Carlsbad eyes Highway 101 corridor improvements

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The city of Carlsbad is pursuing a number of projects to enhance its nearly seven miles of coastline, much of it alongside the old Coast Highway, 101.

The city held a panel discussion and community meeting recently on the historic roadway’s past, present and future.

Experts in transportation and urban planning discussed examples of how to design public spaces so they meet the needs of residents as well as ways to make areas more pedestrian-friendly.

Peder Norby, a transportation and urban planning consultant and a Carlsbad resident, noted that the stretch of 101 that runs through Carlsbad was named Carlsbad Boulevard in 1953.

“It is one of the most scenic places in the world,” Norby said. “It rivals the South Rim road in the Grand Canyon. It rivals great places of natural beauty. It is the end of a continent and the beginning of a great ocean. It is our interface with nature.”

Carlsbad Assistant City Manager Gary Barberio served as moderator for the panel discussion, “Highway 101: Past, Present and Future,” which was attended by about 170 people at the Schulman Auditorium at the Carlsbad City Library on Dove Lane. Barberio said that enhancing the coastline is one of the City Council’s goals, and Carlsbad Boulevard is an important part of that effort.

“We won’t be speaking about any specific projects the city is contemplating in our Carlsbad Boulevard corridor,” Barberio said in introducing the panel. “Rather we’ll be looking at national, regional and local trends that might influence how we go about planning for Highway 101 in Carlsbad in the future.”

The panel consisted of three experts in transportation and urban planning:

Norby, currently special projects coordinator for the City of Carlsbad, served for 10 years as the city of Encinitas Highway 101 corridor coordinator. Norby is also a former San Diego County planning commissioner.

Dan Burden, director of innovation and inspiration at Blue Zone, is the former executive director of the nonprofit Walkable and Livable Communities Institute. Burden specializes in designing streets that are more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly to increase their use and promote economic development. Burden was named by Times magazine in 2001 as one of the “six most important civic innovators in the world.”

Kathleen Ferrier is the director of advocacy for Circulate San Diego, which supports better transit, sustainable land use and “complete streets,” which emphasizes making streets safer by designing them for all travel modes – driving, bicycling and walking.

Norby noted that, beginning about 100 years ago, Highway 101 became the major link for motorized travel between San Diego and Los Angeles and served that role until Interstate 5 assumed that task in the 1950s. As a result, Norby noted, parts of Carlsbad Boulevard are designed to accommodate 40,000 vehicles a day traveling at high speeds, although far fewer cars use the road today.

“Since Highway 101 opened as our first paved road, it’s always been adapting and changing,” Norby said. He said transportation is undergoing technology-driven changes today, and the road needs to adapt.

“Rural Carlsbad of pre-World War II is not the same as Carlsbad today, and our transportation values aren’t the same.”

Burden said that the post-World War II trend was for cities nationwide to design their roadways to accommodate the peak level of traffic, which may have lasted for only 15 minutes a day. The result, he said, is that roads induce traffic and do not accommodate the needs of most of the people most of the time.

He praised Carlsbad’s recent changes along Highway 101, noting that the city’s traffic engineers have narrowed travel lanes for cars, widened bike lanes and installed better pedestrian crossings.

“You’ve got a great treasure and prize in Highway 101,” Burden said. “Build to the future, not the past.”

Burden discussed traffic calming measures, such as building roundabouts, which keep traffic moving by maintaining a constant average speed, and providing street landscaping that enhances the community and makes it more attractive.

Ferrier noted that the city restriped Carlsbad Boulevard in the Village to narrow traffic lanes, widen bike lanes and add a buffer between bicyclists and parked cars. Such changes, she said, promote a safer street environment and attract more bicyclists and pedestrians downtown, which is good for the local economy.

Ferrier said that the city undertook that project in the least expensive way possible, by repainting the travel and bicycle lanes after the boulevard underwent routine repaving. She said Carlsbad’s approach has become a catalyst for other cities in the county to do the same, and it is natural for roadways to change and adapt.

The panelists encouraged city residents to be open to change and to be bold.

“It’s a new era,” Burden said.

“Highway 101: Past, Present and Future” was the fifth in a series of panel discussions on how future trends can affect the city. Previous discussions addressed the topics of autonomous vehicles, big data and open government, the future of energy and responding to rising sea levels.

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