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Locals weigh in on La Costa

CARLSBAD — Nearly 100 residents gathered to provide input on how to improve traffic and safety along La Costa Avenue during the first of three community workshops held April 28 at Stagecoach Park.
Pat Noyes, a traffic consultant, described the road as “a unique animal in terms of safety.” The two-mile stretch between El Camino Real and Rancho Santa Fe Road is a secondary arterial intended to carry traffic. But it also has driveways with direct access, making it the only roadway of its kind in the city, she said.
La Costa Avenue was built long ago as a county road with a speed limit of 40 mph. New development east of Rancho Santa Fe has made it a major east-west corridor, resulting in increased traffic and speed.
Based on traffic flow, the speed limit was eventually raised to 45 mph. Since then there have been complaints about cars traveling faster than the posted maximum and an increase in accidents.
Many residents said the obvious solution was to lower the speed limit, but Doug Bilse, the city’s senior traffic engineer, said it’s not that easy. “We don’t get to set the speed limit,” he said.
“The California Vehicle Code says drivers decide what the speed limit should be. At one time (the formula indicated) it should be 50 (mph),” he said. “But the city said that was unacceptable.”
After working with a small group of residents to address safety concerns, the city installed digital speed displays and additional warning and speed limit signs. But the project recently reached a level where expertise was needed, so Noyes was brought in, Bilse said.
At its March 22 meeting, City Council voted 3-2 to move forward with a plan to restripe part of the roadway to reduce it from four lanes to two. Although the city has been looking into safety concerns for the past few years, the decision to take more immediate action was prompted by a recently settled lawsuit.
A motorcyclist riding along La Costa in 2008 suffered severe permanent brain injuries after colliding with an SUV that was pulling out of a driveway. He claimed the city knew it was a dangerous road and did nothing to improve conditions.
The city argued it was not responsible because it was a county-designed road, but the judge determined “we don’t have design immunity so we are now in a whole new ball game,” Bilse said.
This past February the city agreed to pay the motorcyclist $2.9 million.
The goal of the initial workshop was to define problems, determine objectives, present design elements and discuss community preferences.
“We want as many perspectives as we can get to find out what the problems are, what you want to achieve and how you want to get there,” Noyes said.
“We don’t have a plan tonight,” Bilse said. “We’re here to work together to get there.”
Recommendations included reducing the number of lanes on La Costa, and adding bulb-outs, roundabouts, medians, bike lanes, sidewalks and five traffic signals.
Many residents were concerned that reducing the number of lanes would force traffic onto nearby Levante Avenue. “You’d just be pushing the problem onto another road,” one resident said.
Cindy Bruno, a 30-year resident on nearby Cadencia Street, said she didn’t think the city should do anything other than increase the presence of law enforcement.
“It’s a fact that La Costa is a main thoroughfare,” she said. “If you buy on La Costa, you know there’s going to be traffic. They should just park a police car with a dummy in it. To spend all this money because of one lawsuit is ridiculous.”
Some attendees agreed with Bruno that there really isn’t a problem. Those who live on La Costa Avenue said there is.
Other residents said most of the proposed solutions, especially more signals, would likely make traffic worse and force cars onto side streets. A few said bike lanes would be a waste. They said they rarely see bicyclists on the road because it’s too dangerous.
“No single device fixes everything and they all have advantages and disadvantages,” Noyes said. “Usually it’s a system of devices.
“We don’t think there’s a simple solution to this street,” she said.
Any changes will require an environmental impact report to determine impacts to nearby areas.
Residents are urged to take an online survey on the city website at www.carlsbadca.gov to provide input.
During the second workshop, set for May 26, draft conceptual plans will be reviewed. At the final workshop on June 23, a preferred plan will be finalized before being presented to the Planning Commission and City Council. Phasing and funding options will also be discussed then.