Bird Rock community prepares for improvements

Shovels in hand and hard hats in place, Mayor Jerry Sanders and Council President Scott Peters officially ushered in the final two phases of much-anticipated, traffic-calming improvements in Bird Rock at a groundbreaking ceremony June 20.

But the real stars of the event, held at the intersection of Wrelton Drive and La Jolla Boulevard, were Bird Rock residents like Pam Wagner, Chuck Patton, Paul Metcalf and Joe La Cava. Peters praised them for helping to guide the six-year-long, community-driven effort to take proactive measures to resolve ongoing speeding and other traffic problems in their area.

“It’s really an exciting day for me and many of you who have worked so hard as a neighborhood to really accomplish a lot,” said Peters. “We’re celebrating the beginning of Phase 2 of the construction project to do coastal traffic flow improvements. This work along La Jolla Boulevard will include landscape medians, small traffic circles and bulb-outs at the end of street corners to slow down the speed of passing cars, while doing much-needed street and sewer repairs now, so we won’t have to dig up the streets again.”

This first phase of construction, mostly work along La Jolla Boulevard side streets, will take 100 working days, and be complete by November. The final phase of the project, to include three more large-scale roundabouts, will begin in August and span 190 working days, with a two-week moratorium for the winter holidays.

A roundabout, or traffic circle, is a one-way circular intersection in which traffic flows without stopping around a central island. The five roundabouts on La Jolla Boulevard will reduce the number of traffic lanes from four to two, one in each direction, decreasing pedestrian-crossing distance on la Jolla Boulevard from 68 feet to two, 14-foot segments, resulting in less pedestrian exposure to traffic. Roundabouts will also reduce traffic speed to about 22 miles an hour, while allowing for intersection beautification with landscaping in the center of the concrete circles.

Work on the Bird Rock Traffic Calming Plan began in 2001 and was developed with extensive community input, including assistance from dedicated community volunteers on the Bird Rock Traffic Task Force.

Bird Rock Community Council President Chuck Patton pointed out construction on traffic-calming improvements will be a hardship, particularly on merchants, but will be well worth the time and effort.

“What makes this place really special is so many people really care what’s going on here,” said Patton, adding he got a real wake-up call to the pressing need for traffic calming recently. “A car made a U-turn and another car slammed into it right in front of my place in the middle of the block,” said Patton. “That really captured what I think this is about. In 10 months, Bird Rock is really going to be a much safer place. You won’t have to run and risk your life every time you need to cross traffic.”

Pam Wagner, chair of the Bird Rock Traffic Calming Task Force, noted traffic improvement has been a long-term effort. She said it was also a real learning experience for herself and others in the community. “I came into this with zero knowledge in traffic calming,” she said, “and along the way, we learned a lot about things like neckdowns and chokers and bulb- outs, all kinds of things we’d never had any access to.”

Wagner described the community’s introduction to budgets involved with traffic improvements as an eye-opening experience. “Learning about budgets and lack of money for things has been a real sobering subject,” she said. “Summer 2008 we’ll be back here celebrating. Thanks again to everybody for their great work.”

Mayor Sanders praised Bird Rock for the community’s grass-roots efforts, noting their contribution will serve as a model to similar neighborhoods attempting to resolvesimilar traffic problems. “The best way to get something done is to have the people most affected by it get something done,” Sanders said. “Hopefully, other neighborhoods in San Diego, the state and the country will learn from what you did and actually institute the same type of process.”

City traffic Engineer Mike Arnold, who’s coordinating Bird Rock traffic-calming improvements, noted the first phase of the project will involve nine separate sites on side streets off La Jolla Boulevard. San Diego-based Valley Coast Construction was awarded the contract for the traffic improvement project.

Arnold said phase 1 improvements, to be completed by the end of this summer, aren’t likely to be too disruptive. “They (contractors) don’t want to have crews spread out all over the place,” said Arnold, “but will have them working on doing all the improvements at one site until it’s done, before moving on to the next (site).”

The traffic-calming project is partially funded by a $2 million state grant, along with Council-dedicated community improvement funds. Continuing maintenance is funded by a community-approved, self-managed Maintenance Assessment District to pay for upkeep of landscaping for roundabout circles and other traffic-calming measures.

The annual assessement on property taxes amounts to about $90 per year per homeowner, averaging about $500 annually for a mid-sized commercial business. The district’s purpose is to fund enhanced maintenance of landscaping, hardscaped surfaces and improvements in dedicated public rights-of-way including medians, sidewalks, bulb-outs, curbs and gutters.

Bird Rock residents also approved allowing the Bird Rock Community Council to contract with the city to administer and maintain the new district. Contributions to the annual maintenance district will maintain 60,000 square feet of trees, bushes and flowers in and around five traffic roundabouts. Funds will also be used to pay for trash receptacles, benches and other pedestrian amenities.

Council President Peters noted funding is in place for the road improvement project to come to fruition. “We are quite a bit underbid on this project,” Peters added.