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La Jolla’s Hillside ‘stuck trucks’ persist, is phone app to blame?

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A ‘stuck truck’ on Hillside Drive blocks a busy lane of traffic on Torrey Pines Road, earlier this month.
(Courtesy)

As far back as 2016, “stuck trucks” on Hillside Drive have been causing traffic jams on Torrey Pines Road, and headaches for the residents who live nearby. The issue arises when large trucks attempt to make their way from Torrey Pines Road to Hillside Drive and other adjoining streets, but get stuck at the base of the steep street. When this happens, at least one lane of eastbound traffic on Torrey Pines Roads is blocked.

Of a “stuck truck” event earlier this month, nearby resident Diane Kane reported: “The truck was there for three hours and caused a massive back-up on Torrey Pines Road. When they eventually got the truck unstuck, they must have closed all lanes of traffic on Torrey Pines Road to tow the truck out.”

Further, recent changes to the topography — and in technology — may contribute to the persistence of “stuck truck” situations.

First, the City replaced what is referred to as “the dip” at the bottom of the street to repair the cross gutter and improve drainage. But at the La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting, May 2, residents reported that those who drive the street are scraping their bumpers as they make their way up and down the hill. One resident said there was a bus stuck in the dip since it was repaved.

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At the time, City Council member Barbara Bry’s field representative Mauricio Medina said: “I believe we’re going to schedule a meeting with City staff regarding this project so we can discuss it. A lot of residents of Hillside prefer (the repair) because it deters traffic, so you see the push and pull there.” (A notion some residents laughed at.)

Further, the use of a GPS smartphone app is being looked at as a “stuck truck” factor. Both Google Maps and Waze — the crowd-sourced GPS app that provides directions based on real-time traffic as reported by users — recommend Hillside Drive and streets such as Via Capri as a bypass to Torrey Pines Road when traffic is thick, both to cars and, apparently, trucks. (In 2013, Google bought Waze.)

Kane said during another “stuck truck” incident, she spoke with someone in the truck. “He identified himself as the truck navigator,” she said. “He had the traffic app up on his phone and was looking at it, saying it directed him to turn onto Hillside. He seemed perplexed and said, ‘I just did what the directions told me to do.’ ”

Kane theorized that the driver might have been looking at the traffic and waiting for an opportunity to turn, and relying on the navigator and “didn’t see the warning signs (advising against trucks of a certain weight going up the hill) until it was too late.”

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Kane has been advocating for Google Maps and Waze to remove Hillside Drive from its algorithm to discourage use of the street. “These apps are not foolproof. We have mentioned it to several people, including Council member Bry, and have been trying to run it through the powers-that-be to have Hillside removed from the program. We can’t be the only community where this is going on. We’ve heard from people whose neighborhoods are wrecked from these apps. There have to be other streets in San Diego that could be taken out, too, to create safer conditions.”

In response, Council member Bry told La Jolla Light: “My staff has reached out to the Transportation & Storm Water Department to inquire about sharing the street restrictions on navigation platforms like Google Maps to alert over-sized truck operators to use an alternate route. We’ve also asked for additional signage on Hillside Drive from Torrey Pines to Via Sienna about the restrictions. Unfortunately, the restrictions only prohibit trucks from using these streets as a shortcut. Any truck that has a destination on Hillside Drive, or is required to use either of these streets to get to a destination in the neighborhood, is exempt from the restriction.”

To address this and other issues surrounding Hillside Drive, the La Jolla Community Planning Association created an ad-hoc committee, which has been meeting regularly. Another issue — and option — they’ve come up with is to change the signage at the foot of the street.

In 2016, the issue first came to light, and was brought before the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation board. Part of the problem, at the time, was insufficient signage. A sign indicating large trucks may not be able to pass was facing eastbound, when most trucks were coming from the west; and another sign on Hillside itself, could only be seen once the turn had been made.

Soon after, additional signage was posted on Torrey Pines Road before the left-turn lane leading to Hillside Drive that reads “Tractors-Semis over 25 feet, Kingpin to rear axle not advised.”

Kane explained that according to the California Vehicle Code, if a sign is yellow, it is considered an “advisory,” and those who violate it would not necessarily be cited. But the ad-hoc committee would like to change that.

“Our question is how to get these from advisory signs to regulatory signs, so those who violate them can be cited?” Kane posed.

The ad-hoc committee continues to meet and report back to the Planning Association.

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—LJCPA next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, June 6 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org


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