Roundabouts eyed for El Camino Real

The city of San Diego is now considering adding three roundabouts to the 400-foot stretch of El Camino Real along the San Diego Polo Fields and Del Mar Horsepark after two years of planning to widen the road and replace the aging bridge over the San Dieguito Riverbed.

Project manager Julie Ballesteros said plans for the $23 million project, for which no funds are currently available, haven’t changed much in the last two years. But the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board was surprised to hear at least two big changes in the development on May 12.

Adding roundabouts to the project was news to the board, as was the exclusion of an equestrian crossing on the new bridge.

The road tends to get crammed with traffic during peak hours and has no bike lane, making for a somewhat dangerous commute for bicyclists and horseback riders.

“It should be there,” former board member Ken Farinsky said of the equestrian crossing.

Board member Anne Harvey argued that the San Dieguito River Valley’s framework plan from 1995 denotes that trail systems linking adjacent communities should be designed into future projects. The plan was incorporated into the city’s Multiple Species Conservation Program.

To fulfill those trail requirements, she said the bridge should be built with a cantilever--a beam supported on only one side that would come off the side of the bridge for horses to safely cross.

“We can make provisions for the future, but at this point there is no cantilever,” Ballesteros said.

Aiming for a 2014 completion date, the city plans include widening El Camino Real from two lanes to four lanes--from where it intersects with San Dieguito Road to its ending at Via de La Valle. The 60-foot-wide roadway will include a new bike lane, which will go over the new bridge as well.

The plan calls for a new El Camino Real to be built east of the existing road as the throughway, leaving the old road for access to properties such as All Creatures Animal Hospital and Mary’s Tack and Feed.

To access the old road, commuters will have to make a turn off the main road. Board member Christian Clews expressed concern that it will hurt those businesses.

A traffic light will be added to the horse park and polo field entrance unless the city decides to go with the roundabout option.

Siavash Pazargadi, city traffic engineer, gave a presentation to the board on roundabouts, using those recently installed in the Bird Rock area of La Jolla as a positive example.

Joe LaCava, president of the Bird Rock Community Council said there is a learning curve for commuters, but said the roundabouts have greatly improved walkability.

“There is nothing more satisfying than seeing 8-year-old children safely cross the boulevard when before it was a dangerous for even a speedy adult,” said LaCava of the former four-lane street where drivers buzzed through at 40 mph or faster. “The pedestrian safety is the true measure of success of these improvements.”

“I find them exasperating,” said board member Nancy Novak.

Board member David Bartick said he could see why the roundabouts work in Bird Rock because it is a destination with restaurants and shops. But El Camino Real is just a thoroughfare, he said, there aren’t as many pedestrians.

“I’m not sure it’s appropriate. I don’t have grave concerns about parking and speed there,” Bartick said.

Board members Laura Copic, Anne Harvey and regional subcommittee co-chair Jan Fuchs said they liked the idea of roundabouts.

Fuchs said that the subcommittee has supported roundabouts in the past, because they could prevent the road from being widened to four lanes, avoiding a “massive” widening.

The city will continue to study possible options until funding is available and a final decision can be made.