Del Mar welcomes chicanes as traffic-calming measure

By Claire Harlin

Staff Writer

If you aren’t familiar with chicanes, you soon will be if you travel through Crest Road, between 15th Street and Amphitheatre Drive. But if you drive that route to bypass traffic on Camino del Mar, these traffic-calming structures may make you think otherwise.

The Del Mar City Council voted on Oct. 3 to approve an encroachment permit application that would allow Crest Road residents to build three chicanes, which look like half-circle or triangular pop-outs in the road. Built of stone and filled with foliage, the chicanes create extra turns in the road, narrowing it and forcing drivers to give way to opposing traffic.

Some residents say the chicanes have been a topic of discussion for 34 years, but it wasn’t until 2008 when the council approved a traffic-calming plan for Crest Road, which included the four chicanes. One has already been built at the south end of Crest Road, and budget constraints have kept the others from being built.

To keep the plan in motion, residents on Crest Road have dipped into their own pockets to cover the cost of the remaining four chicanes — a move that was welcomed by the City but sparked discussion about liability at Monday’s council meeting.

Residents begged the question: If we fund the project and find the contractor, does that make us liable if the structure is at the heart of a vehicular accident?

Del Mar City Attorney Leslie Devaney said that once the City’s engineer signs off on the project, assuring it is up to code, the City assumes responsibility. To second that notion, the council approved a resolution along with the encroachment permit approval that would release the property owners of liability upon project completion.

“This is an important milestone, a serious step in the right direction,” said resident Henry Abarbanel. “The teenager driving to Torrey Pines High School at 7 a.m. is not concerned with traffic problems, but the residents are.”

Several residents spoke in support of the project, and about a handful sent letters in opposition, some wanting the current chicane moved or removed and others saying the chicanes do not help the traffic situation.

The proposed chicanes meet the standards of the planning, public works, engineering and fire departments, and they would maintain a 20-foot-wide, unobstructed drivable lane for emergency vehicles. Proposed vegetation is low-growing and non-woody, so each chicane is “mountable” by emergency apparatus.

Resident Marnie Maloney wrote a letter to the council expressing concern that the chicanes heighten potential for accidents.

“People traveling south from 15th Street see only the chicane on their left,” she said. “By the time they reach the ‘straight-away,’ which is in front of my house, they face a car heading north on the wrong side of the street having swerved to avoid the chicane on their right.”