It’s something that was teased to us in conversation with the San Diego Convention Centre – a move that they described as ‘not sexy, but important for San Diego Comic-Con’ – and today announced via a article in today’s San Diego Union-Tribune. Sure, ‘not sexy’ might be one way to describe the decision by the city to close W. Harbor Drive… but it’s seismic for the movement of transport around Downtown San Diego and certainly has the potential for a lot of additional features to open up for attendees of next month’s San Diego Comic-Con.
In the piece, it is announced that Harbor Drive will be “shut down next month to motorists, a move expected to relieve the inevitable congestion created by thousands of attendees funneling into the convention center for the sold-out pop culture gathering”. The maps provided by the San Diego Convention Center details the way the free shuttle service that is run during SDCC will now be administrated on Harbor Drive itself – this then turns the thoroughfare directly in front of the Convention Centre into one big walkway, eliminating the hazard that have been in place before, with attendees being forced into the path of shuttles as the pavement becomes overcrowded. (There was also the argument that SDPD traffic officers were taken up with policing this area, as well as the cross walk from the Convention Center to Gaslamp.)
The article and accomanying maps also now detail another big change to the way that footfall will operate outside the Convention Centre: the entire area will now only be avaialble to badge-carrying attendees only, with no outsiders allowed in the immediate vicinity. There is no word yet from the Convention Center, Comic-Con International or the Mayor’s Department about how this will be enforced or policed (an ‘Escape From New York’-style wall comes to mind but we suspect that’s a little unlikely!) – we will keep our eyes open on any future announcements, as they are made.
The closure takes place as of Wednesday 18th July – Preview Night – and runs throughout Comic-Con until Monday morning. There have been maps provided of the closure to see where traffic is being allowed to move throughout the convention – something I’ll bet local residents will be very interested to find out about!
From the San Diego Union-Tribune (unavailable for international visitors to the site):
NEW PLAN FOR COMIC-CON SHUTS DOWN HARBOR DRIVE; WIDENS ACCESS FOR ATTENDEES
In a first for Comic-Con, Harbor Drive will be shut down next month to motorists, a move expected to relieve the inevitable congestion created by thousands of attendees funneling into the convention center for the sold-out pop culture gathering.
The net effect of the planned street closure between First Avenue and Park Boulevard is to significantly widen the pedestrian-only area fronting the center while also eliminating vehicular traffic — except for emergency vehicles and shuttle buses. The closure also extends to bikes, scooters and skateboards.
Specifically, Harbor Drive will be closed for much of the day and night during the four-day convention starting July 19. The normally heavily trafficked thoroughfare will also be shut down on preview night, which is Wednesday, July 18. There will, however, be limited parking garage access on Harbor for those motorists with special permits.
“The idea had been broached five years ago by traffic control and has been a matter of discussion off and on for the past few years but last August we decided it was necessary to bring up the conversation again,” said Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe, CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corp, who joined the agency in 2016. “All of these kinds of decisions take time and across our industry, we’ve been doing a lot more education on how to deal with traffic and crowd control.
“I’ve run state fairs and major marathons and festivals where streets have been closed and from my point of view it was a prudent thing to take a look at this, so that was part of the catalyst.”
One of the most noticeable changes once Comic-Con starts is the front drive area of the convention center, formerly used by shuttle buses, will be open to all attendees with badges or those picking up their badges. Unlike years past, those who are not attending Comic-Con will be not be allowed access.
The result will be a much more open pedestrian area that will add as much as 34 feet in additional width beyond the sidewalk, which ranges in width from 21 feet to 24 feet, according to the Convention Center Corp.
Shuttle buses, which largely pick up attendees staying in area hotels, will in turn be relocated to Harbor Drive.
Comic-Con International spokesman David Glanzer was not available Monday to discuss the new initiative but offered a written statement: “We hope this initiative will contribute to enhancing the safety and security of those in and around the Convention Center,” he said.
In addition to easing access for attendees heading to the center on foot, the Harbor Drive closure is being characterized as a security initiative.
Lt. Brent Williams, spokesman for the San Diego Police Department, noted that shutting off Harbor Drive and controlling pedestrian access to the center could potentially deter terrorist attacks.
“From a homeland security standpoint and with the amount of attendees, if someone planned an attack, this could be a perfect place if this wasn’t shut down,” Williams said. “Because of what we’ve seen around the country, this is a way to protect attendees. Also, in the event of an evacuation, we could get our first responders there more quickly.”
San Diego police and city officials say they don’t necessarily expect traffic congestion to worsen as motorists are rerouted to surrounding streets. But a possible backlash from the change was anticipated during the planning process, acknowledged Carolyn Wormser, the city’s director of special events.
“We hope the reaction is quite favorable,” Wormser said. “Our traffic controllers have noticed that most of the vehicles that come in that direction (on Harbor) are those who have bought parking for under the convention center, so most people already take the detours we will have in place this year. Everyone put a lot of thought into this and we will implement a plan that works for the majority of folks.”
While discussions started five years ago about the possibility of closing Harbor Drive, the focus in recent years has been to first find ways to better accommodate the thousands of people who want to experience Comic-Con in the absence of a larger venue, Wormser said.
