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Parents lobby to improve walking safety on Del Mar Heights Road

Del Mar Heights Road sidewalk is unprotected. Some residents are concerned that a vehicle will eventually hit a pedestrian.
Del Mar Heights Road sidewalk is unprotected. Some residents are concerned that a vehicle will eventually hit a pedestrian.

While students around the world walked to school in support of International Walk to School Day last week, some local parents didn’t allow their children to participate in the movement.

A group of parents in Del Mar Heights along Calais Drive, Mango Drive, Portofino Drive and other side streets say their children do not have a safe walking route to Del Mar Heights Elementary School. Worried about their children’s safety, parents have shared their concerns with the city of San Diego and Del Mar Union School District.

“If there was a safe way to walk to school, more people would walk to school,” said Amanda St. Claire, whose second and fourth graders go to Del Mar Heights. “The main concern is safety.”

Currently, students walk along Del Mar Heights Road between Mango Drive and Mercado Drive to get to the school. Del Mar Heights Road is at an incline, and because children have to walk up toward the school, parents believe drivers traveling down the road may not see them easily. Further, because there are no sidewalks on Mercado, most of the walkers walk up over a small hillside to get to Boquita Drive.

“The hillside isn’t safe either, but it’s safer than any other option,” St. Claire said.

After a recent accident along the route, Del Mar Heights parent Cathy Rogowski said she no longer walks with her children and instead drives them less than a half-mile to the school, at 13555 Boquita Drive in Del Mar.

“We used to walk, but after this most recent accident, we’re not going to take the chance of walking,” said Rogowski, whose children are in kindergarten and second grade. “If it’s a matter of safety, we don’t want to take the chance.”

In late September, a vehicle hit and ran over a bike path sign posted on the sidewalk along Del Mar Heights Road.

“It was completely run over and on the ground,” Rogowski said. “You could see tire marks on the sidewalk.”

There have been similar incidents along the road in the past, according to the parents.

Rogowski said vehicles driving east tend to swerve off the street and onto the sidewalk, particularly when the sun rises and impairs driver visibility. About a year and a half ago, Rogowski saw a vehicle hit a sign held up by a chain and two posts on the sidewalk along the street.

“This is the second time a fixed post has been run over on the sidewalk in the past year and a half and we are very concerned that someone will get hurt,” Rogowski said in a Sept. 24 email to the office of San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner. “We do not want to wait until someone actually does get hurt or even killed to make changes happen.”

After the first incident, Rogowsk brought the issue before the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board.

“This recent accident has revived our interest in establishing a safe route to school,” she said.

Since the latest incident, Rogowski and other concerned parents have contacted the city and the school district.

“I did contact the school district and they’re in support, but there’s only so much they can do except advocate for our cause,” Rogowski said. “We just don’t want to lose momentum again.”

After hearing concerns, Superintendent Holly McClurg said Cathy Birks, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, also contacted the city.

“I appreciate being included so we can respond and act accordingly as well,” McClurg said. “It is a busy road, and we want to make sure that our children are safe.”

Information provided by San Diego’s Transportation and Storm Water Department states that the road has an accident rate that is “considered typical for roadways of this classification and volume.”

The city’s average rate for this type of street is .64 accidents per million vehicle miles, and the rate for this particular street is .66 accidents per million miles. Since 1998, there has been one reported pedestrian accident on Del Mar Heights Road between Mango Drive and Crest Way.

“Essentially, this counts as a very good safety record,” said Bill Harris from the city’s Communications Department.

Still, parents would like the city to take some sort of precaution to improve safety along the road. Parents have suggested a guardrail and other street improvements, even an intersection at Del Mar Heights Road and Mercado Drive.

In an Oct. 7 email to the parents, Biljana Dekic of Transportation Engineering said the city would evaluate whether a traffic signal should be installed at Del Mar Heights Road and Mercado Drive.

“It takes about three to four weeks to get data from our consultants; therefore, we won’t have any updates before then,” Dekic said.

Information provided by the Transportation and Storm Water Department further explained that a guardrail is not an option because it does not meet the standards and requirements of the city’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

However, the city is reviewing options for a “lane diet,” which would reduce lane widths and shift lanes further away from the sidewalk.

The city is also evaluating all intersections on Del Mar Heights Road between Mango Drive and Crest Way for potential traffic signals. Speeds on the road are too high for uncontrolled crosswalks without the protection of a signal, Harris explained.