E3 group, residents unite over traffic-calming efforts


Residents on Quail Gardens Drive and Saxony Road have long pushed for reduced speed limits on those thoroughfares, often calling them “raceways.” The cause is gaining traction, thanks to a new education cluster called E3.

Made up of the Leichtag Foundation, San Diego Botanic Garden and other organizations located on those roads, E3 rolled out ideas for traffic-calming infrastructure at the Nov. 10 Traffic and Public Safety Commission meeting.

“All of the organizations in the cluster are concerned about traffic calming, as it’s consistent with keeping the unique character of those neighborhoods,” said Jim Farley, the president and CEO of the Leichtag Foundation, an organization on the former Ecke Ranch property.

Farley said the group is in favor of crosswalks and other infrastructure to reduce the speed limit from 40 mph to 25 mph on the sections of Quail Gardens and Saxony that run from Encinitas Boulevard to Leucadia Boulevard.

One reason this is important, he added, is because of E3’s environmental and agricultural initiatives popping up in the area. As one example, Farley noted that the Encinitas Union School District, another cluster member, will soon host students on its 10-acre farm on Quail Gardens.

“Many children will be visiting this site and also walking across the street to the Botanic Garden,” Farley said, adding that there’s no traffic infrastructure on that stretch to make drivers slow down.

E3, which also includes the nearby retirement community Seacrest Village, the San Dieguito Heritage Museum and Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA, formed last spring to rally around shared concerns and collaborate on educational programming.

Two years ago, the traffic commission discussed cutting the speed limit on the thoroughfares, but didn’t take action because of the “85th percentile.”

State law dictates that speed limits are set at the speed that 85 percent of drivers stay at or below. So, if a traffic engineer records 43 mph as the 85th percentile, city staff has the discretion to post the limit at either 45 mph or 40 mph.

The 85th percentile on Quail Gardens exceeded 40 mph when it was last measured in 2012, according to Rob Blough, the city’s traffic engineer.

Nathan Schmidt is a transportation planner with Fehr & Peers, a firm Leichtag hired to develop plans to get cars to slow down on the thoroughfares.

Schmidt outlined options like roundabouts, traffic signals and raised crosswalks that could be strategically placed on four sections of each road so that cars travel 25 mph. If they are installed, the city could then measure speeds again and post a lower limit.

“As drivers travel along Quail Gardens Drive, there are no real traffic-calming improvements at the intersections, so there’s really no reason for the drivers to slow down,” Schmidt said.

In an interview after the meeting, Farley said E3 members are interested in chipping in to help the city fund traffic improvements on the roads.

Farley also said that E3’s goal is to gain input from residents on potential traffic-calming ideas, have city staff vet those ideas and then eventually present a shovel-ready plan to council for consideration.

“This is the ideal situation we’re shooting for,” Farley said.

Nine residents said so many cars darting by have made the roads unsafe, particularly because of some “blind turns” on Quail Gardens.

And they said that the situation is likely to get worse because of a new 69-home development, also on Quail Gardens.

“In order to get across the street, you have to take your life into your hands and run,” said resident Ellyn Hartman on what it’s like trying to cross Saxony.

Resident Steve Gerken said E3’s support is giving the traffic-calming cause fresh momentum.

“The Saxony community has been arguing this point for five years to advance safety,” Gerken said. “I’ve been leading a group on Quail Gardens Drive for three years now. Finally, a voice out of the darkness.”

As a first step toward making the area safer, the commission voted 5-1 to back a raised crosswalk on Saxony Road that would connect Seacrest Village to the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA and a bus stop. The cost is about $100,000, which includes flashing lights to get drivers’ attention and other features.

“I think it’s a good short-term solution, which does fit in with a long-term solution,” said Peter Kohl, the chair of the commission.

Outgoing traffic commissioner Catherine Blakespear, who was recently elected to the City Council, voted against the item. Blakespear said city staff should take a harder look at nearby locations where the crosswalk could go, since current plans call for eliminating three eucalyptus trees and three parking spaces on Saxony.

Ed Deane, senior engineer with the city, said the crosswalk spot was chosen because it would have less impact than surrounding areas that have power lines running through the ground. And Deane said the location is outside the zone the YMCA could potentially revamp in the future, saving the city from redoing work.

The crosswalk will go before the council for a final up or down vote next month.