Stroller moms, dog walkers, joggers and tourists streamed through the center of Balboa Park as usual Monday.
But gone were dozens of parked cars as Mayor Bob Filner kicked off what he calls an experiment in traffic management through the Plaza de Panama.
Naomi Labbe and Rachel Lang (right) walk through the Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama where "No Parking" signs have been posted effective from the 10th up to the 21st of June. - Nelvin C. Cepeda
Park rangers said they began the change over before dawn, as they installed scores of orange traffic cones in the 1.5-acre space between the San Diego Museum of Art on the north and the statue of El Cid on the south.
As motorists began streaming into the park, they found they could not park in front of the museums but had to continue on south to parking lots south of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The closer-in lot south of the Alcazar Garden, behind the House of Charm, was filled up by 9 a.m.
In place of cars trolling for central parking spaces were the usual visitors on foot, bike or skateboard.
One stroller mom, who didn't give her name, said she wasn't bothered by the parked cars, while another welcomed the change.
Grant Barrett, a spokesman for the San Diego Museum of Man at the west end of El Prado, said he was taking a "wait and see" attitude on how the no-parking plan works out.
Park historian Nancy Carter, on the way to a meeting, said the absence of cars revealed for the first in decades -- except on special occasions -- what an expanse the plaza now occupies.
"I think it's an excellent first step," Carter said toward the long-time park goal of giving more space to pedestrians.
Nearly three years ago, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs unveiled an ambitious, largely privately financed plan, costing $45 million, to rid the park's center of parking and traffic. But he envisioned a bypass off the Cabrillo Bridge and construction of an 800-space paid-parking garage. As Superior Court judge overturned the plan in February as a violation of the city's preservation laws. That decision is on appeal.
Filner, who had opposed the Jacobs plan when he ran for mayor last year, announced a $300,000 temporary fix in April that has now removed the parking in the plaza, will next introduce a colored resurfacing and additional landscaping and in September will close the Cabrillo Bridge to traffic on the weekends.
While parked cars were gone, traffic continued to stream around the plaza's fountain, forcing pedestrians, bikers and others to continue to dodge the cars. The city park department's plan calls for routing the cars to the southwest edge of the plaza and leaving the fountain open for visitors to sit around and enjoy.
One issue still somewhat in doubt is the location of valet service outside the House of Hospitality and its Prado restaurant at the southeast corner of the plaza.
Filner said last week that valets will have to operate out of the parking lot behind the Casa de Balboa, just east of the House of Hospitality. But the restaurant and others had appealed that decision and it's unclear where the valet will be located when it resumes service Tuesday.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith's office released a memo of law Monday that said Filner's valet order may not go forward until the appeals are heard.
For now, the valet stop was fenced off and visitors who wish to stop there, have to pause somewhere nearby to drop off their passengers and and then proceed to a parking space elsewhere.