A new boulevard for Bird Rock

By Scott Peters

It is fitting that the completion of the Bird Rock Traffic Flow Improvement Project comes in the final months of my time as a city councilmember, as this project rates as one of the most significant and meaningful ones for me personally, and for the community.

I can’t help but think back to the Bird Rock Community Council pancake breakfast in October 2000, when as a candidate for City Council, I joined your effort to slow traffic on the boulevard. Who could have predicted that our request for a simple stop sign at Midway would have led to the improvements we have realized today?

In my discussions as a candidate, I heard residents and merchants share their concerns about excessive speed, meager landscaping and businesses struggling to make it in a run-down commercial zone. I vowed to make traffic calming and revitalizing Bird Rock one of my highest priorities as a councilmember.

In 2001, I convened a series of forums dedicated to creating a comprehensive strategy for managing traffic and improving the look and feel of the commercial zone. In all honesty, it was not easy. These efforts were often greeted with skepticism or even hostility, and while you agreed that conditions on the boulevard were not great, you worried that they might be worse. But you and I refused to quit. Over the next few years, hundreds of people volunteered their time and effort in an unprecedented level of community support. Rather than planning from downtown San Diego, I hired nationally-recognized urban design expert Dan Burden to work with local architects, city staff and the community. I am still particularly grateful for the early leadership of Brad Raulston and Pam Wagner, who chaired our citizen committees which created a multi-phase plan to revitalize La Jolla Boulevard and neighboring streets.

When the community recommended five roundabouts for the Boulevard, many of you doubted that the city would stand with the community, given the rarity of these traffic measures in San Diego. Not only did my colleagues and I at the city council unanimously approve the plan, but we developed a strategy to fund it in order to bring the vision to life.

In November 2004, construction began on the first two roundabouts as part of the Barratt American Seahaus development project. I worked with our city staff to aggregate the money we needed to do the rest of the construction, first on the side streets, and then on the boulevard. Using developer fees from La Jolla, bicycle grants and a $2 million “Smart Growth” competitive grant we won from the San Diego Association of Governments, we were able to fund the remainder of the construction.

The recent construction of three additional roundabouts and other improvements along La Jolla Boulevard and surrounding surface streets was perhaps the most intrusive step in the construction process, as it disrupted traffic and business along La Jolla Boulevard for months. I am grateful to the residents and merchants of Bird Rock for their patience during that difficult time and to West Coast General and our other project partners for their flexibility and responsiveness to community concerns.

The time and effort devoted to the revitalization of Bird Rock by so many people is reflected in the many accolades received thus far. Last month, the project won the Urban Land Institute’s “Smart Growth Award” for the “Catalyst Project of the Year” and the American Planning Association’s “Award of Merit” for “Planning Excellence for a Grassroots Initiative.” The Federal Highway Administration will feature the traffic calming project as a public demonstration showcase in La Jolla later this year, attracting urban planners from across the country.

I hope you will join me in thanking the hundreds of people - especially our neighbors - who helped make this project such a great success. Enjoy the neighborhood!

Peters is First District City Councilman and City Council President.