents.  Increasing the frontyard depth would diminish the neighborhood.

Wide street

Wide street

Or the street could be divided into two travel lanes and a wide center median.  Given the available street width, a median of 24 feet could be possible, enough room for a small basketball court, bocce ball court, or well-landscaped area of benches.  But the maintenance costs would likely be a poor fit with city resources.

It’s a puzzle that lacks an obvious solution.  Although I’d be happy to go back and ponder it further.  There is much more to be seen and enjoyed in San Diego County, both urbanist and otherwise.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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