For years Pacific Beach and La Jolla residents trying to reach northbound Interstate 5 have used a short cut to avoid the congested intersection of Garnet Avenue and Mission Bay Drive. (Several blocks north of Garnet, Mission Bay Drive become the freeway on-ramp.) Coming from the north, they drove south on Soledad Mountain Road and, instead of turning left on Garnet Avenue, they turned a block earlier, onto Felspar straight across Soledad Mountain Road. In both cases, they then wound their way through the residential streets onto Bluffside Avenue, which intersects with Mission Bay Drive near the on-ramp.
They can’t do that anymore, though. On August 6, the city’s engineering and development department completed work on a concrete median along Soledad Mountain Road that begins about one hundred feet north of Felspar and stretches south a block and a half to Garnet. The intersection of Soledad Mountain Road and Felspar is thus blocked off, and the reasons, according to John Tsiknas, senior traffic engineer, is safety. “We were having collisions with turning vehicles on Felspar,” he says. Getting the money to install a traffic light, Tsiknas adds, would have taken too long; putting in a four-way stop would have created even more congestion. So the median was the only acceptable alternative, since “we had to do something fast,” Tsiknas says. A city study found that last year seven accidents were caused by the lack of any sort of traffic barrier in the intersection; so far this year, the number stands at eight.
Community reaction is weighted against the median. Mikel Haas, an aide to City Councilman Mike Gotch, says his office has already received thirty complaints from inconvenienced motorists who claim the median has lengthened their treks to the freeway by as much as thirty minutes. Motorists also question the wisdom of bringing any more traffic to the intersection of Garnet and Mission Bay Drive, recently deemed by a city study the most dangerous intersection in the city. “I used the short cut at least two or three times a day,” says Kevin Lightcap, who lives on Agate Street several miles west of Interstate 5. “And even in light traffic, it takes me at least ten more minutes to reach the freeway.” Beth Holiday, who works in Pacific Beach and comes home to Clairemont each day for lunch, adds, “They’ve created a monster. Even at noon, it takes me twenty minutes to make what used to be a ten-minute trip – and I haven’t even tried five o’ clock rush-hour traffic yet.”
Tsiknas admits the median causes a delay, although he says it’s “more like five minutes, not ten or twenty.” And while the intersection of Garnet and Mission Bay Drive does, indeed, have the highest number of accidents in the city, Tsiknas maintains the accident rate – the percentage of vehicles using the intersection that is involved in accidents – is among the lowest. But to placate the complainers, he says, his department has subsequently synchronized the traffic signals along Garnet and Mission Bay Drive and also lengthened the left-turn arrow from Soledad Mountain Road onto Garnet by fifty percent.
Councilman Mike Gotch’s aide, Mikel Haas, adds that some people support the new median. “We’ve gotten three or four calls from people who live in the neighborhood,” Haas says, “thanking us for giving them back their streets, because those streets had been used as a thoroughfare to the freeway.” Donna West has lived on Felspar Avenue, just two doors east of Soledad Mountain Road, for two and a half years. “During the morning rush hour, our street was a solid wall of traffic,” she says. “It’s taken us an hour to get out of our driveway, and kids on their way to school (Bayview Elementary School is just a few blocks to the south) could never get across. Those cars wouldn’t stop for anything. And when the crews came to put in that median, all of us went out there and cheered.”