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Pedestrian safety stirs debate on Torrey Pines Road makeover

A comprehensive plan to slow traffic and make Torrey Pines Road more walkable and visually appealing has already received approval from each of the major community planning groups, including the La Jolla Community Planning Association, Town Council and Shores Association. The plan calls for planted parkways along the entire one-mile stretch from La Jolla Shores Drive to Prospect Place that, along with electronic signs that display drivers’ speeds as they pass, are expected to slow motorists down. Speeding is considered a rampant problem in the area.

The plan for Torrey Pines Road also would use recycled materials in the asphalt that would reduce the noise of the street, and permeable pavings in center medians that could reduce stormwater runoff and reduce accidents. It would also create a five-feet-wide unobstructed sidewalk and a continuous bike lane, both protected by guardrail, along the northern side of Torrey Pines Road from Princess Street to Coast Boulevard.

All those aspects of the plan remain in place. The one hangup came when the San Diego Fire Department took a look at the plans and saw the proposals for two pedestrian refuge areas at Amalfi Street and Little Street. The refuge areas were intended to allow pedestrians to cross one direction of traffic, then wait in a marked area of the center median for traffic to clear before continuing across Torrey Pines Road.

“The idea was that it would make crossing the street 50 percent safer,” Torrey Pines Road Committee Chair Robert Thiele said at a public meeting Sept. 25.

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But the Fire Department decided the idea wasn’t safe at all, since fire trucks often drive in the center of the street when it becomes congested. The Torrey Pines Road Committee is back at work to determine if there is another acceptable way to get pedestrians across the street safely.

“Some protection is needed to cross the area safely and connect the bus stops along Torrey Pines Road,” said city of San Diego traffic engineer Siavash Pazargadi, noting that the average speed in the area is between 40 and 45 miles per hour despite a posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour.

At the Sept. 25 meeting, Thiele and Pazargadi proposed installing pedestrian-activated traffic lights and identified three possible locations. Some attendees debated the merits of the different locations, some argued that a complete, automobile-activated traffic light is necessary, and others said that there shouldn’t be any new lights on Torrey Pines Road at all.

The three possible locations for the pedestrian-activated traffic signals, which differ from regular signals in that they would only change when activated by a pedestrian, are at Hillside Drive, Amalfi Street and Princess Street. Some residents were in favor of new signals during the earlier stages of the plan process because it would make it easier to turn into and out of the neighborhood streets. Other residents opposed them for the same reason, saying that the signals would encourage cut-through traffic into La Jolla Shores.

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Pazargadi said that he felt putting the signal at Amalfi Street was impractical because the curvature of Torrey Pines Road made the sight lines for drivers and pedestrians too short. Thiele said he agreed after walking the area himself.

“I completely thought Amalfi would be the answer until I walked it and looked west,” Thiele said. “It is scary.”

Amalfi Street resident Anne Craig said she crosses Torrey Pines Road often but moves up the street to Hillside Drive to do it.

“We feel safer at Hillside,” Craig said. “And a pedestrian crossing at Princess makes no sense because there is no sidewalk.”

Pazargadi said a sidewalk would have to be installed on the south side of Torrey Pines Road if the crossing were at Princess Street. He said he considered the Princess Street location the safest of the three.

Marvie Norris attended the meeting and said she walked from her home on Torrey Pines Road to speak with a policeman following a fender-bender on the street.

“He said, ‘Please, don’t put any more lights on Torrey Pines Road. It will only cause more accidents,’ ” Norris said. “I don’t think pedestrians are a concern on Torrey Pines. There just aren’t that many.”

Pazargadi said he thinks there is a large demand for pedestrian improvements on Torrey Pines and that people are taking extreme measures to avoid the street because it is currently so dangerous.

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Leigh Plesniak spoke at the meeting and said she lives in the area and believes a connection is needed between the bus stops along the north side of Torrey Pines Road and the homes on the other side.

“It’s about equity for people who use public transportation,” Plesniak said. “The person who cleans my house, who I cherish very much, takes an extra bus up into UCSD, then comes back down, just to avoid crossing the streets. It adds an hour to her trip. If you look at Robert’s plan and get an idea of what Torrey Pines could be, (pedestrian traffic signals) are completely consistent.”

The next public meeting of the Torrey Pines Road Committee will be held Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. at the La Jolla Library, 7555 Draper Ave.