Permanent ‘Slow Street’ designation for Diamond in Pacific Beach angers residents
Advocates and opponents of the Slow Streets program on Diamond Street, while diametrically opposed at the Pacific Beach Town Council’s Feb. 16 meeting, found common ground on one point: the city bungled community participation in the project.
A preliminary plan to replace portable A-frame signs that delineate the Diamond Street “slow street” area and redirect thru-traffic with permanent bollards in July, as well as narrow the car lane with new striping, was unveiled by Kohta Zaiser, Mayor Todd Gloria’s representative.
Residents from Diamond Street and immediate environs attended the Zoom meeting. For some, it was the first public forum concerning San Diego’s Slow Streets program since its inception on the stretch of Diamond Street from Mission Boulevard to Haines Street in April 2020.
“I called in to try to get access to the Zoom to just kind of have a voice because I haven’t had a voice yet,” said Janice Bowman, an almost 30-year resident of Diamond Street. “It just kind of feels like I was discounted. That’s not the process we typically go through. ... Based on the way it was presented, it sounds like it’s already a done deal. How is it a done deal when you haven’t asked any of the people that live here? It’s incredibly upsetting.”
Zaiser’s presentation of the planned upgrades in July was based on conversations with city engineers and Mobility Department staff. Although no renderings have been produced, Zaiser promised to release them should they become available.
“This is a pilot program,” he said. “It’s the first of its kind in the city. So PB is where we’re testing this out. There’s really nothing else to point at throughout the city that can act as an example of how this is, moving forward. You guys are really the first ones ... This is something that’s going to be around for awhile.”
The Slow Streets program is designed to open streets for safer use by pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, scooter users and other non vehicular traffic by closing down segments of the road to all automotive traffic except by residents, delivery personnel and emergency vehicles.
The program was launched on many streets across the city during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 as a way for the public to enjoy outdoor activity while maintaining proper social distancing.
The city has since disassembled all the slow streets except for Diamond Street. When asked why the slow street in his North Park neighborhood was eliminated, Zaiser said vandalism and theft had taken its toll on city resources to repair damage and replace signs when staffing was stretched thin by the pandemic.
“So because we didn’t steal the signs, we’re going to be permanently shut down?” Bowman asked.
Even though residents are allowed to drive on the slow street, Elizabeth Gray, whose family has owned property on Diamond Street since 1950, argued that bikers and skaters have taken ownership of the street and mistreat residents who drive there, claiming she barely averted being hit by a group of scooter riders once.
“People that have cars on Diamond Street have been harassed by those who are biking and rollerblading and whatever,” Gray said. “The people that are using it are not being polite. It’s just a fact.”
The effects are not limited to Diamond Street. Residents of adjacent Missouri Street complained that traffic there increased threefold since Diamond was closed.
Jessica Moore recounted the long campaign her neighborhood fought to have four-way stop signs placed at certain intersections on Missouri Street four years ago following numerous crashes, pedestrian injuries and fatal dog collisions with vehicles only to have their success unravel with the traffic diverted from Diamond.
Missouri Street resident Jeremy Adler said the city should reopen Diamond Street until it devises a comprehensive strategy for traffic control that might include speed bumps and other measures on adjoining streets for a slow street to be safe for the entire neighborhood.
“To take a few blocks of one street in the middle of PB and not even go through the channels and really just do it as a result of an emergency and then keep it beyond that; to me is just really not appropriate and I would hope it could go back to the channels,” Adler said. “We can debate it. I’m not even saying it’s the wrong thing to do. I just think process-wise, we have to start over. This is really too contentious to just kind of ram into our neighborhood. There are just too many factors to be considered.”
Yet the slow street is not without adherents. Michelle Sexton maintained that the view from her porch on Diamond shows a revitalized and vibrant neighborhood since the slow street was initiated.
“You used to never see anyone hardly at all on the street,” Sexton said. “We’ve gotten to know many, many neighbors who are walking daily. It’s a highly utilized street ... by many different types of people. There’s a dog walking hour. We see so many people walking their dogs, walking their children in strollers. And children having a safe route with less traffic to get to school is really important.”
With statistics revealing that nine pedestrians were hit by vehicles in Pacific Beach since the start of 2022, Katie Matchett, Beautiful PB president, asserted that the slow street designation was not solely for residents of Diamond Street.
“One of the reasons that PB was chosen for this program is we are one of the most dangerous communities for people who walk and bike in our city,” Matchett said. “I love to use the slow street. I hear from dozens of people all the time that they love the slow street. Many of my neighbors use it regularly to get to the beach.”
Of resident speakers, six were in support, six in opposition and four neutral. Yet even proponents such as Neil Boyle, a 30-year resident of Diamond Street, could not endorse the city’s roughshod approach to implementing the program.
“I share the concerns of people from other streets and how it impacts them and the fact that there really wasn’t any public — or very little public — input before the decision was made,” Boyle said. “That’s a huge no-no when you do a project like this. You’re going to have to recoup there, because you got to get people’s input. You can’t just make a decision without them.”
“The planning process tool place long before Mayor Gloria took office and I was even looking at this project,” Zaiser said in response. “I hear the concerns about the lack of public engagement but those decisions made prior, I really can’t answer to those.”
Karl Rand, the council’s vice president and chair of the PB Planning Group, said the latter held no hearings when Diamond Street was altered due to the pandemic. However, he said the planned improvements in July and public response would likely change his group’s course of action.
“I do want to let people know that a lot of what Kohta (Zaiser) is saying tonight is news to me,” Rand said. “The Planning Group really hasn’t been advised of this. ... The Planning Group wasn’t planning on doing anything about this. I just didn’t know that there was anything to do at this point. But right now, it seems very obvious that we need to do something.”
Zaiser said he would take the community’s concerns to city planners while adding there is time to make changes to the plans.
“Remember, the timeline is still a few months away,” Zaiser said. “This isn’t happening tomorrow. So I’ll make sure that I relay the community engagement concerns to the staff that will be bringing this forward. ... You want to see city officials to get community engagement done and involved in the decision making process. I feel that concern.”
“When there’s an issue this huge — closing a street really — it really needs to be heard,” said resident Brian Curry said. “It has to be part of the plan, not just closing a street and then letting go of the process and seeing what happens. It just doesn’t work that way.”