SARAH BROTHERS | Downtown News
Among the changes to daily routines created by stay-at-home orders, many Downtown residents are getting to know their neighborhoods by foot. Whether you call it a walk or an urban hike, it’s a great opportunity to spend time outdoors. A recent placemaking project in the Cortez neighborhood brings locals and visitors outside through an easy-to-follow urban trail created with additional infrastructure and wayfinding.
In early 2019, the Cortez Hill Active Residents Group (CHARG) approached the Downtown San Diego Partnership with a problem and an idea. One of the group’s main concerns in its otherwise beloved neighborhood was the speed of vehicles coming off the freeway and in from other parts of Downtown, which impacted the ability of residents and visitors to get around safely. CHARG wanted to conduct a mobility study to identify issues like this and recommend improvements.
Luckily, like other Downtown neighborhoods, Cortez had parking district funds at their disposal generated by parking meters and reinvested in projects, like the study and its recommendations to improve parking and mobility in surrounding neighborhoods. With these funds, project management by the Downtown Partnership, the mobility chops of Circulate San Diego and the community expertise from CHARG, a comprehensive outreach process was conducted and the final report issued at the end of 2019. The report included a combination of short-, medium- and long-term recommendations.
The short-term recommendations were intended to be quick-to-implement projects that are impactful within a matter of six months. Unfortunately, conversations were underway to get those short-term projects launched just as COVID-19 hit, requiring a quick burst of creativity to assess new needs and bring benefit to the community.
What had previously been planned as a walk and talk became a webinar with a transportation specialist from the City of San Diego, and a planned in-person special event was transitioned into the Curbside San Diego pilot location outside of Achilles Coffee.
This creativity also included the most recent placemaking project to come alive in the Cortez neighborhood – the Discover Cortez walking loops. The one mile and 1.5-mile routes were initially designed by Circulate San Diego. They were then updated using the results of a digital survey sent to Cortez residents. The end result is two walking loops that follow the paths residents typically use to walk to common destinations for the most pleasant experience. Cortez is on a hill, so there’s also a choice between a flat, easy course and one that’s more moderate.
New wayfinding signage installed at the end of June accompanied the project.
“We’re all aware that in Downtown a lot of the street name signs at intersections are oriented toward vehicles. With a lot of one-way streets, it can get easy to get disoriented about what street you’re approaching when walking,” said Sean Warner, director of community enhancement and project manager of the initiative from the Downtown Partnership.
One of the long-term projects the group has in mind for the mobility effort is the installation of permanent streetblade signage at all the intersections in Cortez to help walkability. The recently-installed signage includes street name decals at intersections and walking loop markers to help people navigate the new trails. They will also help other pedestrians get around the neighborhood.
The projects are also building cohesion between lower and upper Cortez neighbors.
“One of the things the CHARG Board has worked on is involving more members of the community in the Lower Cortez area west of Sixth Avenue to Front Street. Our board expanded to include three residents from Lower Cortez to really focus on improving this area of our district and creating a more cohesive neighborhood feel,” said CHARG Board member Ann Murphy.
Learn more about the study and efforts to improve mobility in Cortez at downtownsandiego.org/cortezmobility.
— Sarah Brothers is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Downtown San Diego Partnership.