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Encinitas commission taps brakes on traffic calming

The Traffic and Public Safety Commission held off on making recommendations to the Encinitas City Council on a plan to slow down traffic on Saxony Road and Quail Gardens Drive, saying more information is needed first.

E3, an education cluster made up of six groups on Quail Gardens Drive and Saxony Road, is advocating for reducing the speed limit from 40 mph to 25 mph on the two thoroughfares between Leucadia Boulevard and Encinitas Boulevard.

Representatives from E3 said slower traffic speeds are necessary in light of so much happening on the two roads, such as students visiting the new Encinitas Union School District’s 10-acre Farm Lab at 441 Quail Gardens Drive.

“For us, it’s critical the students can get from Farm Lab to our neighboring partners across the street safely,” said Leighangela Brady, the district’s assistant superintendent of education services.

To slow down traffic, E3 hired transportation firm Fehr & Peers, which distilled suggestions from community workshops in the spring into draft traffic-calming plans, including roundabouts, raised crosswalks and more on the two streets.

Because of commissioner questions over project funding and how it would affect surrounding roads, the commission voted unanimously to direct city staff members to analyze and prioritize traffic-calming projects in E3’s plan and return later.

Commissioners Peter Kohl and James Lindsay asked whether taking down the speeds would affect traffic flow and divert commuters to surrounding roads such as Vulcan Avenue.

“I’d kind of like to have a bigger picture about what’s going on and how they’re going to manage these thoroughfares,” Lindsay said.

Dawn Wilson, senior associate with Fehr & Peers, said more analysis is needed. Right now, she suspects the proposal would result in “nominal changes.”

“Just to keep in mind, for the length of the corridor, going from a 40 mph to a 30 mph or 25 mph, we’re talking a matter of seconds, not even a minute of travel time,” Wilson said.

E3’s draft plan outlines 13 projects on the two thoroughfares, including a four-way stop at Via Zamia and Quail Gardens Drive, a raised crosswalk at Puebla Street and Saxony Road, and a roundabout near the northern entrance of the Magdalena Ecke YMCA, on Saxony Road.

Wilson also said the city can’t simply post a lower speed limit on the roads, because under state law, limits are set at the speed that 85 percent of drivers stay at or below. On the two thoroughfares, the 85th percentile was about 40 mph when last measured in 2012.

So the idea is to install traffic-calming infrastructure and then re-measure speeds in the hopes of setting a new 25 mph limit.

When asked, Wilson said E3’s recommendations on both roads are loosely estimated to cost $3 million to $3.5 million. Earlier in the meeting, she said a funding source hasn’t been identified. E3 members have committed to contributing funds toward engineering and construction, though.

Funds could come from the city’s capital improvement budget. Commissioner Charlie Lisherness raised concerns that E3’s plan could leapfrog other city projects that have been waiting a long time for city funding.

Leichtag Foundation CEO Jim Farley said E3 isn’t looking to “jump ahead of anyone.”

“We just want to get in the queue,” Farley said.

E3 comprises the Leichtag Foundation, San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas Union School District, Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA, the San Dieguito Heritage Museum and Seacrest Village Retirement Community.

Pam Ferris, the president and CEO of Seacrest Village, said a “senior zone” that took effect last spring on part of Saxony Road has made the area safer, adding that she’s hopeful the proposed roundabouts in E3’s plan will reduce traffic speeds even more.

The senior zone, complete with reduced-speed-limit warning signs and pavement markings, took the speed down from 40 mph to 25 mph on a portion of Saxony Road.

Eventually, the Encinitas City Council will consider E3’s traffic plan, taking input from the commission into account.


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