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Clearing ‘The Throat’: La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board hears ideas to ease congestion

This photo illustration shows three suggested locations for easing traffic at "The Throat."
This photo illustration, based on a presentation to the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board, shows three suggested locations for easing traffic at “The Throat,” where La Jolla Parkway, Hidden Valley Road and Torrey Pines Road converge.
(Graphic by Daniel K. Lew / Google Earth photo)

The La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board heard suggestions from community member Carol Hernstad for easing traffic headaches at “The Throat,” where La Jolla Parkway, Hidden Valley Road and Torrey Pines Road converge.

The intersection is often clogged with traffic in and out of La Jolla and has been the subject of many debates.

Hernstad presented three ideas at the T&T Board meeting June 17 via Zoom, having already brought forth suggestions during the public comment portion of a previous meeting.

“I thought if we took the traffic light at The Throat and seriously tried to improve it, perhaps we could get the flow of traffic in and out of town and down Hidden Valley a lot quicker,” Hernstad said.

An area marked No. 1 on an aerial photo Hernstad shared shows “two turning lanes turning left onto Torrey Pines toward the Village and two lanes that go up Torrey Pines north,” Hernstad said.

“The issue is, there is a bump, and the right-turn lane [to La Jolla Parkway] only allows for two vehicles to stop and wait,” which often creates traffic on Hidden Valley toward Via Capri, Hernstad said. If vegetation indicated at No. 1 is cut back, more cars could stack “waiting to either go straight or turn” up La Jolla Parkway, she said.

“That’s a point well-taken; we can have that explored,” said T&T Board Chairman Dave Abrams.

A new pedestrian hybrid beacon for Torrey Pines Road won unanimous approval from the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board at its June 17 meeting.

An area marked No. 2 on the photo indicated “the lane that turns left [onto La Jolla Parkway] toward the freeway [Interstate 5], a lane that goes up [Hidden Valley Road] and almost half a lane that is vacant space,” Hernstad said.

“If the foliage was cut back where the actual ‘2’ is, you could have the lane going up Hidden Valley and two lanes feeding onto the freeway,” Hernstad said. “That would save a tremendous amount of backup on Torrey Pines.”

Abrams asked: “Don’t you think there’s more traffic going across onto Hidden Valley than turning left onto the freeway? If you did that, you’d want two through lanes instead of two lanes turning east onto the freeway.”

Hernstad replied that the middle lane could be both for through and left-turning traffic.

Abrams, however, said “the left lanes are activated first. I don’t know if you could have a combination.”

Hernstad turned to her third suggestion, marked No. 3 on the photo. “Just beyond the walkway overpass [allowing pedestrians to cross Torrey Pines Road at La Jolla Shores Drive], if the island was cut thinner, you would be able to stack turning cars [coming from the Village and turning left to stay on Torrey Pines Road],” which she said would alleviate much of the congestion at the intersection of Torrey Pines and La Jolla Shores Drive.

“So often people are jamming up the traffic trying to go onto the freeway when trying to switch lanes. If there were more space to wait to turn left onto Torrey Pines,” it would mitigate the problem, Hernstad said.

Board member Patrick Ryan said Hernstad’s ideas “seem to make a lot of sense; you’re adding to capacity without doing a whole lot.”

Member Tom Brady thanked Hernstad for her “much less expensive study. The Throat is just an absolute mess. I think this is a great suggestion.”

Brady said that at the board’s Feb. 19 meeting, “we requested the city to conduct a comprehensive traffic study at The Throat. [City senior traffic engineer Gary] Pence gave little likelihood of a comprehensive study because of funding reasons.”

Referring to a discussion he’d had with Pence about a full traffic study, Abrams said “Gary conceded that was something that was beyond the ability of his group; it would require outside consultants.”

Steve Hadley, representing the office of San Diego City Council member Barbara Bry, whose district includes La Jolla, said the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis “waved off a lot of stuff. We can certainly pursue that [now], but the stock answer [from the city] is, ‘We don’t have the money we had before coronavirus.’”

Abrams said he’s “happy to pass [Hernstad’s] suggestions on to Pence and ask that [the city] look at all three of them,” indicating he’d like both interim solutions and a full-blown traffic study. “I hope it’s not ‘either-or,’” he said. ◆