Opinion: Time for traffic to weigh-in on Torrey Pines Road signal-light timing cameras in La Jolla


Note: In May 2016, the City of San Diego installed adaptive signal cameras on the mast arms over the intersections of La Jolla Parkway at Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla Parkway at La Jolla Shores Drive, and Torrey Pines Road at Ardath Lane in La Jolla. Adaptive signal timing adjusts green light duration based on real-time increases and decreases in traffic. A September review of the project is scheduled. Problems can be reported on a new city app:


By Justin Schlaefli; Vice President of Urban Systems Associates, Inc.

The City of San Diego recently installed an ITS system on La Jolla Parkway near La Jolla Shores/Torrey Pines Road to help solve some of the ongoing traffic issues there. I have been monitoring the system since turn-on out of a professional interest — both driving the corridor and monitoring remotely via Google Traffic and other apps. I know the technology vendor fairly well from some earlier work with them and I met with them at Hotel La Jolla to watch some of the traffic conditions at the bar on the top floor. My observation was that two out of four queues were significantly better, a third was somewhat better, and the fourth was hardly improved during the P.M. peak. I also noticed that outside of absolute peak saturation, I was able to drive right through the intersection at Torrey Pines and into La Jolla without hitting a red light regularly. That was a pleasant surprise. Finally, I noticed that the onset of saturated conditions (i.e. excessive queues) happened later in the peak and for a shorter duration than before.

My big test was watching the queues after The Cove fireworks. I know that in past years, it has taken me one-and-a-half to two hours to leave The Cove area and get to the freeway after the fireworks. This year, I monitored everything on Google Maps (which usually shows fairly accurate travel times) and noticed the travel time from The Cove to the freeway never exceeded one hour and the saturation of the intersections that were converted took much longer than conventional intersections.

For example, at 9:30 p.m., I observed large queues in the Village on Prospect and Torrey Pines Road while the queues still had not reached full saturation at the intersection of La Jolla Shores Drive and La Jolla Parkway at Torrey Pines Road. At 9:40 p.m., the conventional intersections operated FAR worse than the smart intersections and although congested conditions lasted for approximately one hour, by 11:10 p.m. (less than two hours after congestion started) last night, all queues had cleared.

The reason I mention the above is to see if your experiences mirror my own and whether the La Jolla organizations are aware of the project and the improvement? I know the city is still fine-tuning the system, but considering the very challenging conditions on July 4, I was pretty impressed. On a more normal basis, I have certainly noticed that although the system has not solved all saturation problems, the period of saturation has been significantly reduced. It starts later and ends more quickly than previously. The traffic signal is finally catching up to the Internet Age and the result puts San Diego in a good position to take advantage of connected and driverless vehicles in the future.

Please note that my firm was not involved in this particular project, and I’m proud to say city staff did a great job handling everything in-house. I am thrilled to see La Jolla get the attention it deserves and hope that this is only a modest first step. There are quite a few more things the city will need to do to actually fix the traffic problems in La Jolla, and this system is a solid first step from a city that is finally moving toward the leading edge of traffic technology.

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