The recent announcement that the City of Escondido is aggressively going after grant money to reconfigure Grand Avenue from Center City Parkway to Ivy is welcome news. Long-time business and community leaders have long pondered the causes for the malaise that has befallen what should be a vibrant asset to the region, and has gone on for far too long.
The preliminary design proposals I have seen show a new commitment to this historic downtown that should eventually revitalize business opportunities and reward those hardy souls who have pioneered the area as it struggles for traction. Making the suggested changes to Grand Avenue is almost certain to bring downtown Escondido out of the doldrums.
For several years in the 1990s, I served as a traffic commissioner in the city of San Marcos…eight of them as the commission chair. During that time, I came to appreciate the positive effects on quality of life that judicious applications of “traffic calming” engineering on certain roads would achieve.
If you were to look at the most successful downtown shopping and entertainment areas anywhere in our region…or practically anywhere else, for that matter…there is one common thread: slower traffic, often with only one travel lane in each direction. Slowing vehicles makes a given area feel safer for pedestrians. Pedestrians in a relatively compact area of shops and restaurants are the lifeblood of those businesses. By introducing diagonal parking, reducing travel lanes, and adding roundabouts to the treetscape, vehicles travelling on Grand Avenue will instinctively slow down.
People who feel the need to travel faster than 20-25 miles per hour can simply bypass the shopping district and drive down Second Avenue and Valley Parkway.
I think concerns about the effect these proposals might have on Cruisin’ Grand are overblown. In fact, I think the new environment, which would include wider sidewalks, will enhance this very popular event.
I’ve heard complaints from some people that Grand Avenue doesn’t need to be changed, and that they like things just as they are now. I find that attitude hard to understand when you look at the number of storefronts that are empty, some of which have been vacant for a decade or more. It’s concerning that the status quo of sidewalks rolling up when the sun goes down and would-be shoppers encounter locked doors on businesses at certain hours and on certain days is acceptable. Vibrant entertainment and shopping districts don’t shut down at eight o’clock at night, nor do they shut down on Sundays and Mondays.
Another concern I’ve seen expressed is the idea that adding residences to this part of town is somehow a bad thing. I have made my thoughts concerning adding so many rentals to the area (I would prefer to see more units available for purchase…something desperately needed) but adding more people can only lead to a more vibrant downtown, and more successful businesses as a result.
Let’s welcome positive change instead of continuing the destructive impulse to cling to the past.
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Kirk Effinger is a Realtor and Escondido resident. He was an opinion columnist for the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune for several years. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.