The geography that makes La Jolla so desirable to live in makes it considerably less desirable to escape from. Locked in by the Pacific on the west and unpenetrated hills on the east, La Jollans have only eight exit routes to choose from in an emergency — and that’s only if all eight are available.
It’s a subject no one likes thinking about, but with the possibility of a North Korean missile attack now standing alongside La Jolla’s historic hazards — fires, earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis — it’s become more relevant. And that relevance grows with every new La Jolla resident.
Acccording to a 2014 report from the Unified San Diego County Emergency Services Organization, although San Diego County has never faced the need for an area-wide evacuation, “analysis of county hazard profiles indicate that an evacuation effort involving thousands of individuals and impacting multiple communities is highly possible.”
How are we supposed to rely on routes to escape with our lives that can barely handle an average rush hour?
“Let’s be realistic,” said San Diego Police traffic officer Mark McCullough. “No matter what the incident is, the goal is going to be getting you to a place of maximum safety.” And exactly where that place of safety is, McCullough said, depends on the threat.
If police determine the safest place is east of SDCCU Stadium, McCollough gave a for-instance, then the best route is to head down Soledad Mountain Road into Pacific Beach. If the problem is launched by Kim Jong-un, however, your best bet is probably not going to be separating your family from nuclear fallout by only a layer of thin, assembly-line aluminum.
“Sometimes, the safest place is going to be your residence,” McCullough said.
And, if it makes you feel any better, McCullough said that all eight escape routes are “constantly evaluated to see what we have to change to make them better, because while all those people are going out, all our people are going in.”
If that doesn’t make you feel any better, other solutions exist. One spearheaded by La Jolla real-estate agent Charlie Hein includes building a La Jolla Parkway entrance to the I-5 North.
“We can come into the Village from the 5 but we can’t get out,” said Hein, who lives on Mt. Soledad. (The ramp wasn’t part of the original project because La Jolla Parkway — originally called Ardath Road — was deemed to be situated too far above the freeway.)
Hein’s proposal also calls for spanning La Jolla Parkway with a bridge joining La Jolla Scenic Drives North and South. Bandied about since the 1950s, this project would allow quicker access to the I-5 and access to UTC that bypasses Torrey Pines Road completely. The bridge was nearly willed into reality in the ’60s, and you can still see where the cliffs on either side of La Jolla Parkway were graded for abutments that were never built.
“It made sense decades ago but makes even more sense today,” said Hein, who has gathered 500 signatures on a change.org petition. “It would make things so much better, it’s crazy to me.”
Both of Hein’s proposals sounds good to McCullough, who added: “Anytime we can connect University City to La Jolla is a good thing. In case of an emergency, an extra bridge would be an excellent thing. However, I’m not in any kind of position to make that call.”
Both proposals are considered extreme long shots. In 1989, the L.A. Times estimated the price tag of a northbound I-5 exit off La Jolla Parkway at $50 million, which is $100 million today — and that doesn’t include the cost of satisfying all the additional environmental protections enacted since.
As for the bridge, it’s long been opposed by residents at both ends who don’t want their driveways suddenly intersecting a major thoroughfare. Back in 2012, former District 1 City Council member Sherri Lightner noted the residential opposition and also stated that building such a bridge was “not possible with today’s environmental concerns.” In addition, the Rose Canyon fault parellels I-5 between exits 23 and 26, situating both construction proposals directly atop the most active fault in San Diego.
Bruce Appleyard, associate professor of city planning and urban design at San Diego State University, has an alternative suggestion he says would be cheaper and more effective than building new roads or bridges: a better network of bike paths along with subsidizing the purchase of cargo electric-bikes for all able-bodied La Jollans. The e-bikes could be outfiited with child seats and space for pets, important papers and necessary supplies.
In previous emergencies, including 9/11 and Hurricane Irma, Appleyard said that “people walking and on bicycles were able to get out of the danger zone and people in cars weren’t. If only a modest portion of people were traveling on e-bikes as well as cars, a larger number of people will be able to get out of the harm’s way because cars just take up too much space to be effective in evacuations.”