ENCINITAS — Residents are outraged over a purportedly dangerous traffic intersection near Capri Elementary School, and some parents are growing increasingly frustrated by what they describe as the city’s lethargic response to an ongoing hazard.
The intersection — situated at the crossing of Capri and Burgundy roads at the base of Capri Elementary — has been the source of safety complaints to the city for decades, with parents and locals having long argued for a four-way stop sign to be installed at the intersection.
“It’s a really scary situation…as a parent of a nine-year-old and six-year-old who go to this school, I’m honestly enraged,” said parent and Encinitas resident Scott Runmark, who has publicly spoken out about the intersection previously in The Coast News.
Runmark said that he became heavily involved in organizing parents concerned about the intersection after one of his own children was almost hit at the crossing over two years ago.
Runmark, along with a host of other parents and neighborhood residents, claims that the lack of a four-way stop at the intersection creates confusion and chaos outside the school during busy student drop-off and pick-up times on weekdays.
Since the intersection lies at the base of a hill, cars traveling westbound by the school pick up a tremendous amount of speed by the time they reach the crosswalk, creating a potential hazard for pedestrians.
Additionally, when traffic backs up on Capri Road during peak hours, Runmark said that drivers going both west and eastbound regularly traverse into the opposite lane of traffic, illegally circumventing the long lines of cars that build up outside the school.
Due to these illegal maneuvers, pedestrians at a designated crossing have to not only keep an eye on traffic coming from both directions but also have to worry about cars weaving around lanes to bypass traffic the wrong way.
After repeated complaints from the community in 2019, the city installed a crosswalk at the location, but many believe that simply isn’t enough.
“The crosswalk doesn’t really do anything, people just continue to speed down that hill, and you have cars blowing right through the intersection, no problem, not even stopping,” said Lani Miller, president of the Capri Elementary School teacher-parent association, who lives on Capri Road.
Julie Taber, the city’s public information officer, said the city has received very few comments or complaints regarding safety along that particular roadway.
“Approximately five to seven comments have been made in the last two years in addition to the speed cushion petition,” Taber told The Coast News via email. “One resident has been to the Traffic Commission twice in the last six months to speak on it, accompanied by a couple other neighbors sending written public comments. We got two emails about it right before the holiday as well. Current staff was not here prior to 2019 and therefore are not certain how many concerns we received before that.”
For Stacey, a mom of two who lives less than a block away from the school, the crossing has long been a concern. She said that she’s personally witnessed numerous incidents with children, adults, and even strollers in the crosswalk almost being hit by cars traveling at high speeds.
But the issue became deeply personal when Stacey says that her six-year-old son was almost hit by a fast-traveling SUV at the intersection just two weeks ago.
“(My son) did exactly what he was supposed to do, he went up to the light function at the crosswalk, looked both ways, and then started to walk,” Stacey said. “Then as I was coming with him, I saw a white escalade coming westbound picking up speed, the dad driving was on his phone and didn’t see my son, so my son jumped back and I screamed before the car stopped…everyone around was horrified and stopped what they were doing.”
Outraged by the incident, Stacey said she immediately sent letters to the school principal and the Encinitas Traffic and Public Safety Commission, asserting the need for stop signs at all four corners of the intersection.
“I asked them what do you expect us to do as parents — like why is the burden put on our children to stay safe when they’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing?… Really the city is putting both parents and children in a desperate place,” Stacey said.
Runmark, Miller and Stacey all argue that the problem of cars speeding and weaving through lanes at the crosswalk will only be permanently solved by four-way stop signs at Capri and Brunswick, as vehicles would be forced to come to a halt just before the intersection.
For a four-way stop to be implemented, the city’s traffic commission would need to recommend the improvement to the Encinitas City Council, which would then have to vote to approve funding for a project.
With decades of complaints about the crossing being largely ignored, however, the three residents expressed little optimism that any meaningful action would be taken.
“This isn’t just a parent issue, it’s a neighborhood issue,” Stacey said. “People are really frustrated that the city won’t do anything about this, it’s creating an environment that is the opposite of what the City of Encinitas is supposed to be about…I’m just disappointed and shocked at the city’s failure to take action.”
