The city of San Diego’s Transportation Department (SDTD) apologized repeatedly to Mira Mesa residents who have spent the last week complaining about a confusing traffic flow design the city admits was implemented on a busy residential street without fair warning.
The new lane striping bucks the traditional two-lane model in favor of a so-called advisory bike lane, a shared-lane model the city said is safer for cyclists.
The new design, painted along a four-block stretch of Gold Coast Drive, was implemented based on an outdated traffic study and lacked a sufficient community outreach strategy, according to the SDTD.
“We’re owning that, for sure. We messed up,” Jorge Riveros with the SDTD told frustrated residents during Monday’s virtual meeting.
The city is promising a second look at bike and vehicle traffic data in the neighborhood.
“I think it is certainly is warranted to say this is -- its paint and thermoplastic so there is the option to return if we do find that conditions aren’t right for this particular treatment,” transportation department spokesperson Everett Hauser said.
The new lane designs were introduced last week. Instead of two lanes for cars to drive in opposite directions, there is now one center lane drivers going both directions are supposed to share.
Vehicles are supposed to keep to the center lane and veer to the right, into the bike lanes, if an oncoming vehicle is approaching. If there’s a cyclist on the road and a driver needs to move over, the driver should yield and fall behind the cyclist.
The change was supposed to be a test before the new design is implemented in other parts of the city. Residents’ and drivers’ immediate reaction to the new design was that it was confusing and dangerous.
Over the weekend, new road signs were installed to help explain the rules of the road to drivers. The city of San Diego is referring residents to this instructional video produced by the city of Ottawa, Canada.
The City Says ...
The city responded to neighborhood dissent by admitting it could have done a better job informing the residents about the new design, which a spokesperson said has been in the works since 2013.
“We completely understand the frustration, you know, that it wasn’t rolled out with a complete educational outreach program,” Rivera told the community via Zoom. “We’re owning that, for sure. We messed up.”
The new design was based on a 2015 study that showed there were around 7,500 cars on Gold Coast Drive every day, according to the SDTD. Since that 7-year-old study was completed, Jonas Salk Elementary School opened on Gold Coast Drive and residents say it adds hundreds of cars to the daily tally.
SDTD representatives promised a closer look at more recent vehicle and bicycle traffic data in the area and said it could change Gold Coast Drive back to the way it looked before if the data doesn't fit the advisory bike lane project’s requirements. Future advisory bike lane projects in city limits are on hold while the city reviews Gold Coast Drive, according to the SDTD.
A spokesperson for Councilmember Chris Cate, who represents Mira Mesa, told NBC 7 on Friday that Cate was shocked at the city’s work and was not notified prior to the painting, nor was he aware of the design in the planning stage.
“We were surprised to see how the new lanes were painted. I’ve requested a briefing from the appropriate city departments to better understand why this decision was made,” Cate shared with NBC 7.
What Neighbors Say
“It makes no sense how you trash our communities with this crap and never tell anybody what is going on,” Mira Mesa resident Joe Frichtel said.
Residents say drivers are accustomed to taking one side of the road, and those who don’t know the new rules end up splitting the center lane and bike lane.
Alex Elward, a firefighter who lives in the neighborhood, has been critical of the advisory bike lanes, and thought the city’s newly installed road signs only made things worse.
“The traffic signs were kind of retaliatory today,” Elward told the city. “You put up 15 traffic signs over 1,200 feet of road, now the whole street is polluted with these traffic signs.”
On Friday, a resident likened the new street design to a dangerous game pitting driver against driver.
“You’re playing chicken and sooner or later there is going to be an accident,” Carmen Harris told NBC 7. “We didn’t have a problem. The bicycle lane [was] in the middle. We respect people not in vehicles because they are like pedestrians. They have the right-of-way.”
One Mira Mesa resident said the new look might actually make the street safe because it causes drivers to look twice.
“If the changes lead to drivers slowing down, some of the desired effects may have already been achieved.” Matt Schalles said.
Mira Mesa Community Planning Chair Jeff Stevens told NBC 7 there was no community outreach prior to the installation of the new striping design.
“It came as a complete surprise and generated a lot of confusion as to how people were supposed to drive in them,” said Stevens.
CHP statics show the four-block stretch of Gold Coast Road has only seen one injury accident in the last decade and it involved a truck and motorcycle and not a cyclist or pedestrian.
The headline has been updated to reflect that the city is considering next steps, not considering changing the street back to its original form at this time -- Ed.