Del Mar and Carmel Valley residents oppose proposed Mercado Drive stoplight

The Torrey Pines Community Planning Group has been given no clear signal about a proposed stoplight and crosswalk on Del Mar Heights Road and Mercado Drive. At the board’s April 14 meeting, residents’ opinions were mixed although the majority of those present were opposed to the new light that they said would cause more congestion and problems and would not improve pedestrian safety.

The Torrey Pines board has voted against a proposed light at this location twice before, once in 2004 and another time in 2007. This latest proposal was driven by a group of parents along Calais Drive, Mango Drive, Portofino Drive and other side streets to provide a safe walking route for their children to Del Mar Heights School.

According to Biljana Dekic, an associate traffic engineer with the city of San Diego, a traffic study has been conducted and the light passes the minimum threshold for installation and the funds are available. The city would act to install the light if approved by the planning board.

The proposed signal would include a protected left turn and the light would be green most of the time if there were no vehicles on Mercado, Dekic said. The intersection would have crosswalks at all four legs with a push button system.

Many residents pointed to a visibility issue with the sun glare on the hill leading up to the intersection, worried that the light would divert traffic into neighborhood streets and questioned the necessity when there is only .2 miles between the stoplight at Mango and the proposed Mercado stoplight.

Resident Jim Dalton said the sun glare is extreme going up that hill and not like other traffic areas in San Diego; he fears that kids will trust in the idea that cars are going to stop but drivers are not going to be able to see them.

“It’s a terrible idea,” Dalton said. “We don’t need it.”

Several Del Mar Heights School parents said that they do not think the light will help kids get to school. A former Heights parent said his son never had an issue crossing the road to school for six years — he said his son crossed at Crest Road.

Del Mar Heights School parents Eric and Vishakha Gisler, stated their strong opposition to the light.

“The traffic signal will not improve safety of children walking to school,” Vishakha said. “Studies show that there are two times the number of accidents at signalized intersections than at non-signalized intersections.”

As the real issue is during school pick up and drop off, one resident said the light is a solution for a problem that exists for only 10 minutes in the morning and afternoon 180 days of the year and yet will cause problems “24-7, 365.”

Torrey Pines Board Chair Noel Spaid said the board was not ready to take action on the stoplight at this time.

Instead, the board decided to form an ad-hoc committee that will look at Del Mar Heights Road as a whole and consider a variety of traffic calming measures as part of a “Del Mar Heights Safety Enhancement Plan.”

“What I feel isn’t going to be solved by a light is how do pedestrians move throughout the community without taking our lives in our hands,” said board member Cathy Kenton, who recommended the committee’s formation. “I think there’s a bigger solution to both speed and safety and access. I don’t know that there’s an answer but maybe there is.”

The overall Del Mar Heights plan would also address beautification, potential sidewalk additions and enhancements, Spaid said.

Dekic said the city does have some limitations in what can be done as the street is a major arterial and they can’t put the thoroughfare on a “road diet,” meaning they can’t drop the number of lanes.

The board discussed options for Del Mar Heights like a buffered bike lane or a planted median.

A handful of people did speak out in favor of the stoplights for overall safety for drivers and pedestrians.

Bill Curry, said he strongly supports the light because turning left on Del Mar Heights can be a “white-knuckle experience.”