The city’s traffic engineering division conducted a study of the crossing in the summer of 2021 to evaluate whether the convergence of the two roads met city criteria for four-way stop control. The federal guidance for the city’s study included requiring a minimum number of crashes in a 12-month period to determine whether a multi-way stop installation is warranted at that particular location.
However, because of the relatively low volume of vehicles traversing the crossing over the course of the day, coupled with the intersection not meeting the criteria for having had enough traffic collision history, city engineers ultimately decided against the idea of a four-way stop.
According to a city spokesperson, the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD, outlines protocols for municipalities to determine if a stop sign is necessary at a given location.
“This ensures traffic control devices are generally consistent in the United States and meet drivers’ expectations,” said Taber. “Standards are not set locally. This intersection was evaluated based on the (manual’s) warrant standards and did not meet the criteria warranting stop signs. The Mobility and Traffic Safety Commission is an advisory commission that reviews the recommendations of the City’s traffic engineering staff. Traffic Engineering staff members follow the practices and standards set forth by the MUTCD.”
The city also noted there have been no collisions over the last 10 years at the intersection of Capri and Burgundy, according to the Local Roadway Safety Plan.MUTCD Excerpt
For Runmark, the study, as it was conducted, was overly generic and did not take into account the unique variables at play that make the intersection unsafe.
“The minimum volume of vehicles per hour required by the city will never apply…it’s only a small window of time during the day, pick-up and drop-off, where this is really an issue, and the study doesn’t really apply to that time frame,” Runmark said.
Runmark added that it was “a joke” the federal manual’s requirement of a certain number of accidents in a given period before determining that a location needed a four-way stop.
“They are basically saying that they will not address this unless a kid is seriously injured or killed with five or more reported crashes in 12 months…we shouldn’t get a kid killed or seriously injured before solving this problem,” Runmark said.
Councilman Tony Kranz, who represents Leucadia in District 1, agreed with Runmark that the city’s analysis was flawed in requiring there be a demonstrated accident history before improvements could be made.
“The commission’s analysis of the intersection…it relied on things like enough accidents and other disasters taking place in a period, and that’s really a backward way of thinking,” Kranz told The Coast News. “Why should we be waiting for disasters to happen before we say it qualifies for a four-way stop?”
At the same time, Kranz said that he was not personally convinced that four-way stop control was the best solution to the school’s traffic challenges.
Instead, Kranz said that he would prefer that the school district hire crossing guards to hold stop signs and monitor pedestrian and vehicular traffic, a step that he said would both protect vulnerable schoolchildren crossing at the intersection while simultaneously not unduly stopping traffic around the school throughout the day.
“Since we only really have this problem about a half-hour before and after school, it’s like do we really want to stop all traffic for 24 hours a day in all directions? That’s the challenge…I think we need to work harder with the school district to find ways to put in traffic crossing guards at schools like this,” Kranz said.
In 2021, the city conducted a speed cushion study in front of Capri from Burgundy Road to Rainbow Ridge but concluded that section of road did not meet the criteria for speed humps or tables, according to a city spokesperson. Additionally, the city also performed an all-way stop control evaluation at the intersection of Capri and Burgundy but determined it did not warrant an all-way stop sign.
“The school may consider using crossing guards in safety vests at this intersection to provide greater visibility for and assist pedestrians in crossing the road,” Taber said in an email.
Ultimately, the biggest key to ensuring pedestrian safety at the school is personal responsibility on the part of the drivers, the councilman added.
“It’s frustrating that people can’t take into consideration the number of kids walking through the crosswalk with their parents, you just have people weaving and darting through the intersection at such a high speed, they just really need to slow down — that’s the best solution,” Kranz said.
Stacy concurred with Kranz that much of the danger inherent in the crossing comes down to the personal responsibility of the drivers traversing Capri Road, many of whom she said are often distracted or frustrated parents rushing to drop off or pick up their own kids.
“I understand that people commuting to the school are often frustrated, late for work, and then they’re waiting a long time in traffic before speeding off…but really when it comes down to it, the adults have to be held accountable and the city needs to keep our children safe,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a response from the City of Encinitas.