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Stretch of 101 will get more hospitable

SOLANA BEACH — Plans to slow traffic on Coast Highway 101 and make a 1-mile stretch of the roadway more walkable and business, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly moved one step further during a special meeting Aug. 31, after council members approved some west-side design features.
The city has been discussing plans to revitalize the corridor since 1996. Nasland Engineering held workshops in 2009 and 2010, during which residents indicated their priorities were a continuous sidewalk along Coast Highway 101, roundabouts, more trees, seating areas, wider sidewalks and slower vehicle speeds.
“Most of these items are incorporated into our plan,” Nasland’s Larry Thornburg said, although traffic patterns and cost precluded the inclusion of roundabouts, he said.
Nasland representatives and subcontractors met with property owners and council liaisons Lesa Heebner and Mike Nichols to develop preliminary plans for the west side of Coast Highway 101 from Dahlia Drive to Cliff Street, considered the “heart of the 101,” Thornburg said.
Most in the community support the project, but there are differing opinions on the type of parking. There is consensus that angled parking is preferable to parallel because it will slow traffic and increase the number of parking spaces.
Nasland said bicyclists favor reverse-angle back-in parking for safety reasons. It also shields passengers on the sidewalk, slows traffic in the main lane and allows for easier trunk access from the sidewalk.
Opponents, who favor traditional head-in angled parking, said reverse angle involves a difficult maneuver, forces motorists to stop in the middle of a traffic lane, will cause drivers to merge too fast into traffic and directs exhaust fumes toward the sidewalk.
Peter House, president of the Highway 101 Village Walk Association, said merchants oppose the reverse-angle configuration. “The idea that you can get used to it misses the point,” he said. “They don’t want it.”
It is less consumer and business friendly, and with the struggling economy, “we shouldn’t make it more difficult than it is,” House said.
Resident Douglas Alden disagreed. As a bicyclist and father of three young boys, he considered it reverse angle parking an appropriate use for the area.
“It’s something new and a little bit difficult,” Alden said, adding that reverse-angle is easier than parallel parking. “I think it’s a great way to put safety first on this great project,” he said.
Although council members preferred the reverse-angle option, they directed staff to move forward with traditional head-in parking for several reasons.
“I like it,” Nichols said. “I just don’t think it’s … a battle worth fighting.”
Nichols and Heebner met with members of the San Diego Bicycle Coalition, who said any type of angled parking is an improvement. Councilman Joe Kellejian offered another perspective.
“What we’re trying to create here is a memorable experience not only for our residents … but for those who come from other areas,” Kellejian said. “We don’t want to, once they get here, confuse them and ruin that memorable experience with parking they’re not used to.”
Council members also opted to use flashing beacons rather than traditional traffic signals at two of four crosswalks being added to the project area.
Full signals will be used at Estrella and Cliff streets. But at Dahlia and near the elevator to the train station loading zone, pedestrians wanting to cross the highway will activate a beacon that will flash once per second to warn motorists.
The lights and signage must conform to standards but they will be mounted on poles that can be made decorative. The flashing beacons are about half the cost of a traditional traffic signal and don’t interrupt traffic flow as frequently.
Because the southbound highway is too narrow to accommodate a bike lane, “sharrow,” or share arrow, lanes will be created so bicyclists can navigate more safely through that area. A sharrow symbol — a bike with two arrows above it — will be painted in the west-side lane to indicate a bicyclist may share the full lane with cars. Vehicles can’t pass a bike in the sharrow lane.
The project also introduces 11 community gathering places, or themed plazas, that will include low seat walls, benches and an artistic use of colored aggregate and rock in the sidewalk.
One proposed area would be the ocean plaza that would include symbols of Solana Beach and a 9-foot-tall water column featuring abstract images of sea life.
Another proposed plaza would focus on the sky. Mayor Heebner suggested including the constellation that was in the sky July 1, 1986, the day Solana Beach became a city.
Funding for the $5 million project will come from an advance the city will receive on its share of future TransNet II revenue.
In 1987, San Diego voters approved TransNet, a 20-year, half-cent sales tax for transportation projects. It was extended to 2048 in the November 2004 election.
A few months ago the San Diego Association of Governments issued federal Build America Bonds at 3.89 percent for some projects and allowed cities to tag on and use their TransNet money to make payments.
“We jumped on that opportunity,” Heebner said.
Cities receive regular payments from TransNet funds. Solana Beach currently receives about $333,000 annually and is using a “very conservative” portion to fund the project, Heebner said.
The money must be spent on TransNet roads, which in Solana Beach are Coast Highway 101 and portions of Lomas Santa Fe Drive.
“This can’t go to pay for city staff (or) La Colonia Park,” Heebner said.
Mo Sammak, the city engineer, said construction is expected to start in April 2012 and finish by summer 2013.
“How can you not love this?” House asked.
“It just epitomizes what we’re about,” Councilman Dave Roberts said.
“Wow,” Kellejian said. “This is what we’ve been waiting for for years.”

1 comment

Stephan Vance September 14, 2011 at 10:54 am

Just to clarify a misconception the article may have conveyed, a motorist can pass a bicyclist in a lane marked with a "sharrow" or shared lane marker just like passing any slower moving vehicle by changing lanes when it is safe to do so.

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