Downtown upgrades may finally get started

Downtown upgrades may finally get started
In 1996, a long-term, citywide blueprint was adopted for Camino del Mar. Parts of the streetscape plan have been implemented since then but not along the downtown corridor, from Ninth to 15th Street. Photos by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — A 21-year-old plan for downtown streetscape improvements that has started and stalled several times in the past two decades appears to be moving forward after council members at the Sept. 18 meeting allocated $300,000 for construction documents and an environmental review.

In 1996, a long-term, citywide blueprint was adopted for Camino del Mar. Parts of the streetscape plan have been implemented since then but not along the downtown corridor, from Ninth to 15th Street.

Some aspects of the original document, including a pedestrian flyover bridge, are outdated and will probably never be built.

A proposal to relocate the bus stop south of the 13th Street intersection to the north side in front of the library was taken out of downtown streetscape improvement plans that are moving forward.

But residents, business owners and council members past and present have long advocated for pedestrian safety improvements, disabled access and aesthetic enhancements to sidewalks, landscaping and lighting.

Based on feedback from myriad public outreach sessions, the current plans include a 5-foot-wide sidewalk with consistent material down both sides of Camino del Mar. Additionally, curb ramps and sidewalks for the disabled will be created by pushing parking closer to the street and adding retaining walls where needed.

Continuous bike lanes will be established in both directions on Camino del Mar, and travel lanes will be reduced to slow traffic. Also being added are street furnishings such as benches and improved lighting.

Much of the work will bring the area into compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. 

Existing crosswalks will be enhanced for visibility and new legs are slated at several intersections to allow for four-way pedestrian crossing. A midblock crossing is proposed at 10th Street.

A consistent 6-foot-wide bike lane with a 2-foot buffer will be added to improve bicycle access.

A few recommendations not included in current improvement plans will be studied further for possible inclusion in the future.

A scramble crosswalk at 15th Street was supported by many but proved to be cost prohibitive.

Two other proposals that didn’t make the final cut were sharrows, or lanes that are shared by cyclists and cars, and relocating the bus stop south of the 13th Street intersection to the north side in front of the library.

The latter was suggested for improved safety but would result in a loss of parking spaces for the library.

The existing spaces on Camino del Mar were required by the city when the patio was enclosed and turned into a community room in 2009.

“There’s no reason to move the bus stop,” resident Bill Michalsky said. “Giving up those spaces in front is not fair to the users. … I really want to make streetscape move forward but I don’t want to see the library pay the price.”

Councilman Dave Druker agreed the bus stop should remain where it is, but for a different reason.

“We, as the city, need to be conforming with our parking regulations if we expect everybody else to conform,” he said. “I think it’s really important that we, as a council, make sure that we are following the rules that we have set up.”

Mayor Terry Sinnott had a different view.

“There are going to be cases in this whole streetscape area where we, as a city, are going to have to bend slightly our parking regulations in order to allow businesses to put in sidewalk things, different parking configurations, whatever it is,” he said. “We’re going to have to be flexible.

“As long as we do it consciously for the betterment of the whole village, I think we should at least think about it,” Sinnott added. “In this particular case, the one or two spaces I’m not as concerned about because it’s a safety issue.”

Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said the intersection is extremely dangerous.

“I’m not saying moving the bus stop is the cure-all for that,” she said. “But I hope we continue to evaluate how to make that (safer). … It just takes your breath away sometimes sitting at Zel’s and watching people just blow through that stop sign.”

With completed construction plans Del Mar will have a “shovel ready” project, which will help with construction phasing and securing grant funding. The estimated cost is just under $4.9 million.

If all goes as planned construction could begin early next year. Work will be phased to avoid major construction during the busy summer season.

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