Walkability's Price

A controversial streetscape project for Chula Vista’s downtown will come before the city council April 13.

The project involves narrowing a portion of Third Avenue to a single lane and removing trees in cement planters. According to project manager Gary Williams, the Third Avenue redesign will take place between H Street and Madrona Avenue, though “with competitive bids may extend to F Street.”

The design proposal includes narrowing Third Avenue just north of the H Street intersection, though Williams says, “We haven’t completely bought off on that.” Medians will also be built to slow traffic.

Some residents have expressed concern that constriction of traffic on Third Avenue will divert vehicles to residential streets like Second Avenue. Williams says the goal of the project is to create walkability and to “unclutter the streetscape.” He says the tree canopy will be maintained by planting new trees and that the number of parking spaces will not be reduced.

Controversy also stems from the project cost: $3,700,000. There are those who would rather see money spent on projects such as a music venue that would attract more people and contribute to the revitalization of Third Avenue. But Williams says the grant money from SANDAG is specifically for “Smart Growth” and is predicated on deemphasizing car traffic and increasing pedestrian traffic.

Money will also come from the Chula Vista Redevelopment Agency and from the Federal Recovery Act. Though the plan is “99.9% complete,” Williams said that the City is still involved in public outreach.

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These things don't warp space time. The suburbs are not going to become ghost towns. People will still drive because it take a lot longer to walk or take transit. Let's hope driving never takes as long as the bus because then we will never see our families or have time to exercise.

I am unconvinced that wasting another $3,000,000 to narrow streets, remove planters, slow traffic and shorten crosswalks will do it. Why am I supposed to go to Third Avenue? To visit the tattoo shop, or to count the vacancies in the Gateway Class A Office Building? I recall Rod Davis, the Chamber of Commerce CEO, ten years ago telling us it would be the catalyst to revive Third Avenue with throngs of pedestrians. It never happened and he is long gone. Or maybe to watch the students come and go from classes in yet another failed redevelopment project that was going to save Third Avenue? . I think it was Einstein who noted that doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is a sign of insanity. I don’t want to believe that so many well-paid people don’t get it. Though the physical environment is important it is the type of stores that will ultimately change Third Avenue. Someone must be capable of looking beyond the next million dollar grants for yet another doomed to fail physical environment fix.

I have attended a few public meetings where the "smart growth" banner was saluted. The main objectives are fewer automobile trips and the effort to combat climate change. While reducing our carbon use is an honorable goal, limiting the flow of traffic or just shifting it onto other streets is not the way to accomplish this. Making it difficult to drive to a favored location will not lead us to take a bus, we will simply not support the Third Ave. businesses that need us so desperately. It is also true that there are not enough popular destinations in the downtown area. Just because grant money is dangled in the face of Chula Vista, we are not obligated to press forward with a bad plan.

Narrowing Chula Vista's Third Avenue and widening the sidewalks to accommodate excessive foot traffic would be a good idea that wisely followed what other cities have done to alleviate such a problem. However, as anyone who frequents "downtown" Chula Vista knows, too many people buzzing up and down the street is certainly not a problem. To spend over three million dollars on this unnecessary and potentially harmful project is an irresponsible use of taxpayers' money. About the only justification would be if the city's workers, who have been hit hard by budget cuts, actually gained from the hours of work that would be created.

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