Guest commentary: Street redesign is needed to curb speeding in La Jolla

Street designs are needed that improve safety for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, according to La Jollan Ellen Kennedy.
Street designs that improve safety for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians are needed more than adjustments to speed limits, according to La Jolla resident Ellen Kennedy.

Guest Commentary:

La Jolla speed limits do nothing to deter speeding. Drivers treat Torrey Pines Road, among others, like the Indy 500.

But this is not news to La Jolla residents. The galling thing is that based on a traffic survey method developed in the 1960s (known as the 85th-percentile survey, which assumes only 15 percent of drivers speed), enforceability is dependent on conducting this survey every few years and letting the speeds of drivers dictate whether a speed limit should be raised.

Now, one might think traffic engineering had sufficiently advanced in its understanding of traffic, speeding and safety in the past 60 years to throw out the logic of this survey, but it is still a common measure for assessing and raising speed limits. And based on its application, the survey says to raise the speed limits.

Thankfully, La Jolla residents aren’t comfortable with raising limits that are already being abused. And speed limits aren’t actually what need changing — street design is.

Let’s think about those traffic, speeding and safety implications a moment. For one, the 85th percentile was developed to address traffic on two-lane rural highways, not the urban core. It was also developed in a time when cars didn’t accelerate that quickly and certainly didn’t travel 50 mph on collector and arterial roadways. Additionally, cars weren’t commonly sharing the roads with bikes until after the survey was developed, so the notion of multimodal safety hadn’t fully been considered.

Fast forward to 2020 and the demand for bike and pedestrian infrastructure is greater than ever. Cars are traveling faster than ever. Yet roadway design has not kept up with the times.

COVID-19 has introduced a renaissance in car-free movement for health and enjoyment, given that personal free time has increased in lieu of the daily commute. So it’s the perfect time to call to question what makes the most sense in trying to keep multiple modes sharing the same space safely.

Unprotected bike lanes make no sense and never have. They’re the afterthought of most roadways, and 99 percent of bicycle riders feel uncomfortable using them.

To raise speed limits on arterial and collector streets only raises the risk of bicyclist and pedestrian fatality. (And for anyone who has ever been at the scene of one of these accidents, they will tell you wholeheartedly that one casualty is one too many and everything possible should be done to improve safety.)

What would help instead is to reimagine everything we think we know about roadway design in order to provide the safest possible separation of modes.

Applying a new traffic calming design to La Jolla Boulevard did wonders for safety as well as economic development.

Another La Jolla Light reader extolled the quality of life introduced to her [Pacific Beach] neighborhood through “slow streets.”

We should be thinking about what sort of design would better fit other local streets than existing designs we live with, where sidewalks are inconsistent and have serious disabled-accessibility deficiencies, bike lanes are often unprotected and the striping is worn away, and the car reigns supreme.

If we were willing to treat the car as a peer with other modes and design accordingly, consider how much more aware drivers would have to be of their speed and their surroundings. What a change that would make in livability, improving outdoor accessibility and safety for all those who are eager to get outside and walk, run, ride, scoot, skate and more!

Ellen Kennedy is a La Jolla resident.