A broad-based committee is brainstorming how best to make a half-mile stretch of Torrey Pines safer, more walkable and more pleasing to the eye.
The 16-member group of La Jolla planners, residents and businesspeople was formed at the behest of City Councilman Scott Peters shortly after the first of the year. Their mission is to find ways to slow traffic, increase safety and walkability within the corridor, as well as beautifying and enhancing views.
La Jolla architect Robert Thiele chairs the Torrey Pines Road Corridor Study Committee. He said no binding decisions have been made yet by the group evaluating a half-mile segment of Torrey Pines Road in between La Jolla Shores Drive and the Throat intersection and Girard Avenue in the Village.
“What we have right now is a collage of ideas,” said Thiele. “The idea is to slow speed, increase safety and make it more walkable.”
Other committee members include Deborah Marengo, Yvette Marcum, Patrick Ahern, Dan Allen, Todd Fry, Wayne Miller, Leigh Plesniak, Mary Coakley, Kate Adams, John Griffith, Marty McGee, Martin Mosier, Claude-Anthony Marengo, Ken King, Fran Graham and John Norris. Betsy Brennan from Councilman Peters’ office and Siavash Pazargadi of the city’s Traffic Engineering Division are working with the study committee.
The committee has been exploring many alternative traffic-calming measures, including added traffic signals along the half-mile stretch, widening sidewalks, putting in guard rails, enhancing and planting medians with stormwater runoff control, as well as introducing flashing speed indicators.
One bone of contention early on in the committee meetings was a proposal to install a new traffic signal on Torrey Pines Road at either Princess Street or Viking Way. Homeowners balked at the suggestion, protesting with a petition drive.
Andy Hamilton, vice president of Walk San Diego, recently gave a presentation to the group offering his expertise on traffic-calming.
“We have a manual that has 26 different ways of calming traffic, slowing it down,” Hamilton said. “I looked at the roadway, what their goals are and critiqued the work they’ve done so far. I was there to give a second opinion. I think they’re headed in a very good direction.”
Ideas from Walk San Diego the committee is considering include narrowing traffic lanes, as well as turning traffic medians into pedestrian refuges.
“You don’t want people to drive like they’re on the freeway,” said Hamilton. “So, you narrow the lanes down from 12 feet to 11 or 10 feet. You just restripe them. Then you put in planted medians, and that vertical element disrupts the feel of it being a wide road. It makes you feel like you’re in someone’s neighborhood. You can also put in some kind of gateway monument, so people coming onto Torrey Pines from La Jolla Parkway know it’s no longer an extension of the freeway.”
City Councilman Peters said he welcomes the community’s ideas on how best to continue to beautify Torrey Pines Road.
“We got a terrific start at the new intersection, and we’ve also gotten the Rotary Club to spearhead the new pocket park at Little Street,” Peters said. “But now, the need to address the rest of the entrance to La Jolla is even more apparent. I look forward to addressing fencing, signage, landscaping and other issues to improve our neighborhood.”
Other corridor committee members gave their takes on Torrey Pines corridor improvement. La Jolla Town Councilman Patrick Ahern applauded the committee’s efforts, adding he’s most interested in the study’s aesthetic component.
“It’s an amazing group of people who’ve come together on such a complex project,” he said. “There are three big elements here: residents and their concerns on how to cross the road safely, people getting out of their driveways safely and accessing Torrey Pines, and the aesthetics of this corridor, enhancing the views as much as we can.”
Landscape design consultant Todd Fry said the group is evaluating subliminal ways of easing motorists into slowing down on Torrey Pines.
“What we’re finding out is aesthetics would possibly have a calming effect on traffic,” he said. “A planted median with a ground cover gives the perception the road is being squeezed down a bit so people will slow down because they think they’re going through a neighborhood. We found out a lot of people do not want any kind of stop light or other methods like flashing signs showing speed limits.”
Realtor and corridor committee member Kate Adams talked about what she’d like to see the group accomplish.
“I’d like to see traffic slowed down and it made easier to turn on and off Torrey Pines without it being so dangerous,” she said. “I would like to see people in La Jolla focus on the best plan for everybody, not just their street or their back yard or their turn.”
Adams said she believes the corridor committee’s goals are achievable. She said action needs to be taken to make Torrey Pines more user-friendly for everyone.
“We forget that people walk and bicycle there,” she said, “and the sidewalks are absurdly narrow and filled with lamposts, electric boxes and mailboxes. It’s hard for one person to walk down the sidewalk and almost impossible for someone to walk it with a stroller or two people walking side by side. We want to make this a place where people can walk and ride their bikes.”
Thiele said the corridor committee will meet two or three times more before its finished with its task, likely by mid-May. The group will then issue a report on all the ideas that have been collected for improving and beautifying Torrey Pines Road. After that, the group will discuss its findings with La Jolla’s various planning groups. Ultimately, the committee’s suggestions will be forwarded to the City Council.
Thiele said the corridor committee has applied for pedestrian grant funding from the San Diego Association of Governments, a county transportation planning organization, in order to widen Torrey Pines sidewalks and medians.
“That’s the majority of what the project is,” he said, “sidewalks and median work.”
Though it’s been a lot of work, Thiele said the committee’s voluntary efforts have been worthwhile.
“It’s become a project for me,” he said, “but it’s a rare opportunity to contribute something like this to a community. It will certainly make it nicer coming in and out of La Jolla, as well as making it safer.”