Working group forming to discuss design options for Torrey Pines Road guardrail in La Jolla

This K-rail barrier on Torrey Pines Road will be replaced with a guardrail.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Some residents hope for something better than the guardrail the city of San Diego is considering.


A new guardrail is coming to the north side of La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Road between Prospect Place and Coast Walk, where there currently is a white K-rail, but details and design specifications are still being developed.

A community working group has been formed to brainstorm ideas and relay any concerns about the guardrail to the city of San Diego ahead of the design and construction phases of the project.

Last year, the City Council authorized using a $718,700 grant from the California Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Improvement Program. The grant funding will support the design and construction phases, but with limitations on design.

Additional funding became available from the city that brought the budget to nearly $1 million.

According to the city, the new guardrail being considered is 350 feet of safety railing made of metal sheeting that is “typically used on a bridge deck. This project will bolt the rail to the top of a deep, wide curb ... which will also act as part of the sidewalk.”

The project is expected to cost just over $1.3 million and is therefore considered “partially funded.” A contractor has not yet been selected and a work schedule has not been determined.

Hoping for something more aesthetically pleasing than metal sheeting for drivers, walkers and bikers on Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla resident Kathleen Neil formed the working group to meet regularly to discuss the project.

“I realized it doesn’t address the issues beyond motor vehicle safety,” Neil told the La Jolla Light. “I can understand the desire to make it more protective of cars on the steep slope, but I don’t want us to end up with what is listed. ...

“I don’t know how much leeway the city has and how much they can play with the design, so I decided to resurrect what various people had done and plan to give input before they begin designing so we have the opportunity to say, ‘These are our concerns; can you address them?’”

The north side of Torrey Pines Road between Prospect Place and Coast Walk will get a new guardrail.
The north side of Torrey Pines Road between Prospect Place and Coast Walk will get a new guardrail to take the place of a white K-rail.
(Bing Maps and La Jolla Light)

The idea for a guardrail has been discussed since the mid-2000s, when La Jolla residents got together and produced some early drawings.

“The goal was to make that road safer and more friendly for non-motorized users,” Neil said. “Twenty to 30 people would attend these meetings; it was really good community engagement.”

But an issue of funding stalled the plan from moving forward.

In years that followed, a pedestrian-activated HAWK beacon was installed on Torrey Pines Road that allows traffic to proceed uninterrupted unless activated by someone wanting to cross, and the Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project created a new sidewalk on the south side of Torrey Pines, an asphalt concrete overlay with striping of buffered bike lanes, a painted asphalt median and more.

In January 2018, a car careened off Torrey Pines Road onto the hillside, landing in the yard of one of the Coast Walk houses below. Soon after, the white K-rail was installed as a temporary protective measure.

The following year, the K-rail was vandalized with graffiti, possibly because of its high visibility.

In 2021, a grant proposal was submitted to redesign the rail with a more permanent guardrail. But with the grant comes limits.

“Eighty percent of the funds have to go to vehicle safety issues,” Neil said. But she added that other interests need to be considered.

“Vehicles want to get in and out, but the people that use the road would like to be safe,” she said. “During [the COVID-19 pandemic], walkers and scooters became more active on that [north] side of the road. That traffic has gone up tremendously. The problem that struck me is that the temporary barriers protected vehicles but channel every other type of user to the sidewalk area. That is a huge risk.”

She added that she has seen pedestrians “pinned to the fence” to accommodate other users of the sidewalk.

“I don’t want [the city] to re-create what is already there with something more permanent, with a barrier next to the sidewalk that causes it to narrow too much,” Neil said.

“I decided to resurrect what various people had done and plan to give input before they begin designing so we have the opportunity to say, ‘These are our concerns; can you address them?’”

— Kathleen Neil

The plan for the working group “is to collect feedback and present it to the city,” she said. “I think we should be vocal before we get into the design phase. … There is a wide range of voices expressing interest. Even if we don’t get what we want, if we don’t tell them what our concerns are, we are going to wake up one day and they are going to build something we might not want.”

Neil added that she is not advocating any design over another and said, “If all the group does is give the city ideas and the city sorts it out, it’s a win.”

The group’s first meeting will be at 6 p.m. Monday, June 26, at the La Jolla/Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave., immediately after the 4 p.m. La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting. Representatives of the city’s Engineering & Capital Projects Department are expected to attend.

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1:10 p.m. June 13, 2023: This article was updated with a new description of the guardrail being considered, along with additional information.