Freeways versus openways

SR 163

Photo Courtesy of Our City blog

San Diego has an older freeway, called the 163, that zips through the downtown area, part of Balboa Park and on out into the eastern part of the city. I can remember that freeway from when I was a little girl – I was enamored of how attractive it was, compared to all the other highways I’d been on.

Sadly, it has gotten a little less attractive over the years. Budgets, congestion, and other issues. Whenever a project starts up to “improve” it, the public weighs in with criticisms and alternatives. “More natives,” “more grass,” “don’t spend any money,” and other rallying cries go up.

The most recent effort is a $6.7 million project adding trees, shrubs, turf and a new irrigation system. The grass has stirred up comment from, of all places, the San Diego Taxpayers Association! CNPS members locally have also made their voices known, but this surprising “environmental” group has an interesting slant on this.

Their vice president, Sean Karafin, says, “Caltrans is putting the equivalent of a fairway on the freeway where no one will ever play golf, go for a walk or play…The freeway, at a minimum, disrespects everyone that’s trying to cut back water use.” And he went on to comment that his estimation is that it could cost up to $70,000 each year to water that grass.

The head of the local building preservation society, SOHO, suggested that grasses were OK because there had once been grasses in that valley. But the grasses that CalTRANS will be using aren’t native. Hmmm.

Very messy.

At the end of the article, though, there was one quick reference to the idea of removing the freeway altogether! That also caught my attention. The author had a link to this article in Gizmodo. It discusses cities worldwide that have removed freeways and I was very excited to see these projects. The Los Angeles River is being revitalized and parts will run free-flow. The San Diego River is getting its due respect. So these large reversals are possible. The idea of removing an entire freeway is exciting!

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