By Piper Underwood
The Village Specific Plan (VSP) to be voted on this election is a cohesive, thoughtful plan, but more importantly it is a much, much safer scenario for all.
First let’s talk about our downtown village from a pedestrian’s viewpoint. My family lives just up the hill from the library, 13th St., so this is our primary crossing spot whether we want to grab a bite at Americana or we just want to check the surf. There are stop signs at this juncture, but because the road is long and straight, cars race up to the stop sign before hitting their brakes. With two lanes of traffic coming at us from each direction, we are vigilant. By the time we get to the second two lanes, the car in the outer lane can’t see us – its view blocked by the adjacent car, and so my husband’s and my arms go down like bars to prevent our kids from running across before they have eye contact with each driver. Believe me, my children have received many a lecture on this corner about street safety.
With the VSP, crossing at Camino del Mar will be narrowed from a current width of 80’ - 70’ to approximately 34’ with improved visibility for the pedestrian as well as the driver (VSP, Figure IV-5). Currently it takes an average pedestrian 20 seconds to cross Camino del Mar, but with a single lane in each direction, it will take a person around 8 seconds to cross. (VSP, IV-9) Any logical thinking person has to realize that this is a much, safer scenario for the pedestrian.
I’ve recently taken to driving the Bird Rock area to see what all the fuss is about. What can I say? I’m an experiential learner. I do this after I’ve dropped my son off at soccer practice, so I’m usually driving figure eights in the Bird Rock area at around 4:30 p.m. I have to say; it’s an altogether civilized experience. There are a few hiccups in the Bird Rock plan, such as when a car wants to parallel park, it backs up the entire lane of cars. Fortunately, our planners saw this problem and have planned for what’s called a “sharrow”, a shared bike lane and pull out space behind the parked cars that give a parked car ample room to back into without disrupting the flow of traffic. It’s approximately 9’ wide.
I recently had the experience on Del Mar Heights Road near Mango of a fire truck trying to get through two lanes of traffic. Because there wasn’t room for me to pull over – there was a line of cars in the right lane built up from the light – I had to pull into the intersection and get as close to the car in front of me just in case the Fire Truck needed to make a right on Mango.
Let’s look at this scenario on Camino del Mar with single lanes headed in either direction. Remember the sharrow I mentioned earlier? When a fire truck has to get through, all the cars pull into this 9’ sharrow – always open by the way – and the fire truck passes through in the available 11’ wide lane. Again, a much, much, safer experience.
I could go on and on about the additional benefits of this plan. For example, I know that currently Camino del Mar can accommodate 900 cars per peak hour, and that the VSP plan can accommodate 1,600 cars per peak hour (VSP Mobility Analysis, Appendix B). I know that raising the westside building height to 26’ would bring it up to the same height limit as the buildings on the eastside of Camino del Mar (VSP, Appendix C-2). I know that with the new streetscape plan in place, there will be approximately 40+ new parking spaces in front of our businesses, and that private parking in the Village is only utilized 62% and the ‘Park-Once’ strategy encourages a more efficient use of these spaces (VSP, VII-4). I know that the VSP has set thresholds to evaluate the potential of any unforeseen impacts regarding overall development, residential units and height of commercial buildings (VSP, 10.5 Thresholds for Development Review).
This is why I’m not afraid of the Village Specific Plan. In fact, what I’m really afraid of is crossing Camino del Mar at 13th St. with my children.