Commission forms road standards subcommittee

A subcommittee of the San Diego County Planning Commission will be working with community planning and sponsor groups, the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, and other interested parties to refine updates for county public road standards.

During an April 24 commission hearing, one 7-0 vote continued action on the road standard updates to June 19 and another 7-0 vote formed a subcommittee with county planning commissioners Leon Brooks, Peder Norby and John Riess.  

Commissioners Michael Beck and David Pallinger will serve as alternates on the subcommittee, which is expected to meet at least twice before the June 19 hearing.

The April 24 hearing saw numerous Valley Center residents express concerns that the road standards did not take into account rural community character.  

“Only a broad range of design options can provide roads for different places,” said Lael Montgomery, who lives on McNally Road in Valley Center.

Chris Anderson, chair of the Ramona Community Planning Group, expressed interest in having a Ramona representative on the subcommittee. Valley Center Planning Group will be involved and, Bonsall Sponsor Group Chair Margarette Morgan, who was not able to attend the commission meeting, has expressed an interest in the subcommittee.

“I’m glad they gave us some more time to work it out,” Anderson said.

“Community character’s very important, especially in places like Valley Center,” Brooks said.

“I think we need to keep these rural standards as much as possible,” Norby said.

Concerns at the hearing and in writing from planning groups and residents didn’t object to the proposed additions but hoped that additional elements would protect rural community character.  

“We do appreciate the new road classifications.  This is progress,” Montgomery said.

Existing circulation element road classifications are expressway, prime arterial, major road, collector, town collector, light collector, rural collector, rural light collector, rural mountain and recreational parkway. Proposed revisions would add 17 new categories: major road with intermittent turn lanes, boulevard with raised median, boulevard with intermittent turn lanes, community collector with raised median, community collector with continuous left turn lane, community collector with intermittent turn lane, community collector with passing lane, community collector with no median, light collector with raised median, light collector with continuous left-turn lane, light collector with intermittent turn lane, light collector with passing lane, light collector with no median, light collector with reduced shoulder, minor collector with raised median, minor collector with intermittent turn lanes and minor collector with no median.

Existing non-circulation element road classifications are residential collector, residential, residential cul-de-sac, residential loop, industrial/commercial collector, industrial/commercial, industrial/commercial cul-de-sac, frontage, alley and hillside residential.  Proposed revisions would add the rural collector and rural residential classifications.

“Valley Center supports the road standards extension,” said Chair Oliver Smith. “We see this as a positive step towards developing more context-sensitive roadways in rural areas.”

The last update of the county’s public road standards was in July 1999. The proposed changes would revise pathway standards to provide consistency with the county’s Community Trails Master Plan and update provisions to address current engineering practices. Pathway updates incorporate existing Community Trails Master Plan design and construction guidelines, eliminate the requirement that the pathway be contiguous with the curb, and provide clarification that additional right-of-way may be necessary where pathways are required to exceed 10 feet in width.  

The revisions to address current engineering standards would update reference documents, eliminate the requirement that sidewalks be contiguous to the curb, include additional guardrail evaluation and installation guidelines consistent with the California Department of Transportation traffic manual, refer to industry standards and guidelines regarding the evaluation and installation of roundabouts and signalized intersections, refer to engineering guidelines regarding intersection sight distance criteria, and reduce intersection spacing criteria for private driveways and private roads which intersect with a public road and serve no more than 20 dwelling units.

Driveways or private roads now must be separated by at least 300 feet if entering a circulation element road and by 200 feet if entering a non-circulation element road. The proposed revision would reduce the separation distance for driveways serving fewer than 20 dwelling units and entering a non-circulation element road to 100 feet.  

“I don’t think there’s any compromise in safety because we’d still be getting the sight distance at the driveways,” said county Department of Public Works Traffic Engineer Bob Goralka.

“The developers and the designers and the engineers will have options,” Beck said.

“I like the idea that you’ve written in roundabouts,” said Commissioner Bryan Woods. “You’ve given us the ability to deal with individual projects better.”

A rural residential collector would be designed to accommodate an average daily traffic volume of between 1,500 and 4,500 vehicles while a rural residential road would service an average volume of less than 1,500 vehicles. Both are intended to serve areas with lot sizes of at least two acres, and on-street parking would be prohibited.  

The Valley Center Community group singled out a proposed project in Valley Center in which a recent scoping letter contradicts the planning group’s desires and calls for Castle Creek Road to be widened to 48 feet with concrete curbs, gutters, and sidewalks.  

“We are not asking to challenge technically based road design standards,” Smith said. “We are asking for the reasonable ability to appeal issues like the one I just mentioned.”

While the ability to contest portions of a proposed project at a Planning Commission hearing mitigates the need for an appeal at the administrative level, the commissioners agreed that the road standards needed to account for rural community character.

“A 40-foot right-of-way is not rural by definition,” said Commissioner Adam Day.

“No matter what the context, capacity and design speed determine the design of the road,” Montgomery said.

“We have a desire in the rural areas to cluster our development,” Norby said.  “What we’re seeing is kind of an urban project in a rural area.”

Norby’s professional experience includes Downtown Encinitas along Old Highway 101. That road was built to a design standard of 70 mph in 1937 when it was the primary north-south route between San Diego and Los Angeles.  Various communities along Old Highway 101 are trying to reduce traffic speed to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle patrons of local businesses.

Norby noted that a road project can be successful from an engineering standpoint but cause damage to a town.

“Roads are like rivers,” he said.  “If we modify a river we can change the banks of that river, and if we modify a road we can change the banks of that road.”

Kathy Keehan, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said that bicycle traffic was essentially considered a footnote in the road standards.

“These road standards are not going to do it,” she said.  “That’s not getting us where we need to go.

 “Everyone needs to be able to use these roads,” Keehan said.

“You need to make sure that there is space for bicyclists.”

Woods concurred that if suitable bicycle space was not provided the bicyclists and automobiles would be sharing the main traffic lanes.  

“I think it creates more problems,” he said.

Norby noted that reduced lane width is often effective in slowing traffic and desires to see a relationship between design speed and lane width.  All circulation element road classifications have a minimum lane width of 12 feet as do all non-circulation element residential road classifications other than hillside residential, which does not have a specific minimum width.  

The proposed rural residential and rural collector classifications also require 12-foot lanes.

“I think it’s worth staff’s time to create a focus group,” Woods said.

   
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