Is a Gaslamp Quarter pedestrian plaza a good idea?

Experts weight in on a proposed plan to close part of Fifth Avenue to traffic


San Diego officials and community leaders revealed last week a preliminary plan to create an eight-block pedestrian plaza in the Gaslamp Quarter by closing Fifth Avenue.

Aside from logistical issues, such as trash pick-up, supporters are excited that it could become a magnet for tourists and locals. However, the area is one of the city’s main party areas and and might make for a really rowdy place at night.

Q: Is the Gaslamp Quarter pedestrian plaza a good idea?

Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates

YES: It is a great idea and will bring more culture and tourism to the city. The new Piazza in Little Italy has brought new life to that whole neighborhood and a downtown plaza is another step in that positive direction. Coupled with a positive vote on the Convention Center expansion in March, these could be the sparks that allow us to address the homeless problem and improve our tourism economy.

Norm Miller, University of San Diego

YES: But Fifth Avenue need not be closed all the time. It could be vehicle accessible for deliveries and services until 5 p.m. and then closed. The Gaslamp area changes into party mode around 10 p.m. so this gives lots of transition time and would allow for family friendly strolling as well. Pedal cabs could also be allowed giving them some exclusive territory at night. It could be a great idea if implemented well.

Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions

YES: Several cities around the country including New York City, Los Angeles, and Detroit have successfully experimented with pedestrian plazas and after a trial period decided to make it a permanent change. Even Little Italy closed a portion of Date Street to create a walkable pedestrian plaza. This change could give San Diego the chance to enhance and reimagine a popular historical tourist and local hotspot to help foster community and neighborhood interaction. The city would have to work with law enforcement and the fire department to ensure safety and access for first responders.

Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene University

YES: It could boost economic activity in the area by drawing more tourist and local consumer dollars. Similar projects in other major cities have generated a new dynamic. More tourists from outside the region could add it to their “must see” lists, while San Diego’s sizable downtown population could come more frequently. New tenants might be attracted to properties now vacant. The $40 million price tag could be a barrier unless federal, state, and SANDAG funds can be found.

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

YES: I think this is a great idea. San Diego is a vacation destination and we need entertainment and restaurant destinations hubs like this as well. By removing vehicles, the city reduces risk to pedestrians and gives the area a more unique feel and character. Other cities have created car-free zones like this with great success. Of course, appropriate and necessary law enforcement presence will be needed to prevent rowdy behavior and make the area safe.

Michele Vives, Douglas Wilson Companies

YES: As seen in other cities such as Santa Monica (the 3rd Street Promenade) these types of pedestrian plazas can act as economic stimulus and development opportunities. Restaurants and bars (most of the retail found in the Gaslamp Quarter) can increase their capacities by opening seating throughout the new promenade/plaza areas. That being said, it is important to properly plan and phase the street closures to properly test its viability.

Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

YES: Such an appealing and logical concept one wonders why not already done, particularly given San Diego’s exceptional year-round climate. Similar pedestrian promenades have been established in cities around the world to great success. Vehicles on Fifth Avenue are often not allowed for special events and parking already banned on Friday and Saturday nights. Flexible streets with movable barriers open to vehicle delivery can be utilized during off hours and pedestrian-only use most of the time.

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

YES: This is an idea long overdue. The historic resistance has been from proprietors fronting Fifth Avenue who value maximum auto exposure and easy parking. But times have changed. Gaslamp has stabilized and needs a tourism stimulus; ride sharing has made the parking issue less important; and there are many other proven models where pedestrian only streets are a boon to business: New Orleans Bourbon Street and Barcelona’s Las Ramblas come to mind.

Austin Neudecker, Rev

YES: The Gaslamp is often crowded at night, especially during large events. Increasing the walking space, allowing restaurants and bars to expand seating, encouraging live performances, etc., could make the area more manageable and profitable. I hope the plan includes mechanisms that encourage increased day-time activity, improve safety, and account for ride-hailing and parking.

James Hamilton, UC San Diego

YES: Blocking off some streets for pedestrians has been tried in a number of cities around the world, and it’s always been quite successful. The Gaslamp has come alive with urban vitality, all from people getting around on foot. Blocking off some traffic will help it become even more of a magnet for locals and tourists. I nevertheless caution against spending a lot or adding too much clutter — a primary attraction will be the people themselves.

David Ely, San Diego State University

YES: A well-designed pedestrian plaza could improve the experience for visitors to the Gaslamp Quarter. To the extent that the Gaslamp becomes a more popular destination, local restaurants and shops would benefit from having a greater number of potential patrons. The benefits to the entire city are less clear since most of the increased activity in the Gaslamp would probably come at the expense of businesses located in competing destinations.

Phil Blair, Manpower

YES: It is certainly a concept that many other cities have made work. With San Diego’s huge tourism business being nearly a third of our economy it’s important that we always keep developing new attractions. As we become more and more known for our innovative economy let’s not forget that having a good time is also very important. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Is eight blocks the right number and should we start with eight blocks and what are the noise, etc parameters is up to the experts.

Alan Gin, University of San Diego

YES: Downtown pedestrian malls have had a mixed record. But San Diego has one key element necessary to make a pedestrian mall successful, namely, a large population living downtown. That will help keep the area active and prevent problems like crime and a lack of business for the stores and restaurants located on the mall. It has a chance to become the focal point of downtown and attract even more activity there, much like Denver’s 16th Street Mall.

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