I drive through Bird Rock on the way to a couple surf spots in that zone. I hadn't purposely gone to Bird Rock to review the streetscape and roundabouts, but this weekend I took the Bird Rock challenge.
Before my trip south, I stopped at an Encinitas restaurant for breakfast. There was sidewalk dining and lots of people walking. No nearby roundabouts. Just traffic signals and four lanes of traffic.
People in Bird Rock love their little coastal urban village.
Except for the street sign overkill, Bird Rock was nicely landscaped and inviting. Palm lined streets have been iconic of So Cal and I expect the Bird Rock landscaping style and urban elements will become just as symbolic of So Cal. Bird Rock is the future.
From a UT article about Bird Rock:
What's being "modeled" are its five roundabout traffic circles which are generating interest from other communities.
From the same UT article:
"The key is really not just having people with the technical skills, but attracting people to come out. It is very important to get consensus on what the problems are first. Too often, there's a rush to get to solutions."
When the streetscape project started I was very excited that the 101 would be spruced up. I wasn't alone in thinking the scope would be sidewalks, benches, lights and landscaping. The solutions that have emerged go beyond that scope and we are dealing with parking, traffic, and sidewalk usages, I think. Forgive me if I missed it, but I still don't know if the problems/issues/scope was ever explicitly agreed upon.
It would be a good idea to do that early. For instance, if speeding cars or specific intersections are something to work on, we should be including the traffic commission now so we don't drag this process out.
From a La Jolla Light article:
Part of the reason for customers returning was the community had become more "walkable." "It's totally changed the vibe of La Jolla Boulevard," he said, "made it more convenient for people to actually use it."
La Jolla Bloulevard was walkable before the streetscape.
It has changed the vibe. A romantic view would be the that the Boulevard is more like a courtyard or a town square, except there isn't open space in the middle. There are still bursts of traffic, buses, and Harley motorcycles. It doesn't feel like a small town downtown main street. It is new urbanism.
The roundabouts probably kept the traffic from the acceleration-deceleration cycles that would occur with traffic signals, but we aren't talking about putting roundabouts in at every block like Bird Rock, are we? Bird Rock is only a few blocks long. I think people are thinking about a few roundabouts across all of Leucadia. I don't know if Bird Rock is a good overall comparison.
From an older La Jolla Light article:
Five roundabouts will replace stop signs along La Jolla Boulevard in the business district. Traffic will narrow to two lanes from four, and diagonal parking will be added on half the street. Concrete medians decorated with trees and flowers will run down the heart of the thoroughfare.
From a UT Article:
Some worry that the roundabouts will push drivers onto residential side streets to avoid the boulevard, despite the installation of smaller traffic circles there to discourage that behavior.
"Five roundabouts – one on every intersection – has to be overkill by any standard," said David Little, who thinks drivers will try his nearby street as a through route. "This plan sacrifices residential streets for the sake of businesses and condominiums on La Jolla Blvd." ...
"There's just a different feeling in the air," said Filter, a resident of La Jolla. "The community is really embracing it. They want it to be a retail district."
The Bird Rock roundabouts weren't that interesting. I am hoping that Leucadia's roundabouts are unique in some way. I am definitely in favor of community created/sponsored art in the center of ours. Something that doesn't facilitate turning Leucadia into Anytown, California.
I tried to talk to a few folks from that zone about the infrastructure changes. I spoke first with Don Schmidt. Don lives within walking distance of the roundabout zone.
Don told me the community is still divided on the application of roundabouts in Bird Rock. He noted that the roundabouts cost ~$5 million and that timed lights would have cost far less. Don made the point, "This is slowing traffic down, but [retailers] want to capture the traffic."
Don surprised me when he told me about how the upkeep of the street is being funded. The community is taxed to maintain the new street landscaping. A maintenance assessment district was set up where residents of Bird Rock will pay $60 to $90 a year; merchants will pay an average of $500.
Don also noted that he was skeptical of the sales pitches that surround the "walkability" movement. (It is worth noting that Don walked from his home to the coffee shop where I met him.)
It seemed that Don supported the assessment district, but he did see the assessment as a kind of subsidy of the merchants and their property owners. If the goal was to convert the publicly owned thoroughfare into a bazaar-like destination, I can see his point. It made me wonder how the City of Encinitas is going to pay for the streetscape. The City loves to say they don't have enough money to fund our current landscaping.
Don couldn't say if there had been traffic diverted to other streets. He noted that it would be good to look at the traffic data for La Jolla Mesa, Solidad Mt. Road, Van Nuys and some of the other PB back streets. It seems to me that evaluating the impact requires looking at that sort of data.
It is my opinion that we should encourage long distance commuters to use the freeway. It is also my opinion that we should not do things that encourage locals to avoid using our city's arteries. For better or worse, the 101 is an artery. It is not currently a country lane or a side street. If we want to rededicate its use we should start by establishing this position.
I don't know if what is proposed is going make a real change in usage, but we shouldn't pretend that there is no chance of permanent negative consequences. I propose that we do field tests before committing millions of dollars on a particular approach.
I also spoke with Peter Morris, owner of Smashing Designs in La Jolla. Peter lives in P.B. and commutes into La Jolla. He says that about 25% of the time he will commute via La Jolla Boulevard. He humbly admits that when he first heard about the roundabouts he thought it was "the stupidest idea." He adds, "My foot is now in my mouth."
The traffic moves way better than he thought it would and he says he never comes to a complete stop though Bird Rock.
The Bird Rock project hasn't changed his driving habits and he doesn't know about others purposely avoiding Bird Rock because of the project (or that people were using it more). However, he was already going around Bird Rock most of the time.
I found it really interesting that one block over was the street locals biked and walked. It was a residential street, not mixed use.
Closing Note: On the way home I wanted to stop for lunch at Wahoo's. That's in La Jolla. I didn't really care if there is no streetscape improvements or roundabouts there, but I did care that there was no available parking. I couldn't find a place to park so I bailed and ate at home.