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Statement: “Up to 7,000 cars a day compete with people for space” at the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park, wrote Michael Hager, president of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, and Iris Engstrand, a history professor at the University of San Diego, in an editorial published by the Union-Tribune May 8.

Determination: True

Analysis: Last year, a decades-long idea to revamp the core of Balboa Park gained steam when Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs announced his support, a big deal given his history of donating millions to public projects.

The proposed revamp focused on the park’s central promenade, the Plaza de Panama, and the number of cars and pedestrians traveling through it each day. To transform the plaza from a parking lot and transportation hub into a gathering place, park boosters want to kick the cars out.

To advance that proposal, supporters like Hager and Engstrand have cited a 2010 traffic survey by Rick Engineering, a local contractor. Between Aug. 20 and Sept. 1, the company used traffic sensors to count each vehicle traveling through the park.

On weekends, when traffic was the busiest, the survey counted an average of 6,580 cars traveling west of the plaza and 7,738 traveling just south of it. The survey didn’t count the actual number of cars traveling through the plaza, but traffic engineers said the flow suggested at least 7,000.

Those traffic numbers are a vital part of proponents’ push for the plaza’s makeover, demonstrating how many cars could be kept out of the plaza under the proposed redesign.

The volume of vehicles approaching the plaza from the west also boosted a signature part of the proposed redesign: keeping the Cabrillo Bridge open and bypassing cars via a bridge to the plaza’s southwest.

Critics of the redesign, such as the Save Our Heritage Organisation, don’t dispute the traffic figures or a need for changes, but hope a more thorough analysis expected to be released this fall will strengthen alternatives. Building a bridge to redirect traffic has been the most contested part of the current proposal, with critics arguing that it would detract from the park’s historical roots. Instead, other proposals would close the west entrance to cars or redesign the plaza to reduce the number of cars traveling through it.

But this week, the entire effort got a major shakeup. A City Council committee expressed concerns about the proposed redesign of Balboa Park, and in response, Jacobs pulled his financial support for the study and other consultant work.

Regardless, the latest traffic study backs up the claim that up to 7,000 cars travel through the Plaza de Panama in a day. Hager and Engstrand’s statement is True.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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