Streetscape: The wrong plan for north Highway 101

Most locals agree that the North Coast Highway 101 corridor needs a facelift. 

If they knew the particulars of Leucadia Streetscape, however, it’s doubtful they would choose Streetscape as the best surgery.

With projects like Streetscape, it’s difficult to discern the true agenda. Make no mistake, Streetscape’s purpose is to gentrify and further commercialize the North Coast Highway 101 corridor. The prime mover behind the project is the Leucadia 101 Main Street Association, a group of merchants and commercial real estate owners and developers that is significantly subsidized by the city. Their effort is led by a professional schmoozer who holds a lucrative contract with the city.

As the Streetscape concept progressed, city staff held workshops whose stated purpose was to absorb public input. Many people who attended said the workshops were a charade. Streetscape felt like a done deal, imposed by outside consultants and staffers eager to validate and perpetuate their contracts or jobs. What came out of the workshops were three buzz terms — selling points subsequently used by city staff and Leucadia 101 Main Street personnel to make the project palatable to unsuspecting residents. Those terms are “restore the canopy,” “traffic calming” and “walkability.” All questionable. Let’s look at each.

Restore the Canopy. Streetscape version 4A promises to restore the North Coast Highway 101 tree canopy. The plan calls for removing 21 trees (some heritage size), relocating 56 and adding 847. When the city planted 101 trees to launch the Streetscape project, they were broomstick-diameter saplings. Regardless of how many tiny trees the city plants, several decades will pass before they become a canopy.

Traffic Calming. It has three elements: eliminating one northbound traffic lane, narrowing lanes in both directions and installing five roundabouts along the 2.4 miles from La Costa Avenue to A Street.

Many locals, especially those who live or work west of 101, loudly object to eliminating one northbound traffic lane. Turns from any T intersection onto 101 northbound are already dangerous. Drivers must cross two southbound lanes, often pause where there’s a median, and hope to merge safely into one of the two northbound lanes. Eliminating one northbound lane will make the maneuver more hazardous, especially at peak traffic times.

Traffic engineers claim that narrower lanes slow the traffic. With narrowed lanes, can a huge moving van squeeze past the wide beer truck that stops in the right southbound lane to deliver brews to Papagayo?

If roundabouts are the traffic-calming panacea that traffic engineers and urban planners claim, why does Streetscape cram four of the five in the 8/10 mile between La Costa Avenue and Jupiter Street at the north end of the project? The fifth roundabout is to be at El Portal Street, 1.1 miles south of Jupiter. No doubt, southbound drivers will go slow till they get past Jupiter. Then they’ll speed 6/10 mile to Leucadia Boulevard, another 6/10 mile to El Portal and, once through that roundabout, half a mile to Encinitas Boulevard.

Add this to the mix: All roundabouts except at La Costa Avenue will be virtually the same diameter as the two on Leucadia Boulevard. Southbound drivers will have to squeeze from two lanes to one, accommodate traffic coming from the side street and going to it from the single northbound lane, negotiate the roundabout, and expand to two lanes on the other side.

Also add these points: The city’s consulting traffic engineer estimates that Streetscape will divert 100 vehicle trips per day to Neptune Avenue, 2,000 per day to Vulcan Avenue and 4,000 to 5,000 per day to Interstate 5. Streetscape will maintain some parallel parking on 101, and create new front-in and back-in diagonal parking. The net increase in parking spaces over 2.4 miles will be 38, maybe fewer.

Walkability. Very close car, truck, bus and train traffic makes walking the corridor unpleasant on either side of 101. Streetscape will not change that. Few people will stroll the highway. Leucadia walkers west of 101 use Neptune, La Mesa and La Veta Avenues. Streetscape promoters portray the 101 corridor as a promenade. It’s an unrealistic vision by outsiders bent on imposing a trendy, generic plan on our neighborhood.

Streetscape 4A was approved by a three-vote majority at the Jan. 13, 2010 City Council meeting.

Watching the video at the city’s website is enlightening. It reveals that the then-council’s primary purpose was to facilitate commercial development.

Residents who protested were virtually ignored. Before casting the sole dissenting vote, Councilman Jim Bond characterized bold moves by city officials: “Twenty years down the road, someone says, ‘What the hell were they thinking?’”

Doug Fiske lives west of 101 in Leucadia.

 

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