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Statement: “It’s 7,000 cars a day that are interacting with literally hundreds of thousands of pedestrians,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said of activity at Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama on Fox 5’s Morning Show, July 18.

Determination: False

Analysis: Three weeks ago, the City Council agreed to support Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs as he completes an environmental review of his proposal, as well as several alternative proposals, to reshape Balboa Park.

The mayor supports Jacobs’ push to remove all cars from the Plaza de Panama, the park’s central promenade. Jacobs proposes building a bypass bridge to reroute traffic away from the plaza and an underground parking garage to offset the plaza’s existing parking spaces.

A day before the council vote, Sanders cheered Jacobs’ vision for Balboa Park on Fox 5’s Morning Show. The conversation focused on the plaza and Fox 5 showed a time-lapse video of cars and pedestrians scurrying through it. The interviewing anchor, Raoul Martinez, chimed in.

“Anyway, as you look at this time-lapse video that we’re seeing right now, you see just how much traffic goes around there with a lot of people walking through,” Martinez said.

Sanders responded: “You know, its 7,000 cars a day that are interacting with literally hundreds of thousands of pedestrians, and we’re just lucky we don’t have more problems.”

The exchange highlighted one argument that supporters of Jacobs’ plan cite to completely remove cars from the Plaza de Panama. They say it’s hazardous to have so many pedestrians and cars crossing each others’ paths and it would be safer to have no cars at all.


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An alternative proposal pushed by preservationists, by comparison, would contain cars to one corner of the plaza and reduce how often pedestrians cross traffic. Though they cite similar pedestrian safety concerns, preservationists argue that it’s not necessary to completely eliminate cars from the plaza.

In this case, Sanders greatly exaggerated how often cars and pedestrians interact in the plaza.

We’ve previously confirmed Sanders’ figure for cars. A traffic study by Rick Engineering, a consultant for Jacobs, found up to 7,000 cars traveled through the plaza during busier weekend days. We circled back to Rick Engineering for this Fact Check to figure out whether the company also counted pedestrians.

It did, as it turns out, and the numbers fall far below Sanders’ description. Rick Engineering counted nearly 5,000 pedestrians using the plaza’s crosswalks on Thursday, Jan. 22 and about 12,200 pedestrians on Saturday, Jan. 24. Both estimates are considerably less than “hundreds of thousands.”

For another perspective, consider a broader study by Balboa Park boosters that estimates between 10 million and 14 million people visit the park each year. Even assuming all 14 million people used the plaza’s crosswalks last year, the daily average would be about 38,000 pedestrians. All would have needed to walk across the plaza at least five times for the count to near Sanders’ mark.

We offered the Mayor’s Office an opportunity to clarify Sanders’ statement, but it did not respond to the request by deadline.

Since Sanders’ statement exaggerated the available data on pedestrians traveling through the Plaza de Panama, we’ve stamped this one False. If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Disclosure: Jacobs is also a major donor to voiceofsandiego.org

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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