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Improvements OK’d, but no new signal for Torrey Pines corridor

A committee charged with improving the safety and aesthetics of the Torrey Pines corridor entryway into La Jolla voted in favor of a laundry list of improvements June 13, but opposed proposal to put in a traffic light at Hillside Drive or Princess Street and the use of camera-enforced speed limits.

La Jolla architect Robert Thiele and city senior traffic engineer Siavash Pazargadi will give a presentation on proposed improvements along Torrey Pines Road between Prospect Place and the Throat on Thursday, July 7, at 6 p.m. at the Community Planning Association’s monthly meeting at La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St.

Safety improvements approved included concrete cobblestone guardrails from Coast Walk to Prospect Place, unobstructed 5-foot sidewalks with new curbs and gutters, 10-foot-wide pedestrian-shelter medians with permeable paving to allow stormwater runoff, transverse striping to narrow lanes to slow traffic, pedestrian crossing areas and speed monitors to encourage drivers to slow down.

Beautification proposals accepted by the committee call for creating a new pocket park with a bus stop at Amalfi Street similar to the nearby existing Little Street Park. Also, a bluff stabilization plan would utilize a concrete rock planted wall on the south side of Torrey Pines road between Roseland Drive and Hillside Drive, and between Amalfi and Coast Walk on the south side.

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The 14-member Torrey Pines Road Study Committee is made up of local community planners, Torrey Pines neighbors and other concerned citizens. The committee members are Deborah Marengo, Yvette Marcum, Martin Mosier, Patrick Ahern, Wayne Miller, Mary Coakley, Phil McConkey, Leigh Plesniak, Dan Allen, Todd Frye, Claude-Anthony Marengo, Kate Adams, John Norris and Ken King. Thiele chaired the committee.

Now that the outlines of a final draft plan for corridor improvements is in hand, Thiele said the next step in the approval process is to sell the idea to local planning groups.

“We’re putting together the graphics package,” said Thiele. “What we’re going to do next is go to the Community Planning Association.”

Thiele said the new corridor improvement plan will serve many purposes.

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“It will make it more aesthetically appealing, more walkable,” he said. “We’ve improved the crossing locations, widened the sidewalks from three-and-a-half to five feet to a total of seven feet. The purpose of that is to add a new 18-inch parkway adjacent to the curb to bring in landscape elements.”

According to Thiele, the best part about the corridor improvement plan is that it’s homegrown.

“This is a community-based plan,” he said. “It came from neighbors and community planners and leaders, not from an outside paid consultant.”

A centerpiece of the new Torrey Pines corridor improvement plan is the creation of pedestrian refuge areas using rolled curbs and striping to alert drivers to slow down as they are entering a residential zone. The plan, however, precludes use of trees or other landscaping in pedestrian medians, because they would impede emergency vehicles from getting through the corridor, especially during busy peak-use periods.

City traffic engineer Pazargadi, who has been working with the Torrey Pines Road Study Committee, said finding funding for corridor improvements in this fiscally strapped time for the city will be challenging.

“Staff will be looking for federal, state and San Diego Association of Governments grants to implement the design and construct the project,” he said.

City Councilman Scott Peters will be looking for city funds. The plan will need City Council approval.

Pazargadi said it’s likely to take three to five years to bring the Torrey Pines Road Corridor Improvement Plan to fruition.

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“It will depend on how much money and what amount of time are available,” he said. “Simultaneously with the design phase of the project, we’ll be doing the civil engineering design of it with the help of a subcommittee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association.”

Pazargadi estimated desinging corridor improvements will take a year or more. Acquiring funding for the multi-faceted project could take another year or two to secure after that. Actual construction could add another year or more to the project’s timeline.

Nonetheless, Pazargadi said the effort to makeover the Torrey Pines corridor entryway will be worth the effort.

“It’s really needed in this corridor,” he said, “because we’ve done the Throat, and the Throat looks nice and functional. Now we have to make the corridor between La Jolla Shores and Girard Avenue both more beautiful and safer, slowing the traffic down and somehow making it a little more pedestrian-friendly, because it’s not that at all.”

A bone of contention early on over Torrey Pines corridor improvements involved a proposal to put in a traffic signal at Hillside Drive or Princess Street. At the June 13 meeting, committee member Dan Allen and neighborhood resident John Griffiths debated the pros and cons of a new signal.

“When I moved here, I didn’t want to see a traffic light,” said Allen. “But, a traffic light is inevitable. What we’re trying to accomplish here is to slow traffic and increase safety.”

Allen said it’s just a matter of time before traffic volume in the Torrey Pines corridor justifies a new traffic signal. “This committee should decide exactly how that light is going to be put in. I’m just afraid it’s going to be decided down at City Hall.”

Torrey Pines corridor neighbor John Griffiths argued against adding another traffic signal in the corridor, insisting it will only divert traffic into residential neighborhoods.

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“This plan goes a long way to improve the quality of life here in La Jolla,” he said. “But, installation of a traffic light, at this time, would do the opposite, impair the quality of it.”

Griffiths said he and other neighborhood volunteers did an unbiased survey of local residents, including a random sample of corridor users, which clearly demonstrated a traffic signal at either Hillside Drive or Princess Street is neither needed nor desired. “

“I can tell you,” he said, “the overwhelming number of people we talked to, four out of five, don’t want a light on Torrey Pines Road. The diversion of traffic onto narrow streets increases the danger in those neighborhoods. A traffic light will divert traffic onto neighborhood streets which are virtually becoming one-way streets. It’s already happening. A vote for a traffic light is a vote against public opinion. It would impair the quality of life of the immediate neighbors.”

The vote of the 11 Torrey Pines Road Study Committee members present June 13 was 6-4-1 against the traffic light. A room vote was similarly opposed, 20-12.

Another controversial proposal to include camera enforcement of speed in the corridor improvement plan was defeated 6-5 by the committee, with Thiele casting the deciding vote after a tie. A room vote on the issue, however, was widely in favor of the proposal by a 22-5 margin.