SAN DIEGO - A proposal to ban curbside parking along Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter on Friday and Saturday nights received unanimous support Wednesday from the San Diego City Council's Smart Growth and Land Use Committee.
The plan, if approved by the full City Council, could be the first step in a major overhaul of how vehicle traffic is regulated throughout the popular nightlife-oriented district.
A tow-away zone would be created on Friday and Saturday nights between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m., along Fifth Avenue between Broadway and Harbor Drive. Nearly 125 parking spaces would be lost, according to city staff.
According to a city report, one of the main reasons behind the idea is to help drivers quickly load and unload passengers without double-parking and congesting traffic.
The Downtown Community Parking District, the Gaslamp Quarter Association and the San Diego Police Department suggested the plan to:
-- improve traffic and pedestrian safety by clearing the streets of vehicles circling the blocks looking for a parking space
-- provide safe and efficient circulation for pedestrians, transit, taxicabs and other vehicles
-- give police officers and paramedics more room to deal with in emergency situations
Less traffic congestion could also reduce public safety response times, according to supporters.
Parking restrictions would be implemented on a trial basis, effective for two years after signs have been installed. A representative of the Gaslamp Quarter Association said the group would run an outreach campaign to make area businesses, patrons and residents aware of the changes.
"I don't think we can over-communicate enough on this," said Councilman Todd Gloria, who represents downtown.
The next big change for the area could come before the City Council as soon as next month -- a plan to establish angled parking on roadways near Fifth Avenue.
According to Gary Smith, president of the Downtown San Diego Residents Group, angled parking would create additional parking stalls and help replace those lost on Friday and Saturday nights. However, several streets with three one-way lanes would be reduced to two lanes, he said.
Longer term, city officials, Gaslamp business leaders and residents will need to discuss closing Fifth Avenue entirely on weekends to create an attraction similar to the Santa Monica Promenade -- a vehicle-free area of upscale shops and restaurants in coastal Los Angeles County, Gloria said.
"I think because Gaslamp is a place folks want to be, because it's so popular, because, frankly, the merchants and business owners there do a phenomenal job of attracting people there, I think that success will beget success," Gloria said.
"If people feel more comfortable, if they feel safer, if they can get in and out a little bit easier as this proposal will do, you're likely to get more crowds," the councilman said. "This may necessitate future action by future councils."
He said he recognized that some people disagree with the idea of removing vehicles entirely from Fifth Avenue, but pointed out that many people are pleased with the way things have worked out from taking out parking from the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park, and parts of the North Embarcadero.