By Claire Harlin
The idea of installing roundabouts in downtown Del Mar was met with little opposition and many suggestions at a Feb. 6 City Council workshop to present and explore all possible options for traffic flow in the Village.
Currently, the four-lane Camino del Mar is over capacity, said planning and community development director Kathy Garcia. It carries some 18,700 cars daily, according to a city traffic study, and it’s only designed to accommodate 15,500 cars per day.
“We are exceeding our capacity every day,” said Garcia. “That is resulting in congestion; additional emissions, as people are stopping at the stop signs; and safety concerns, especially for the pedestrians.”
A major part of revitalization efforts that are underway is accommodating traffic, and there are three options on the table: leave Camino del Mar as is, put up traffic signals, or reduce the street to two lanes and install roundabouts.
Roundabouts, intersections in which traffic flows counterclockwise around a circular island, are popular in Europe and have been increasingly popping up in the United States. The Bird Rock community in La Jolla, as well as Encinitas, have incorporated roundabouts into their designs.
Putting up signals and maintaining four lanes would accommodate upward of 30,000 cars a day, however, it would reduce the walkability of Del Mar. Reducing the street to two lanes would allow for wider sidewalks and outside seating, and installing roundabouts would keep traffic continuously moving, Garcia explained, using simulations. She said that, depending on the design of the roundabouts, this model would accommodate between 22,000 and 26,000 cars per day.
The coupled reduction in lanes and installation of roundabouts was the preferred option among members of the council, not only for its safety virtues but ability to reduce in emissions caused by the stop-and-go that comes with having stop signs.
Councilman Don Mosier said he would be happy with Del Mar serving a more “intermediate capacity.”
“I’m not sure if we want 30,000 cars a day going through the city,” he said.
Garcia also pointed out that the crossing distance at intersections will decrease if lanes are reduced. In Bird Rock, for example, the crossing distance was 68 feet across the street before the land reduction, after which a pedestrian only had to walk 14 feet to reach the safety of the median. On Camino del Mar, Garcia said pedestrians are walking between 70 and 80 feet at intersections, and according to the traffic study, presents at least 28 “potential conflict points” between pedestrians and autos.
City Councilwoman Lee Haydu said she’s concerned that the lack of safety and walkability that comes with having four lanes may deter visitors.
“Right now crossing the street is like taking my life into my own hands,” she said.
Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott said it is important to evaluate thoroughly whether implementing traffic alternatives would directly lead to an improvement in downtown business. He begged the question: “What would happen if we do nothing?”
Del Mar resident John Kerridge said he supports the roundabout option, given that all stop signs are eliminated.
“Even a single stop sign or traffic signal would limit the benefits that we can accrue from the use of runabouts,” he said, adding that it not only could create more traffic but encourage commuter traffic through residential neighborhoods.
Further, he said the flow of traffic coming onto Camino del Mar must be regulated, and sensors can be installed in the pavement to help do so. Just as the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) uses sensors to regulate traffic onto Interstate 5 during rush hour, sensors can also be used to monitor traffic density in real time as it approaches pedestrian crosswalks.
“These technologies may sound esoteric, but the are all available and in use in other places,” he said.
Haydu said she was glad to see a strong representation of community members providing positive discussion at the meeting.
“Instead of hearing, ‘I don’t want it,’ we had some solutions brought up,” she said.
Randy Gruber, owner of Americana Restaurant, expressed concern that Del Mar may lose the traffic of people passing through town if it reduces Camino del Mar to two lanes.
“We need to make sure those people come into town and not chase them out of town,” he said, adding that he hasn’t heard anyone bring up the toll construction will take on local businesses.
“The goal is to revitalize, but if you wipe out what’s existing, you may have to rebuild from there,” he said.
Gruber brought up the idea of making the traffic component of the Village Specific Plan a separate vote — an idea that several other community members supported.
“I want to see revitalization, but I don’t want it to get voted down because of the traffic element,” he said.
Mosier said Gruber brought up some “serious concerns,” especially when businesses are facing a lot of competition.
“That situation is only going to get worse when Flower Hill renovations are finished and One Paseo is built,” he said. “We need to help support our local businesses in as many ways as we can. Even as the economy improves, local competition is only getting worse. We are trying to revitalize downtown in a very challenging time … There should be some benefit in this for everybody.”
Mayor Carl Hilliard said it’s necessary to identify wanted versus unwanted traffic. Unwanted traffic, he said, is the influx of cars associated with the fair or those just passing through town. He said we need to support the wanted traffic by making the city more walkable and providing adequate parking.
“The wanted traffic is the people coming to Del Mar as a destination,” he said.
The traffic alternative workshop was one of at least five that will involve the community on a variety of aspects relating to revitalization. On Feb. 21, the council will address development parcels; on March 5 the topic will be parking and a workshop on public facilities financing will take place on March 19. Also on March 19, there will be a presentation of the draft Environmental Impact Report, followed by a workshop on the EIR in April. The entire Village Specific is scheduled to go to public vote next fall.