November 4, 2005

National City Spotlight:

The Path to a Better National City

By Ted Godshalk

In conjunction with the San Diego and Imperial Counties Regional Nutrition Network, two National City neighborhoods recently participated in workshops to study their pedestrian environments. A local non-profit organization, WalkSanDiego, was contracted to lead the community members in a process that should ultimately lead to safer streets and healthier lifestyles for both adults and children.

Recognizing that diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are affecting Latinos at ever-increasing rates, health advocates and community activists now strive to use urban planning as a way to reduce these dire afflictions. Certainly walking, when coupled with a healthy diet, can help most people live longer and more productive lives. But first, our neighborhoods must but be built properly to allow for walking. You simply can’t walk the walk, if the urban structure is just all talk.

At the Vista del Sol Apartments, known to many as “Q” Avenue, and then in Old Town National City, WalkSanDiego’s expertise was put through the paces. First, community members learned about some of the traffic calming measures implemented in other cities. La Mesa, Escondido, and Encinitas were all cited for having made changes to make roadways more pedestrian friendly. After being educated about the issues, the participating neighbors then walked their streets and compiled their own list of concerns. Two separate reports were published by WalkSanDiego to summarize the walk audits.

Similar conditions were found in these two distinct districts, one to the east and the other on the west. Speeding vehicles exceeding the posted speed limits, narrow and broken sidewalks, the lack of shaded bus stops with benches, a serious need for adequate lighting for pedestrians, an absence of marked crosswalks, and handicap ramps which point out into the intersection rather than toward the opposite corner were just a few of the issues cited in both reports. One especially glaring hazard found was the omission of a crosswalk on National City Boulevard at 15th Street to provide for safe access to the new Library. Connecting the new city facility to its users surely must have been discussed when this building was planned. Correcting our streetscape for pedestrians can start here. Another day should not go by without NC Blvd being made safer for library customers.

In the not-so-distant future, National City’s residents will see even more traffic on their streets. As thousands of new condos are given the green light, current residents will see more and more red lights. Commuters will simmer in the grueling gridlock just getting to the freeway ramp. In this scenario, the desire of some for a more leisurely paced life will continue to be challenged. Out of necessity, walkers will risk life and limb more and more often.

Although city leaders tout high-rise towers as promoting a new downtown in which a person can walk to dinner and see a show, the reality will be a place dominated by the automobile more than ever. The downtown redevelopment is simply an agenda of rapid unplanned growth. It’s a case of “build it and they will come” and so far there have been no rewards in any of it for the current residents. The TransNet tax we all pay is supposed to provide “smart growth” incentives for communities which take on denser more compact housing and should not be corrupted to pay for a frivolous fountain or to widen Plaza Boulevard for more and faster automobile access. Open space and parks, repaired urban structure and safer walkable streets in the neighborhoods are needed instead.

Two groups of active, health conscious people in National City have identified what is needed to allow for a safe passage to school, a comfortable and secure stroll to the market, or a vigorous visit to the library. Residents have taken the lead on this issue. Now, elected officials must ignore the urge to work on the level of image instead of substance, and commit real effort and resources to make these recommendations a reality.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at: paradisecreek@mac.com

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