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Added traffic signal on Torrey Pines Road gets a green light

The final public meeting of the Torrey Pines Road Study Committee ended Nov. 7 with a vote that will recommend the installation of a new traffic signal on Torrey Pines Road at Princess Street. The meeting was the last of more than two dozen over the last couple years for the committee, which has created a comprehensive plan to slow traffic and increase safety along Torrey Pines Road while making the street more walkable.

Nearly every aspect of the committee’s plan for the street has already been approved by the major community planning groups and is ready to be passed along to the city, with one exception: the plan for pedestrian crosswalks.

The original plan called for pedestrian refuge areas in the middle of Torrey Pines Road at Amalfi Street and Little Street. The refuge areas would have allowed pedestrians to cross one direction of traffic, then wait in the middle of the street for the other side of traffic to clear before continuing across the street.

Torrey Pines Road Study Committee Chair Robert Thiele said the pedestrian areas were deemed unacceptable by the San Diego Fire Department, because their trucks often drive in the middle turn lane where the refuge areas would be located. The committee decided that, without the refuge areas, a traffic signal would be necessary to get pedestrians across the street safely.

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Recent meetings have focused on three possible locations for the traffic signal: at Princess Street, Hillside Drive and Amalfi Street. Thiele said Hillside and Amalfi were dropped from consideration because there is no traffic science to support a light at either location.

Roger Craig, a resident of Amalfi Street, made a presentation at the meeting asking that Hillside be reconsidered as a possibility, but city traffic engineer Siavash Pazargadi said that the traffic data the city uses to determine where stoplights are needed wouldn’t support a light at Hillside.

“Time and time again, we have taken the counts (at Hillside) and we just don’t have the warrants,” Pazargadi said.

Pazargadi showed a computer simulation of traffic conditions he said demonstrated that a new traffic signal at Princess Street would not cause significant traffic backup on Torrey Pines Road. He said that backups on Torrey Pines Road have gotten worse over the last year because the synchronization between the lights at La Jolla Parkway and La Jolla Shores Drive was lost. He said the city would soon correct the problem by re-synchronizing the lights.

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“It’s going to be basically back to how it was when the Throat first re-opened after construction,” Pazargadi said. “You’re going to see queues, but they won’t go up to Prospect. They’ll go to Roseland or so, and they’re moving queues.”

The traffic signal proposed by Pazargadi at Princess Street would have a 30-second cycle. It would be triggered by pedestrians or by sensors detecting cars waiting to make a left turn on and off Princess Street.

Longtime San Diego traffic engineer Jim Federhart conducted a study at both Princess Street and Hillside Drive during peak hours Nov. 1. He counted 93 cars going into Princess Street and 44 coming off it onto Torrey Pines Road, about twice the amount of demand he observed at Hillside Drive.

Pazargadi said the light would also help people wishing to turn left on Hillside

Drive because it would create a gap in traffic that would allow them to turn. The Torrey Pines Road plan also calls for lengthening the left turn lane on Torrey Pines Road at Hillside, which often backs up with people waiting to turn left onto Hillside.

Federhart counted 10 pedestrians crossing the street at Princess during peak hours Nov. 1. Thiele and Pazargadi have long maintained that there is latent demand for pedestrian use of Torrey Pines Road that isn’t apparent now because the street is so unsafe.

Committee member Patrick Ahern said he supported the installation of the traffic light because Torrey Pines Road needs to be more walkable.

“I think (the light) will improve walkability and all that latent demand will become real,” Ahern said.

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Other committee members, including Mary Coakley and Sherri Lightner, argued that the original traffic-calming measures planned for Torrey Pines Road should be implemented first, because traffic could be slowed to a point where pedestrians could cross safely without a new signal.

The committee voted to recommend installing a new light, but without the U-turn component Pazargadi originally proposed. The advisory vote will go to the La Jolla Shores Association on Nov. 8, La Jolla Town Council on Nov. 9 and the La Jolla Community Planning Association on Dec. 7, before heading to the city level.

A room vote after the meeting also showed that a large majority of the nearly 100 people in attendance favored the installation of a new light at Princess.