Although a motion to support a speed limit increased along Soledad Mountain Road was approved 5-1-0 at the January La Jolla Traffic & Transportation (T&T) board meeting, the item was discussed at the March 3 La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting. Citing safety and factual concerns, Soledad Mountain Road resident Robert O’Neill requested the item be thoroughly vetted, and the decision to increase the speed limit be overturned.
At the request of San Diego traffic engineers, T&T approved a speed limit increase from 35 to 40 miles per hour between Pacifica Drive and Soledad Road in January. Requests for speed limit adjustments are often made after traffic engineers conduct a speed study to gauge how fast the average flow of traffic is going. If 85 percent of the vehicles are traveling at a certain speed, it becomes the recommended speed limit. Should the speed limit not be adjusted to reflect the results of the study, police cannot use radar to enforce it.
However, O’Neill, a retired police and traffic enforcement officer, alleged the information from the speed study might not be entirely accurate. Further, he said people are already going well beyond the speed limit on that stretch, and increasing the limit would only increase the current threat of danger.
“I’ve lived in this area since 1989. I can tell you, it’s a very dangerous situation,” he said. “In the morning, we have people going up the hill to get to (All Hallows Academy, La Jolla Montessori School and Evans School) at the top, and drivers are passing other drivers using the left turn lane. I pull out from my driveway into the street and by the time I am in the street, there are cars on my tail.”
Noting that his patrol once included the area near where he now lives, O’Neill added he used to park his motorcycle in front of his now home. “People think they won’t get a speeding ticket unless they are going 12- or 13 miles-per-hour over the speed limit, so if the speed limit is increased to 40 miles-per-hour, people will do 50,” he said.
Taking issue with the speed study itself, in addition to the request to up the speed limit, O’Neill reported when the city’s traffic engineers conducted the study, the flashing/illuminated signs that show how fast cars are going were not on or functional. “I’m told that they were turned off when the city did the traffic study,” he said. “When the (illuminated speed limit) signs are not working, people aren’t being consciously notified that they are going over the limit.”
Considering the illuminated signs a deterrent to speedsters, LJCPA trustee David Little said, “If those signs are turned off or not functional, you are not going to get an accurate reading during the speed study. The speed study should reflect average speeds when a traffic-calming device, which is already in place, is in use.”
Added trustee Brian Will, “If the city could be compelled to repeat that study, with the illuminated sign on, the 35 miles per hour may very well reflect how fast 85 percent of drivers are going.”
Arguing that the city would prefer to increase the speed limit so it can use radar, trustee Fran Zimmerman, said, “Using radar means issuing tickets, and tickets means money for the city, that’s why they want to go that route. But what you want is for people to go slower. One way that happens is with speed limit signs and illuminated signs that show how fast you are going.”
However, LJCPA trustee Joe LaCava noted, “It’s never in our best interest to just bad-mouth the city. If the city turned off those signs, there was probably a legal reason to compel them to do so.”
LJCPA trustee and T&T member Tom Brady said O’Neill’s comments were not made available when the traffic board made its decision, largely because O’Neill said he learned about the decision by reading La Jolla Light’s coverage of the T&T meeting. “There are 145 houses in that area, and when I surveyed some of the neighbors to see if they were aware of the proposed change, none were,” O’Neill said. Had they known, he added, residents might have attended the T&T meeting when the item was initially discussed.
“We were unaware of the information Mr. O’Neill has provided today, but his comments would be have been appropriate for us at T&T,” Brady said. As such, Brady moved to have the item returned to T&T to further discuss the issues presented. The motion passed unanimously.
IF YOU GO: The next T&T meeting is 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 16 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org or email@example.com