Walkable Del Mar, finally

We Delmarians will soon have an opportunity to transform our downtown from a car-centric area to a pedestrian-centric environment. We will finally be able to put into place the last element of the vision built into our Community Plan in 1975, a walkable, resident-serving downtown.

Not only will roundabouts and a two-lane configuration of Camino Del Mar civilize our downtown, it will put us on the leading edge of a world-wide trend, cited recently in the NY Times, of a “complete streets strategy that public rights of way should be for all of society — not just cars.”

Guided by our nationally-recognized urban planner, Kathy Garcia, our draft Village Specific Plan moves us up what the Brookings Institution calls a “ladder of walkability,” from least to most walkable. And here’s the unintentional but welcome outcome: it increases property values. We have known for a long time that our rigorous growth controls have been dramatically successful in enhancing real estate values. Walkability has a similar documented effect: “On average, each step up the walkability ladder adds...$82 per square foot to home values.”

It is counter intuitive, but narrowing from four to two lanes with roundabouts actually increases the carrying capacity of CDM. First, it is important to face the reality that the current traffic count exceeds its capacity by more than 3,000 trips per day, creating cut- through pressure on nearby neighborhood streets (almost 8,000 per day during race and fair season). This transformation would enable an increase of between 6,000 and 14,000 vehicles per day, although at a much slower and even flow rate.

Of course, we will never completely tame traffic, but this change will take some pressure off of neighborhoods and ultimately change “through driver” behavior to use the freeway alternative. We will be come a “to” town more than a “through” town. And more work is being done on diversion and calming measures for neighborhood streets.

So what about pedestrians? The design calls for 10 or more feet of new sidewalk space. Crossing this narrower street will take less time and be safer. Crosswalks will be placed at all intersections, with pedestrian-activated signals. The roundabout design intersections will accommodate 120 pedestrians an hour (300 percent of today’s volumes).

The draft plan is very detailed, covering parking, density and more, well worth our study time and input before we ultimately place it on the ballot. This is a breakthrough moment for Del Mar to finally realize our Community Plan’s vision of a walkable, human scale small town environment.