Walking and the pedestrian environment
July 28, 2004
Some Thoughts (San Diego)

Meandering reflections on my 3 hour walk in Uptown, SD.

Perhaps I walked through an unrepresentative sample of San Diego. Colleagues told me that I should check out Old Town and the Zoo, spend more time in Gaslamp Quarter and browse the museums of Balboa Park.

Destinations do provide ample retreat for tourists. I plan to return and sample liesurely winter pursuits when San Diego remains in the 70s with a moderate balance of day and night. Seattle, in contrast, will be in the 40s and office workers without windows will spend the work week without seeing the sun.

But I like to come back from trips with anecdotes and ideas for improving Seattle's details of city planning. I put in a decent amount of time researching a walkable route in San Diego. I read various statements that such-and-such road was the most pedestrian friendly in San Diego, or this neighborhood was a trolley development and hence denser and a great place to live.

So, what was the result? I'm honestly left scratching my head a bit. I found foreign cities like Dublin and Tokyo more legible than San Diego. I think it's the dimensions of the streetscape. In San Diego's Uptown, the roads are oversized. East-west, they're only two lanes but seem built for semis. North-south, they are the same, or the arterials are one-way and three lanes. The buildings are fairly level at two to four stories. At about Quince and 5th, a couple of office buildings tentatively hit six or eight floors.

I've often lamented that Seattle's streets weren't more narrow and pedestrian-scale like Dublin, Tokyo, or Paris. San Diego taught me what true car-scale streets are. In the inner ring of residential neighborhoods in Seattle, only residential side streets limit buildings below 3 floors. Otherwise, I've come to expect mixed-use buildings with retail on the bottom. Every 6 or 8 blocks a minor retail area with caf´┐Ż, bar, market and a couple of shops.

I enjoyed San Diego's Uptown. I wish that I had another hour or so to explore some more stores, maybe another day to just wander around the edges and through the core of Balboa Park. There is obvious pride of community. At no time did I feel unsafe from a personal security standpoint. When pedestrian safety features lacked, cars seemed willing to accommodate me.

I didn't realize how much I love Seattle. Maybe the weather is non-committal and depressing at times. Maybe the nights are overly long in winter. We've got our share of all sorts of other problems. We're headed in the right direction, though.

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at July 28, 2004 11:50 AM
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