Following traffic fatality, Torrey Pines board calls for street safety upgrades

Traffic improvements along Del Mar Heights Road have been a contentious issue for local residents over the years.
(Luke Harold)

After a recent hit-and-run fatality on Del Mar Heights Road, local residents are asking the city of San Diego for a greater sense of urgency in pursuing long-awaited traffic safety improvements.

“We just wanted to do things that would make Del Mar Heights Road feel like a neighborhood road, which it is, but it feels like a highway,” said Troy Van Horst, chair of the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board.

During the planning board’s April 15 meeting, Van Horst added that there are “heavy hearts” in the community after Johannes Sack, 72, was killed in the hit-and-run on April 9. A 50-year-old driver was arrested that day.

In November 2019, the community planning board voted for a traffic light to be installed at the intersection of Del Mar Heights Road and Mercado Drive. Residents who spoke during public comment at that meeting were divided over whether the light would be a meaningful step toward improved traffic safety or would just create more congestion. Past attempts for safety improvements, even with the support of former Councilwoman Barbara Bry and then-Assemblyman Todd Gloria, had not materialized.

A year and a half later, the light remains on a list of unfunded priorities, according to Brian Elliott, a policy advisor for San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava. Elliott said during the April 15 meeting that there is “legwork” required to get the necessary funding, which can come from sources such as development impact fees. He added that the intersections on that stretch of Del Mar Heights Road haven’t cracked the list of most dangerous intersections the city typically prioritizes, but noted that “this is something the community has been asking for.”

“We’ll be beating down every door that we can to move this forward,” Elliott said.

Many residents and community planning board members have called for a more comprehensive plan to upgrade Del Mar Heights Road with improved safety measures for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. A community-wide debate over how to best handle street improvements along the road has been going on for decades.

According to provisional data on UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System, there were four collisions in 2019 and 2020 that caused injuries on Del Mar Heights Road from its intersection with Mango Drive and westward. Local residents and community planning board members have long feared the potential for fatalities.

“I hate to say it, but it’s going to be a child next time,” Deanna Rich, a former member of the community planning board, said during the meeting.