As promised, save for landscaping and other finishing touches, the last three in a series of five roundabouts meant to bring traffic-calming to La Jolla’s Bird Rock community are now in place.
The once busy boulevard has been transformed into a slow-paced street with roundabouts, landscaped street dividers and diagonal parking. Bird Rock is the first community in San Diego County to feature a distinctive, linear set of traffic circles.
The official dedication of Bird Rock’s revitalized commercial district, however, is still a ways off.
On Thursday, July 17, City Council President Scott Peters will unveil the new look of La Jolla Blvd. at the 6th Annual Taste of Bird Rock. The event’s theme is “Let the Good Times Roll.” Festivities including dining, live entertainment, a kids play area and more. The event will go from 5 to 9 p.m. on La Jolla Blvd. between Midway St. and Camino De La Costa. The ribbon cutting will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Forward St. roundabout.
Several years in the making, the roundabouts’ completion is happy news for many merchants, residents and community planners.
“We have received national acclaim for our new eco-friendly street design,” said Bird Rock Community Council (BRCC) president Joe LaCava. “Bird Rock is going green, replacing thousands of feet of asphalt with groundcover, shrubs and trees. Those plants, along with other changes, including reducing car speed and trading stop signs for yield signs, means cleaner air.
“Bird Rock has always been family-friendly, and now we have complemented it with a pedestrian-oriented merchant district. This stretch of La Jolla Blvd. has become less of a thoroughfare and more of a promenade for people to stroll, shop and dine.”
Peters hailed the roundabouts as a major improvement. “They appear to be working great,” Peters said. “It’s really good seeing the fruits of our labor. They’re really kind of revolutionary. We know it’s become a national planning model.”
Peters said his office has received numerous comments about large vehicles routinely riding over roundabout curbs. But, he said, the curbs are designed so that large vehicles can go over them without difficulty. “It was intentional,” Peters said. “We planned every inch of them so they would accommodate things like fire department engines, making sure they would convey traffic.”
Bird Rock’s months-long construction included utilities work as well as the roundabouts, and it definitely took its toll on local businesses. Some, such as jeweler Argento, have gone out of business, and others, such as Blue The Salon, are being forced to relocate.
Anita Wood, owner of La Jolla Mailbox Rentals at 5666 La Jolla Blvd., said her business suffered substantial losses during construction. “It’s a little bit better,” said Wood of business since La Jolla Blvd. has been reopened. “But it hasn’t picked up a lot - yet. A lot of my customers are still complaining that, when they come, they’re (parking spaces) all filled up.”
Jerry Klein, owner of A Better Deal Tuxedo at 369 Bird Rock Ave., doubts the roundabouts, ultimately, will prove to be worth the pain merchants - and the community - endured while they were being put in. He also believes most people aren’t familiar with them and how they should be used, and that that will lead to continuing problems down the road.
“The traffic has slowed,” Klein said, “but with the (new) diagonal parking, we’ve lost about 100 parking spaces. Parking is much more limited than it was before they started. They’re a hazard to drive. Nobody understands them. The buses and emergency vehicles are going over them. Vendors can’t get to their restaurants because there is nowhere to park out here. People backing up from diagonal parking spaces are literally taking their lives in their hands with near-misses.”
Mike Arnold, the city of San Diego’s project manager on the roundabouts, said the work came in a week or so earlier than the May 31 deadline, but added it also came in a little over budget due to unforeseen circumstances, such as the discovery of an unanticipated shallow gas line that SDG&E had to be called in to relocate.
“The actual start date was Sept. 26, 2007, and the work actually went pretty fast considering we had to replace the last sewer main that was ancient on La Jolla Blvd. and replace all the sewer laterals as well,” said Arnold.
“One of the biggest benefits was our prime contractor, West Coast General, which was able to keep at least one traffic lane open in each direction during construction. West Coast went above and beyond in accommodating the businesses and allowing for extra parking in their work zone that was not in the original traffic-control plan.”
Planning and/or construction is also continuing on two other large-scale projects in Bird Rock: The new mini-Longs at the corner of La Jolla Blvd. and Midway St. and The Lofts At Bird Rock, a mixed-use development with condos planned on the site of the old Bird Rock Bar and Grill.
The Longs’ site is the former Sandpiper Plaza strip mall, which burned to the ground in an early morning electrical fire during a winter rainstorm in 2001. The new Longs building will be about12,000 square feet on the approximately 20,000-square-foot lot and will include substantial underground parking.
Jeff Elden, project manager for The Lofts At Bird Rock, said the project has evolved over a period of time, but added it presently envisions 11 condo units with subterranean parking to be built over 4,800 square feet of retail space on La Jolla Boulevard. “We’re going in for a plan check with city staff,” said Elden. “We’re in the process of updating those changes.”
If all goes well, Elden expects the project will receive all discretionary approvals from the city by the end of this year, with construction to begin in the first or second quarter of 2009.
Pam Wagner, chair of Bird Rock’s Traffic-Calming Task Force, worked nearly four years planning the roundabouts. “I’m thrilled beyond belief,” Wagner said about seeing them finally in. “I think there is going to be a lot more pedestrian activity, which is good for everybody. Hopefully they (roundabouts) will be a successful example that others can follow in the city.”