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Cars queue up on southbound Camino del Mar to make a left turn onto eastbound Del Mar Heights Road. Planned improvements to the intersection include adding another left-turn lane. That was one of the few elements of the project that will be maintained. Others that included eliminating a free-right-turn lane from westbound Carmel Valley Road onto Camino del Mar and one northbound lane on Camino del Mar are being re-evaluated. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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More than 100 oppose roadway changes in south end of city

DEL MAR — A proposal to eliminate traffic lanes in the south end of town and modify the intersection of Del Mar Heights Road and Camino del Mar was sent back to the drawing board for the second time this year after about 100 people opposed the project for a variety of reasons.

At the Feb. 6 meeting, when revised plans were presented, Councilman Dwight Worden said he was embarrassed the city didn’t do a better job with outreach, one of the many complaints expressed.

“I certainly want to do this project only if it’s good and if it’s accepted by the community and if … (it) fits right regionally, not just for Del Mar,” Worden said. “I think we’re not ready to act tonight.

“The engineers and the experts … paint a picture of how these intersections are going to work and what the backups are going to be,” he added. “And all of you who live there paint a very different picture of what the reality is. … Somehow we have to wrestle those two to the ground.”

The $1.5 million proposal is one segment of a phased citywide project, approved in 2013, to improve pedestrian access, bicycle safety and drainage, provide roadway paving and traffic calming measures and promote alternative transportation modes.

The initial plan for segment five was to add sidewalks and make a few roadway improvements on Camino del Mar between the Fourth Street and Del Mar Heights Road intersection and Carmel Valley Road.

When heavy rains last year caused a landslide in Anderson Canyon, that portion of the roadway was narrowed to one lane in each direction for about six months.

During the emergency repair work, staff noticed the temporary traffic control measures, including the removal of one of the two northbound lanes between Carmel Valley Road and Fourth Street, “did not appear to have adverse impacts to traffic circulation,” according to the staff report.

“Based on these observations and community feedback,” the report states, council members directed staff last May to change the plans. The new design was presented last month.

Modifications included permanently removing one of the northbound lanes on Camino del Mar and eliminating the existing free-right-turn lane that allows cars going west on Carmel Valley Road to turn north onto Camino del Mar without stopping.

The latter change was made primarily to increase safety for bicyclists.

Plans also included adding a second left-turn lane on southbound Camino del Mar Del for motorists heading eastbound on Del Mar Heights Road, more parking spaces and a multipurpose pathway on the west side of Camino del Mar.

Del Mar residents who live near the project site were invited to attend a meeting of the Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee (TPAC), which ultimately approved the changes.

When revised plans were presented last month, council members liked many aspects, including the added left-turn lane on southbound Camino del Mar and, except for Councilman Dave Druker, the walkway.

But they had concerns about other modifications, including one that would lengthen the left-turn time for cars heading west on Fourth from northbound Camino del Mar.

The shortened turn time was implemented more than a decade ago to decrease cut-through traffic in residential neighborhoods, especially along Stratford Court. So the project was sent back for additional modifications.

The new plans presented this month provided an alternative that would keep the left-turn pocket with a short light. That resulted in a decrease in the width of the path.

Notifications were sent to Del Mar residents informing them about the meeting during which the new plans would be discussed

But the modifications would impact people who live in nearby cities, such as Carmel Valley. They were not informed of the potential changes and said they learned of the project through other means.

Prior to the Feb. 6 meeting the city received nearly 50 emails opposing the plans, including two petitions signed by about two dozen residents and a letter from San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, whose jurisdiction includes Carmel Valley.

About 30 people also spoke in opposition at the meeting. Written and oral comments came from Del Mar residents citywide and people who live in Carmel Valley.

Most said eliminating the free-right-turn lane on Carmel Valley would make an existing bad situation worse, as would decreasing northbound Camino del Mar from two lanes to one.

“Once you do that all hell’s going to break loose and these people are going to have pitchforks,” Cody Sears said.

Several speakers said they are bicyclists who rarely if ever have a problem at the Carmel Valley Road intersection. One said eliminating the free-right-turn lane to increase bike safety “is a solution to where there is no problem.”

Some people challenged the traffic study.

“I don’t experience the same thing the traffic analyst has experienced,” said Mike St. John, who travels the project area multiple times daily.

“We already have a problem there so please don’t make it worse,” Dawn Cullen said.

Carmel Valley residents also criticized city officials for not including them in the design phase.

“We’re your neighbors,” said Eduardo Savigliano, a Torrey Pines Community Planning Board member. “We all need to work together. … Please reach out to us.”

“We want to work with Del Mar but we really didn’t have a chance in this case,” added Dee Rich, also a planning board member.

“If there’s that much concern about the two-lane and the free-right, I guess I’m questioning whether or not to do it,” City Manager Scott Huth said. “We definitely have an ability to go back to that (original) plan.”

Council members unanimously agreed to delay a decision on the project and appointed Druker and Councilwoman Sherryl Parks to a subcommittee that will work with the traffic engineers and Public Works Department to create a project that will be presented to TPAC and the Torrey Pines Planning Board for review and input.

A final design will be presented to the full council for consideration in no less than 60 days.

They also assured Del Mar residents the short green-light allowing cars to turn left onto Fourth will be maintained.

“There’s no one on this council that wants to suddenly turn Stratford Court into a freeway again,” Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said. “That was definitely not our desire.”