Torrey Pines Road Corridor Phase 2 to begin this fall

Although it was not on the agenda and there was no public notice, an in-depth presentation on the Phase 2 of the Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project — set to begin this fall and be completed by Memorial Day 2018 — was given at the April 6 La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) meeting at the Rec Center.

Steven Bliss from the City’s office of Traffic Engineering Operation spoke about the $1.2 million project, which was last discussed in August 2014.

Bliss explained that the Corridor Project will create continuity of the sidewalk and buffered bike lanes on both sides of Torrey Pines Road between Prospect Place and La Jolla Shores Drive, among other safety-oriented additions.

“Phase 2 is going to put a sidewalk in on the south side of Torrey Pines Road between Amalfi and Hillside and … we are going to put in a HAWK signal, which is a pedestrian-activated crosswalk, about 100 feet west of Princess Street,” he said.

Other improvements include building a wall to stabilize the nearby hillside and installing a flat, decorative median.

He added that the work along the south side would be done with two lanes open in each direction, “so traffic will be the same throughout the duration of the project.”

LJCPA trustee Dan Courtney requested the presentation, but stated his disappointment that it was not on the agenda. “There is a Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project committee that I would have notified along with the community if I had known,” he told Bliss. “I question whether we should even be talking about this without more community input. It’s such a huge item and a big deal in the community.”

Nevertheless, Bliss presented Phase 2 Corridor Project details and fielded board questions about the HAWK beacon, the median, slope restoration, bike lane, and touted the plan as a traffic calming solution.

The HAWK beacon

A HAWK [High Intensity Activated CrossWalk (sic)] beacon will be installed on Torrey Pines Road, mid-block between Princess and Amalfi streets, via lights hung on a mast arm over the street. Bliss explained that until a pedestrian activates the crosswalk, traffic flows uninterrupted and the lights are dark.

However, once activated, he said, “The beacon signal starts alternating flashing yellow lights to suggest a yellow light is approaching, and then it goes to solid yellow that should be interpreted just like a yellow light in traffic.

“Next it turns red to stop cars completely, and pedestrians get the signal to cross. After a short amount of time, pedestrians get a countdown timer with how many seconds they have to cross. The last stage is flashing red lights that indicate traffic can proceed if clear.”

There is currently a HAWK beacon in Mission Valley across Mission Center Road between Camino de la Reina and Hazard Center Drive.

As to how drivers will know how to maneuver the crosswalk, Bliss said, “One thing we will need to do is a public education program here in La Jolla,” but he did not have a plan for visitors and tourists. LJCPA trustee Mike Costello advised: “Good luck with public education, we’ve had roundabouts in Bird Rock for years and most people still don’t know how to use them.”

The center median

As for the decorative median, several concerns were brought up over the prospect of losing the pre-existing raised medians along Torrey Pines Road. But the change reportedly comes at the request of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

“We had a lot of discussion about the medians, but the fire department and other emergency entities said that when they need to get into The Village, not having a raised median was important,” Bliss explained. “Having the raised median creates an issue with response times, especially when traffic on Torrey Pines Road is dense. We looked at as many alternatives (that an emergency vehicle could maneuver that regular vehicles could not) as we could, but the others just didn’t work.”

But Courtney said the installation of a non-raised median would create “a fifth lane” of traffic. “My concern is people are going to use that median as a lane when traffic is stopped and they need to turn left and take a shortcut. I’m afraid this is going to become more and more common. I’m scared to see the raised medians go away,” he said. Trustees Janie Emerson and Dolores Donovan said they agreed with his concern.

“The basic problem with this is,” said Emerson, “yes, you talked to the fire department who are major stakeholders, but you didn’t talk to us – the biggest stakeholder in this entire development. We need to have as much input as anyone else if not more. It’s our lives and our town at stake.”

Slope restoration

To make room for the sidewalk and stabilize the hillside, a retaining wall will also be built in Phase 2 of the Corridor Project. Although LJCPA approved designs for the retaining wall — after resoundingly rejecting the first proposed rendering — Bliss did not provide an image of what the retaining wall would look like, which caused concern for some.

“Not having an image of what you’re going with is a big problem,” opined Emerson. “The City has done this before, where we approve something and then they come back with something else.” The board rejected renderings in May 2015 based on the retaining wall’s stark appearance and 25-foot height. In April 2016, the City came back with a more natural design, which was approved.

Bliss said the approved version was what the City would use.

Bike lane and traffic slowing

To create continuity and a safer bicycling path, he said a buffered bike lane would be installed on both sides of the thoroughfare. “A ‘buffered bike lane’ means there is a two-foot (painted) barrier on the side,” he said. To accommodate the new bike lanes, the vehicular traffic lanes would be narrowed; the lane widths would be adjusted to a 10-foot left lane and 11-foot right lane, a two-foot bike lane buffer and a five-foot bike lane.

“The narrower lanes will make motorists feel a little pinched, so they will slow down a bit, and the HAWK beacon will provide a break in traffic. The buffered bike lane will suggest a bike corridor, and we think all these measures will slow traffic down,” he said.

Trustee Phil Merten agreed.

“One of the reasons traffic moves so fast on Torrey Pines Road is that it is designed like a 55-mile-per-hour highway. The curbs are gentle, visibility is good, the lanes are wide, and people feel safe driving 55 miles per hour. As the lanes narrow and the bike lanes start showing up, people will slow down. They will pay a lot more attention. I think it’s going to improve safety significantly,” he said.

Bliss said he would return to a future LJCPA meeting to give a similar presentation for a larger audience.

In other LJCPA news:

New board members: The new and re-elected trustees voted in during the March annual election were sworn in at the onset of the April meeting. They are: Robert Steck, David Gordon, Bob Collins, Brian Will and Sheila Palmer.

Mansionization update: Sharon Wampler, who formerly chaired the LJCPA subcommittee on “mansionization” (the practice of building large homes that reach the fullest allowable size for the lot), gave an update since the subcommittee’s work ended in January 2016. She said, “We continued our efforts as a private community collaborative. We’ve had meetings and a charrette last year to create an incentive-based alternative to the Coastal Development Permit (CDP) process or a ‘tailored zone,’ for development.”

The group’s hope is to find an alternative to the “50 percent rule,” which exempts a project from requiring a CDP if it retains 50 percent of the original structure — a rule some developers have pushed.

“We are now on version five of our proposal and getting input from architects … if we get this to a point where it is a usable proposal, we’re hoping to present the plans to architects come May or June and then to the community groups and finally to this board with a final recommendation,” Wampler said.

Shores water project: City of San Diego senior engineer Michael Ninh said the sewer and water replacement project in La Jolla Shores (on the east side of La Jolla Shores Drive and away from Avenida de la Playa, which has been under construction off and on for three years) is in the final stage of design, and construction will continue to summer 2019.

“The group job consists of replacing almost four-and-a-half miles of water lines and another third-mile of sewer lines. The construction timeline will also be shorted by the two summer construction moratoriums (Labor Day to Memorial Day annually) where we don’t work,” he said.

“Along with this water work, we’re going to improve the ADA ramps in the area so they are up to date. Afterward, all the streets are going to be covered with slurry. We are also going to improve some of the side streets where there are a lot of out-of-date ADA ramps.”

For more information about this project and to sign up for updates visit sandiego.gov/cip/projectinfo and search for Group Job 1011 (S) and (W) for sewer and water.

Webmaster wanted: Someone to maintain the LJCPA website is “direly needed,” said trustee Costello, as it has not been updated in months. Anyone interested may call (858) 456-7900 for details.

La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, May 4 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org or sandiego.gov/planning/community/cpg/agendas

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