Village Specific Plan offers numerous livability benefits

Kathleen Ferrier, AICP

Policy manager, WalkSanDiego

As Del Mar voters consider the Village Specific Plan this Election Day, WalkSanDiego would like to remind voters of the many livability benefits the plan will confer. Livability starts with walkability, and it seems to us that Camino Del Mar is overly dominated by traffic and traffic noise. Pedestrians and bicyclists, who local businesses depend on, don’t feel as welcome as they would under the plan.

To be clear, walkability is not just about pedestrian safety. It’s also about creating spaces where pedestrians feel welcome and want to linger. Walkability invites residents to leave their cars at home, improves their health, and increases local sales.

The simple act of walking and designing “Complete Streets and Complete Communities” can have a tremendous impact on our neighborhoods, health, economy and planet. The Federal Centers for Disease Control cites walking as the #1 “intervention” to promote better health and ward off chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Environmentalists embrace walking as a way to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. Seniors and people with disabilities — which eventually includes all of us — can live more independently when they have walkable destinations and safe routes to reach them. And yes, small businesses support walking as a way to attract more foot traffic and increase sales.

The Village Specific Plan builds on years of good planning and goals for a walkable, economically viable Village, yet introduces new policies and programs that will firmly establish Del Mar as a leader in North County and the San Diego region for creating walkable, livable communities.

The plan replaces stop signs with roundabouts. We understand that some people fear change of any sort, and roundabouts in particular because they are unfamiliar. However, no community we’ve ever worked with opted to return to queuing at intersections once they’ve experienced the efficiency, safety, and beauty that roundabouts provide. Roundabouts reduce injury crashes up to 80 percent and all crashes by 40 percent [1]. They provide 30 percent more traffic capacity than signalized intersections [2], so traffic back-ups are mostly a thing of the past.

Most Del Mar residents are familiar with the roundabouts, angled parking, and other improvements on La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock. According to City of San Diego traffic engineers, that street can now handle more traffic than before, and yet the average vehicle speed fell from 40 mph to 15-20 mph. One important but often underemphasized result of this speed reduction is the over 100-fold reduction in noise. Another benefit is that residents no longer leave the area to shop or dine. Local businesses have flourished. Data WalkSanDiego obtained from the city showed a 24 percent increase in tax receipts immediately following completion of the street improvements.

To complete the walkability picture, the Village Specific Plan allows a very modest increase in development, from one story to two. That small change would allow more storefront revitalization projects to “pencil out” and would allow creation of up to 140 badly needed multi-family units. These smaller units can benefit the whole community by providing housing for local merchants, young couples just starting out, and retirees no longer able to keep up the big house. These folks will shop locally and provide more “eyes on the street,” keeping everyone safer.

We encourage you to vote Yes on the Village Specific Plan.