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How Walkable is La Jolla? Experts say there’s assets, room for improvements

The wide sidewalks in the Village contribute to La Jolla’s walkability.
The wide sidewalks in the Village contribute to La Jolla’s walkability.
(Ashley Mackin)

Editor’s Note: Last week, La Jolla Light teamed with some experienced cyclists to evaluate the bike-ability of La Jolla, in connection with Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s new “Climate Action Plan” for San Diego. The consensus was there’s a lot to be done before bicyclists and motorists can share the roads safely. This week we look at La Jolla’s walkability.

Circulate San Diego (CSD), an amalgamation of the organizations Walk San Diego and Move San Diego, has what they call the five “ingredients” to a walkable community. These are: safe sidewalks, safe crossing opportunities, traffic calming, destinations, and beauty/comfort.

Looking at these ingredients through a La Jolla lens, CSD Director of Advocacy Kathleen Ferrier said La Jolla has some walkable assets, and some areas for improvement.

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“The Village itself is walkable because a lot of these factors for a walkable area are present. But getting to the Village is very challenging, and it’s hard for people to walk there, so they are more likely to drive, especially tourists, and that makes it harder to reach that walkability factor,” she said.

“The biggest challenge with La Jolla is that it doesn’t have a grid pattern that we see in other older neighbors, which disperses traffic and gives someone walking a choice of numerous routes to get from one part of the neighborhood to another. There are walkable neighborhoods within La Jolla, but it’s very challenging to get from one to the next.”

State of the Sidewalks

“For a community to have good, safe sidewalks, these must not be broken or uneven. Ideally, there should be something in between the sidewalk and the street, like a row of trees or a parked car, so if a person falls off a sidewalk they are not going to be hit by a car,” she said.

Although La Jolla has its fair share of cracked sidewalks, often featured in the Tarnishing Our Jewel series, La Jolla is not alone in its predicament. While Ferrier said she doesn’t have data as to how many cracked sidewalks there are and how that affects walkability, she said, “The availability of a sidewalk is the most important factor in determining whether people are going to walk, according to research.”

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The condition of sidewalks is an issue, not just in San Diego, but in cities across the country. “Over time, sidewalk quality declines and we have to look at who is going to pay for that; it’s an ongoing conversation.”

Unique to La Jolla, however, is the hilly thoroughfare of Torrey Pines Road, which does not have consistent sidewalks on both sides of the street.

“The Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project Phase II will improve the sidewalk and add bike lanes, but what they have to do to make that happen is shore up the hillside with retaining walls. That drives the cost up substantially, so what we see is those projects don’t often get funded immediately.”

Pedestrian Crossings

Ferrier opined that oftentimes there are not enough safe crossings for people. “We see them at signalized intersections and at stop signs, but it’s in between that makes it difficult and there are a lot of stretches in La Jolla where we have space in between,” Ferrier said. Using Torrey Pines Road as an example, she said there is a mile between two signalized intersections.

However, as part of the $1.2 million Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project Phase II, a pedestrian-activated crosswalk will be installed halfway between the two existing signalized intersections at Almalfi Street.

Explaining the system, Ferrier said, “With a normal traffic signal, it operates on its own system and regularly goes from red to yellow to green, and keeps traffic flowing. With this system, it would only turn on when a pedestrian is there wanting to cross and activates it. Overhead lights flash yellow, then flash red when the pedestrian is crossing, and stops traffic for 8-20 seconds, and then traffic resumes afterward.”

Looking the crosswalks at wide intersections of the Village, specifically on Girard Avenue and Fay Avenue, a common but dangerous habit of some drivers is to proceed through an intersection and wait in the middle for a pedestrian to cross, and then proceed as soon as the pedestrian is out of the way, but not out of the intersection.

“In a car, there is a sense of immediacy that folks should be able to drive anywhere and get there quickly. Meanwhile, we have more people walking. A frequent type of crash is a car not yielding to a pedestrian in a crosswalk,” Ferrier said. “But it’s common courtesy to give someone a little more time so they can be safe.”

