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La Jolla board approves Coastal Rail Trail bikeway plan for Gilman Drive corridor

The Coastal Rail Trail seeks to add a Class IV protected bikeway along Gilman Drive in La Jolla (sample photos).
The Coastal Rail Trail seeks to add a Class IV protected bikeway along Gilman Drive in La Jolla, as illustrated in these sample photos.
(Courtesy)

After a lengthy and spirited discussion, the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board voted to approve updated plans for the La Jolla portion of the city of San Diego’s Coastal Rail Trail project, which includes protected bike lanes on Gilman Drive.

Alejandra Gonzalez, a project manager in the San Diego Engineering & Capital Projects Department, attended the board’s Jan. 20 meeting online to present updated information on the project.

The Coastal Rail Trail, approved in 2000, seeks to connect Oceanside with downtown San Diego through a multiuse trail “intended for bicyclists and different users,” Gonzalez said.

For the Gilman Drive corridor between La Jolla Village Drive and Interstate 5, Gonzalez said the project proposes a Class IV one-way cycle track along both sides of the street, with a continuous sidewalk along the west side. Street parking would be retained, and new street lighting would be installed, along with traffic signal modifications at existing signals and a new signal at La Jolla Village Drive.

The “existing condition is two lanes in each direction, with a painted median and a sidewalk on one side and a Class II bike lane going northbound,” she said.

A Class IV bikeway would add a raised, separated median to provide “an additional buffer between vehicles and cyclists,” Gonzalez said.

The existing median would be removed to “utilize additional space for the cycle track,” she said.

Alejandra Gonzalez explains planned traffic improvements for the Coastal Rail Trail.
Alejandra Gonzalez of the San Diego Engineering & Capital Projects Department explains planned traffic improvements for the Coastal Rail Trail, which include modified signals.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Gonzalez said signal changes include “a modified traffic signal for cyclists going across the southbound I-5 offramp, dedicated for cyclists and pedestrians, and a ‘No turn on red’ sign” for those turning right onto the southbound freeway.

A raised barrier at the I-5 intersection would provide additional protection for bicyclists, she said.

Similar traffic signals would be placed at Gilman Drive’s intersections with Via Alicante and La Jolla Village Drive.

Alejandra Gonzalez said intersections of the Class IV bikeway with driveways would include green striping and bollards.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

For driveways that “interact with the Class IV bikeway,” Gonzalez said, “we do avoid the raised median and include a painted buffer and bollards separating the cyclists and vehicles.”

There will be “about 120 feet, well before parking ends, where vehicles can begin to be alerted that there is a bike crossing,” she said. “At the driveways, there will be green striping further alerting of bikes crossing.”

The driveways also would include signage notifying drivers to yield to cyclists, she said.

Alec Phillipp, public information officer for the Engineering & Capital Projects Department, said the department expects a declaration of mitigated impacts to the environment to be completed by the end of this month or early February. The draft environmental document will be made available for public review and comment through the city website at sandiego.gov/ceqa/draft, Phillipp said.

Gonzalez said construction is expected to begin in spring 2022.

Gonzalez presented the Coastal Rail Trail plan in November to the T&T Board, which did not vote at the time, and in December to the La Jolla Community Planning Association, which voted to ask the city to consider further options “for optimizing the safety and utilization of the Gilman corridor” and resubmit the plan to T&T.

Several people spoke about the project at the Jan. 20 meeting. Serge Issakov, a La Jolla resident and board member of the San Diego Bicycle Club, San Diego County Bicycle Coalition and California Association of Bicycling Organizations, said cyclists’ usual high speeds along Gilman Drive — more than 20 mph — aren’t likely to be reduced by the project.

“There’s nothing about this design that causes a cyclist to want to slow down,” he said. “I think the treatments at the signalized intersections are handled very well and I applaud that work, but I remain very concerned about what I’m calling the minor intersections and I’m counting each of the driveways, because those are very similar to where we had a fatality in Leucadia in November,” when a truck turning right collided with a cyclist.

“I don’t see how anything in this design mitigates against that kind of crash,” Issakov said.

Myles Pomeroy, who chairs the Council of Bicycle Clubs for the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said the council discussed the project at length and “the gist is, if you approve [this], we hope you do so with several provisions.”

Pomeroy requested a reduction of the speed limit along Gilman Drive to 35 mph from its current 50 mph, which “would allow sharrows to be used on the roadway.”

Sharrows — painted markings indicating a road is to be shared by motor vehicles and bicycles — “are very important … even when a protected bikeway is there,” Pomeroy said. “Many drivers may feel that we should be in the protected bike lane and may not know that we have a right to be in the roadway as well. Sharrows send that message.”

The La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board discusses the merits of sharrows (left).
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“I don’t feel comfortable in a protected bike lane, partly [because] of the intersections and driveways,” Pomeroy said. “I also believe a protected bike lane should not be using raised curbs. There is no way to escape if you have to,” not only from vehicular obstacles but also debris that may collect along the road.

Pomeroy suggested instead “flexible lane delineators, separated by 10 or 12 feet.”

Jim Baross, speaking on behalf of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, said “some of the features of a Class IV facility will add a degree of hazard that we would like to be able to avoid.”

“Safe conduction of bicycling on a Class IV facility, especially at an intersection, requires slower speeds for safety,” he said. “There are ample reasons why bicycle people are not required to use the Class IV facility, and as you’ve heard from several of the experienced bicyclists, we will avoid using that.”

“The ability to use the roadway is somewhat restricted if motorists and uninformed police officers look at that separate facility” and don’t understand that bicyclists are allowed to share the road with drivers, Baross added.

“We strongly request if you do go forward [with the Class IV facility] that this committee recommend to the city [that] sharrows be placed on the adjacent through traffic lanes so that ... bicyclists lawfully conducting themselves on the roadway [are] not subject to harassment,” he said.

The La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board gave the green light Jan. 20 to a new city bus route in La Jolla that would replace a previously planned addition and modify a current route.

Paul Jamason, a volunteer board member with BikeSD, said his bicycling advocacy organization supports the city’s project.

“Any new rider on Gilman Drive will notice” vehicles speeding by without “protection from distracted motorists,” he said. “Those inexperienced riders aren’t going to ride under those conditions. Those are the very people the city is trying to convince to ride.”

Jamason said studies of protected bike lanes “show they reduce fatalities.”

He added that “it’s important to also accommodate the experienced riders” and agreed that adding sharrows would be an improvement.

However, Dan Nutter, a senior city engineer who worked on the project, said he would like the city “to not install sharrows immediately. The biggest issue we have is a lot of speed on this roadway. There’s no practical ability to lower the speed limit. We don’t want to invite more users into the roadway than we need to.”

He added that “if it’s an absolute game stopper, we can have those discussions with the Transportation & Stormwater Department. If we feel there is a need, we can very easily install [sharrows].”

T&T Board member Eric Gantzel said he “would love to see this proposal go through. I am not a high-speed performance cyclist. I understand there are high-speed cyclists who choose to go fast, [but] I believe this is important for people other than those.”

Gantzel moved that the board support the project as proposed, with the addition of sharrows suggested on the southbound lanes, “where speeds are higher.”

The motion passed unanimously and will be forwarded to the La Jolla Community Planning Association. ◆