Lomas Santa Fe revamp attracting attention

Safer, smoother walking, biking, driving and busing as well as more fetching roadsides along Lomas Santa Fe Drive are envisioned in plans to revamp the thoroughfare.

The four-lane, 2-mile road straddles Interstate 5 and is the only east-west route that traverses the entire city from the coast to Rancho Santa Fe.

Lomas Santa Fe, which splits the city of about 14,000 in half, is prone to congestion, particularly during rush hours at the freeway junction and its western terminus at Highway 101, a few blocks from the shoreline.

As proposed, the Lomas Santa Fe Corridor Improvement Project would add new and improve existing walkways and bike lanes, overhaul intersections to enhance flow and safety, renovate public transit stops, and rejuvenate landscaping.

Details of the project are available on the city’s website at ci.solana-beach.ca.us. Because the project remains conceptual, cost estimates and a construction schedule have yet to be developed.

“The objective is to have a nicer street with improvements for everybody and hopefully relieve impacts in the neighborhoods,” Mayor David Zito said.

He compared the project to the city’s revamp of Highway 101 a few years ago, an endeavor he characterized as highly beneficial in achieving the balance of improvements that are now sought on Lomas Santa Fe.

“We want to beautify the corridor and make it a better place for people to bike and walk as well as drive through to their destinations, similar to what was done on 101,” Zito said.

Like the prior project, the Lomas Santa Fe effort has attracted criticism, primarily over an option for the section east of I-5. That option proposes the installation of traffic roundabouts at four intersections.

The option was floated at least in part to ongoing concerns about speeding on the segment between Lomas Santa Fe Plaza immediately east of I-5 and Highland Drive, the city’s eastern border. While the speed limit there is 40 mph, residents complain vehicles commonly go much faster there, encouraged by the road’s straightness and the lack of signals and stop signs.

Known commonly as traffic circles, modern roundabouts have been used in some parts of the U.S. and widely in Europe to slow vehicles and reduce deadly crashes at intersections, while keeping traffic moving.

The alternative is to revise street striping to include buffered bike lanes and install center medians. Both options include a multi-use trail on the road’s north side.

Numerous communications primarily driven by the roundabout concept led city management to extend the official public comment period for the project by one week through Friday, July 27.

City Engineer Mo Sammak said comments beyond Friday will still be accepted and reviewed, though they may not be contained in the staff’s report for the City Council’s consideration of the project Aug. 22. The council is expected to review progress and provide direction, but will not be asked to approve the project.

“The comments we have received are largely focused on the roundabout option and are very similar in nature,” Sammak said in an emailed reply to questions. “The comments generally express concern with the potential for traffic congestion, potential cut-through ... traffic into residential neighborhoods, wasting City funds and potential right-of-way acquisition.”

Among the city’s east-side residents voicing opposition, Harley Gordon said the roundabouts should only be considered as a deterrent to speeding if measures such as increased signage and enforcement fail.

“A reconfiguration so drastic is bound to send frustrated drivers speeding through our neighborhood streets, especially endangering children and the elderly,” Gordon said in a letter he submitted to the city and circulated among some residents.

“It could also affect how quickly police, fire personnel and paramedics could get to us in emergencies, and how quickly residents could evacuate if there were fires or an earthquake.”

On the other hand, Karl Rudnick is one of the residents who supports the roundabouts because he believes they are the best way of achieving the goals of the proposed street improvements east of I-5.

“The No. 1 reason is safety, because it slows down traffic,” said Rudnick, a co-founder of the group BikeWalkSolana. “If people are happy with cars going 50 mph there, that’s fine. But I don’t think anyone wants that.“So this is an opportunity to do that (speed reduction). ... It’s going to have some curves; it’s not going to be a straight shot. It will slow down traffic and make everything safer.”

Regardless of which option is picked, Rudnick said he supports the idea of modernizing Lomas Santa Fe.

“It’s a major arterial designed in the ‘60s and ‘70s to accommodate what everyone wanted then — living in suburbia and commuting 20 miles to work by freeway. It’s kind of outdated.”

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