It Just Might Work: The Gaslamp Quarter’s analog intersection

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Downtown San Diego fits into a neat right angle formed along the bay, a teeming urban district that includes the historic Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa park, which contains the San Diego Zoo among other attractions, and Petco Park, where the San Diego Padres play 62 home games every summer.

Even on slow evenings the intersections jam with cars and pedestrians, cyclists and tourists zipping on electric scooters. And yet nearly every corner is governed not by stoplights but 4-way stop signs, which seems on the surface like a recipe for chaos.

There can be a couple hundred thousand people and vehicles on these streets during events like ComicCon, or when the Padres games let out. At times like this the city deploys auxiliary police at most intersections to direct traffic, allowing the pedestrians, bicycles and scooters to weave through at controlled intervals. The rest of the time, the various travelers co-exist in an uneasy peace.

In walking through the Gaslamp District, I at first felt these analog intersections fueled chaos as drunken tourists and impatient drivers fought their ways through. But a few miles in I picked up the rhythm of right-of-way, instinctively knowing when to cross in front of them and when to wave them by.

In turn, the communal nature of the downtown intersections seem to breed a feeling of camaraderie among the downtown denizens, or maybe it’s because they have legal weed — either way, it was one of the most peaceful downtown scenes I’ve seen.

The system works best, of course, when nobody jaywalks. But downtown San Diego is a huge tourist area. And the hooples are always gonna jaywalk.

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