By Angela Lau
SIGN ON SAN DIEGO
March 24, 2004
In the small community of Bird Rock, local leaders and merchants are welcoming a $3.8 million traffic-calming plan with the fervor of a drought-thirsty town greeting rain.
"Everyone is just so relieved," said Pam Wagner, chairwoman of the traffic task force. "The community has been working on this plan for almost four years."
The plan approved by the San Diego City Council calls for a series of roundabouts to slow down vehicles that speed more than 40 mph in 30 mph zones on Bird Rock's main street, La Jolla Boulevard.
The road, which runs through La Jolla to the north and into Pacific Beach to the south, is traveled by 22,000 vehicles daily.
Smaller roundabouts are planned for Bird Rock's residential streets near La Jolla Boulevard that motorists have been using for shortcuts.
Roundabouts are one-lane circles in intersections. They force motorists entering intersections to drive around in a counterclockwise direction, slowing down and yielding to traffic already in the circle, said Siavash Pazargadi, a senior traffic engineer for the city.
The plan also proposes the installation of medians, all-way stop signs, and the expansion of sidewalks to make it easier and safer for people to cross the 68-foot-wide La Jolla Boulevard and other busy residential streets.
Bird Rock, a community of 1,500, is bounded by Camino de la Costa to the north, Colima Street to the south, the ocean on the west and Linda Rosa Avenue to the east.
Merchants hope the traffic overhaul, which calls for a 10-foot-wide landscaped median on La Jolla Boulevard, will improve the ambience of the business strip.
The plan's design is expected to be completed by July, and residents hope construction can begin shortly afterward.
Chuck Samuelson, owner of Cuvee restaurant in Bird Rock, said for once motorists may slow down enough to notice there are businesses on La Jolla Boulevard.
"I have people who drove that route for three years, and they don't even know my cafe is on La Jolla Boulevard," Samuelson said.
Samuelson is also a member of the local traffic task force, which was appointed by City Councilman Scott Peters, whose district includes Bird Rock.
The community's fear of high-speed traffic on La Jolla Boulevard has its roots.
In 2002, a pedestrian died after being hit by a car while crossing La Jolla Boulevard at Midway Street, city officials said.
In the past five years, more than 10 pedestrians were hit and injured by cars on La Jolla Boulevard. While many of the accidents occurred at the Midway Street intersection, some happened midblock because of jaywalking, Pazargadi said.
One of the problems is the dearth of traffic signals in the five-block section of La Jolla Boulevard that runs through Bird Rock, Wagner said.
Pazargadi said the proposed roundabouts will solve the problem.
Roundabouts, which do not have traffic lights, are believed to be more efficient in clearing traffic and in slowing cars down to 25 mph, Pazargadi said.
Federal Highway Administration statistics show roundabouts achieving up to a 90 percent reduction in fatalities and a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in pedestrian accidents.
Two of the roundabouts will be built by the developer of Seahaus La Jolla at La Jolla Boulevard and Midway Street. Seahaus is a 138-unit condominium project.
To make it easier to cross La Jolla Boulevard, the traffic plan also calls for the boulevard, which now has two lanes in each direction, to be narrowed to one lane in each direction.
That would reduce the crossing distance to 14 feet in each traffic lane, with the 10-foot median serving as a pedestrian refuge.
Excess space from trimming the crossing distance would be used for buffer zones for parked cars along La Jolla Boulevard.
"As a whole, it is going to give pedestrians a much greater sense of security and create a much better atmosphere for walking through the business district," said Cory Schmelzer, president of Bird Rock Community Council.