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A group of pedestrians in a Village crosswalk
A group of pedestrians in a Village crosswalk
(Ashley Mackin)

Traffic-calming Tactics

One of the fundamentals for Walk San Diego, traffic calming, is critical to slowing cars down and reducing injury in the event of vehicle-pedestrian accidents. “There are a lot of techniques as far as street design that traffic engineers and cities can employ that will slow cars down but keep cars moving,” she said.

Areas that have done well in terms of traffic calming are Bird Rock, which has become a national model for how to implement roundabouts; and La Jolla Shores, which has more narrow streets, stops signs and “bump outs” on corners. “Bump outs are curb extensions that pop out of the corner of an intersection, which helps make pedestrians more visible and slows the car speed around that turn so it’s safer for the person to cross the street,” she said.

However, the majority of streets in the Village do not have traffic calming.

Proximity of Destinations

An area where La Jolla thrives, is the “destinations” component. “It doesn’t matter how great your streets are, if the grocery store is two miles away, you aren’t going to walk there. So creating these 20-minute walkable neighborhoods where you can get to different services and destinations in proximity is really important.”

Because Circulate San Diego research suggests people will comfortably walk about half a mile from one destination to the other, especially on the coast or on vacation, La Jolla Light looked at the proximity of places within the Village near the coastal landmarks.

From the Children’s Pool, La Valencia Hotel, Herringbone restaurant, Lean and Green Café, Public House, and the La Jolla Library are within half a mile. From the La Jolla tide pools, a half-mile walk will get you almost all the way up Pearl Street, but not as far as the Pannikin coffee house, and then into residential neighborhoods.

From the Cove, within half a mile are residential areas, Torrey Pines Road, The Cottage restaurant (barely) and La Jolla Historical Society (barely). Also from the Cove, Vons is .7 miles away, so anything inside of that is up in the air.

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Aesthetics

Addressing beauty/comfort, Ferrier said, “It’s much more pleasant to walk in a place that is beautiful and if there are benches, trees, views, appropriate lighting (Circulate San Diego advocates for acorn lights because they are better for pedestrians rather than the overhead lights, which are better for cars). People might be willing to walk a mile if that mile is pleasant.”

Because La Jolla is a fixture for natural beauty, the team behind the Whale View Point Shoreline Enhancement project are working with the city to install a new sidewalk along Coast Boulevard, where there is currently uneven paths and segments of dirt walkways.

Hope for the future

In addition to the Whale View Point project, two other projects are underway that would improve walkability. Five years in the making, the aforementioned Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project would improve the sidewalks and create safer crossing opportunities, and help connect La Jolla Shores to the Village.

Next is the planned Mid-Coast Trolley Project, which would have a stop at UC San Diego and Westfield UTC, and would give visitors more options for how to get around. Ferrier explained, “There will be a lot of space between that and the coastal area, but there will be more people with the choice to park their car elsewhere, ride the trolley and then walk or combine the trolley with bike-share or car-share. That all contributes to walkability.”

Construction of the project is expected to begin later this year, with service to begin in 2021.

Pedestrians Speak Out

Jack Leow and Deepti Bhogle work on Prospect Street and said they walk to get lunch almost every day. “La Jolla is very walkable because the downtown area is so centralized and all the shops and restaurants are right here,” Leow said. “I also like that there are so many galleries around, and the beach is so close by, so if I’m taking a walk there is a lot to see.”

But for all its beauty, Bhogle said, “Pedestrians get ignored at times. We’ve had issues where we walk around and see that the cars just don’t pay attention ... I’ve heard enough stories about drivers in the Village who don’t stop for pedestrians.”

Leow added, “I think if you make eye contact with the driver, it isn’t really a problem, but sometimes you get a driver who will just go past you, and you just have to deal with that.”


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