“We spent a lot of time working on the outdoor experiences, and Comic-Con started having panels in different facilities on the waterfront, so the Comic-Con campus has grown and looking at a Harbor Drive closure seemed to make sense,” she explained. “It’s been a challenge the last few years with the number of pedestrians crossing through the shuttle area, and it all mixes in a very small space.”
- WHAT IS HAPPENING?
HARBOR DRIVE WILL BE CLOSED TO VEHICLE TRAFFIC (including bikes, scooters and skateboards) between First Avenue and Park Boulevard during Comic-Con, with the exception of shuttle buses and emergency vehicles. Cars will be screened for Convention Center parking garage access at First Avenue. A second screening location will be at Park Boulevard.
ONLY BADGED MEMBERS (attendees of Comic-Con 2018) may access the front drive, stairs and surrounding sidewalks of the San Diego Convention Center. In order to improve safety and security, these new security initiatives are being introduced at the venue and surrounding streets on the front drive of the Convention Center.
- WHEN IS THIS HAPPENING?
Harbor Drive will be closed to traffic on the following days and times:
• WEDNESDAY, JULY 18 (3pm – 9pm)
• THURSDAY, JULY 19 (7am – 9pm)
• FRIDAY, JULY 20 (7am – 9pm)
• SATURDAY, JULY 21 (7am – 9pm)
• SUNDAY, JULY 22 (7am – 7pm)
- WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
The San Diego Convention Center, the City of San Diego, the Port of San Diego and the organizers of Comic-Con International worked together to formulate this solution. This is primarily a security and safety initiative designed to protect crowds and alleviate congestion issues in and around the Convention Center. We are aware in the past that non-badged members of the public have been allowed on the property surrounding the San Diego Convention Center, but that is no longer the case.
Additionally, this plan will dedicate the front drive use for attendee and emergency vehicle traffic only. One lane of Harbor Drive will be dedicated to shuttle loading and unloading for attendees.
- DO YOU HAVE MAPS FOR ME TO UNDERSTAND WHERE TO GO?
Yes! And we have broken them down in the following ways:
- WHAT IF I NEED TO GET MY BADGE?
As long as you have proof of your registration, you will be allowed to access the San Diego Convention Center Sails Pavilion to pick up your badges. To gain access, you will be directed to enter the Convention Center through the Hall C Lobby.
- WHAT HAPPENS IF I TRY TO DRIVE THROUGH?
Unless you have a parking pass for the underground garage at the San Diego Convention Center, you will be asked to turn around by San Diego Police Traffic Control Officers.
- IN THE PAST, I’VE WALKED THROUGH AND TAKEN PHOTOS. IS THAT NOT THE CASE ANYMORE?
As part of the new security initiative, anyone who is not a badged member may not enter into the area. You will see signs that state that only badged members are allowed access. We understand this is a change, but this is being done for everyone’s safety.
- IF YOU’RE CLOSING THE FRONT DRIVE, HOW DO I GET MY SHUTTLE?
The front drive will only be closed to non-attendees. If you are a badged member and need to access the Pink, Blue, Yellow or Teal Shuttles, you will be allowed to board your shuttle stop along Harbor Drive.
All other shuttle stops will be at Petco Park. Your Comic-Con attendee guide will have the routes printed for you. Or you can visit www.comic-con.org.
- WHAT IF I AM A BADGED MEMBER THAT NEEDS AN ADA ACCESSIBLE SHUTTLE?
Check in with the accessibility team in Lobby A during Comic-Con International for an escort to your shuttles, or you can visit www.comic-con.org.
- WILL MY RIDESHARE DRIVER HAVE ACCESS TO THE SAN DIEGO CONVENTION CENTER FRONT DRIVE?
No vehicles will have access to the front drive. Riders need to be dropped off in areas outside of the controlled traffic zone in legal, safe areas. Drivers may not block access to shuttle routes or other street closures.
- WHAT IF I WANT TO RIDE A BIKE OR SCOOTER?
Due to the crowd sizes and road closures, there will not be any bike or scooter parking available at the San Diego Convention Center. There will be nearby drop-off areas (designated by the Port of San Diego) offsite of the Convention Center. If you have questions related to the street closures, contact Barbara Cosio Moreno at email@example.com or 619-525-5253.
- WHAT IF I’M A MEMBER OF THE MEDIA?
- WHAT IF I HAVE CONVENTION CENTER PERMITTED PARKING?
After 7am, the Convention Center garage may only be accessed by permit holders from the First Avenue side. Be prepared to show your parking pass.
- WHERE IS MARRIOTT MARINA VEHICLE ACCESS?
After 7am, the San Diego Marriott Marina may be accessed from the First Avenue or Park Boulevard side of the Convention Center. Be sure to show your parking pass.
- WHERE IS HILTON BAYFRONT VEHICLE ACCESS?
After 7am, the Hilton Bayfront may only be accessed from the Park Boulevard side of the Convention Center. Be sure to let traffic controllers know you are a registered guest.
- HOW DOES THE PUBLIC ACCESS THE BAY/WATERFRONT?
Members of the public will be able to access the waterfront from the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge. Follow the sidewalk adjacent to the Hilton Bayfront Hotel to access the waterfront promenade and parks.