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Planning Commission recommends updated road standards

Nearly eight months after its initial hearing on updates to the County of San Diego’s public road standards, the county’s Planning Commission voted 7-0 December 18 to adopt recommendations covering the updated standards.

The adoption followed three continuances, one due to a longer-than-expected earlier agenda item and two in order to obtain further input from stakeholders. The activity since the original April 24 hearing also included three subcommittee workshops.

“We didn’t satisfy everybody a hundred percent,” said Planning Commissioner Leon Brooks. “But we’ve come a long way in providing standards for the county.”

Assuming that the San Diego County Board of Supervisors ratifies the Planning Commission recommendation, 19 new road classifications will be created. The updates also cover pathway, engineering, and driveway spacing standards while providing flexibility which balances community character with emergency service needs. The update will be the first to the county’s public road standards since 1999.

The update does not supersede community road standards.

“They have equal weight as the public road standards,” said county Department of Public Works traffic engineer Bob Goralka.

The 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.

The 17 additional circulation element classification categories would be 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 lanes, 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 lanes, 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.

The 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. The revisions would add the rural residential collector and rural residential road classifications.

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 standards for both include a total right-of-way width of 48 feet, a pavement width of 28 feet between the curb faces and a minimum pavement thickness of three inches of asphalt concrete pavement and six inches of Portland cement concrete pavement.

All circulation element road classifications have a minimum lane width of twelve 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 road and rural residential collector classifications also require 12-foot lanes.

The changes would also revise pathway standards to provide consistency with the county’s Community Trails Master Plan and update provisions to address current engineering practices. The 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 ten 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.

Currently driveways or private roads 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 revision would reduce the separation distance for driveways serving fewer than 20 dwelling units and entering a non-circulation element road to 100 feet.

The road standards update proposal was first heard by the Planning Commission on April 24. Community group representatives supported the additional classifications but expressed concerns that the road standards did not take into account rural community character and desired additional flexibility while San Diego County Bicycle Coalition executive director Kathy Keehan noted that the new or widened roads needed to accommodate bicycle traffic.

The Planning Commission formed a subcommittee, which held meetings on June 5 and July 17. The July 17 meeting saw the release of a draft document titled “Flexibility in County Road Design.”

The Planning Commission held a July 31 hearing where Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District fire marshal Cliff Hunter noted that fire safety professionals were not involved in the subcommittee meetings and noted that some proposed widths did not meet fire standards.

“We started off with the public being far, far apart on this,” Brooks said.

An additional subcommittee workshop was held September 25.

The current language of the revised County Public Road Standards now states that all requests involving exemptions to adopted community right-of-way development guidelines will require input and a written recommendation from the local community planning or sponsor group while all requests for exemptions involving road widths, angle of departure, or vertical clearance will require a letter from the fire authority with jurisdiction.

Although the director of the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use can override those recommendations, any such decision will involve a letter containing reasons for the director’s determination (A director’s decision can be appealed to the Planning Commission.). A project applicant may request an exemption by completing a request form which includes alternatives considered and consequences of compliance, and a community advisory group may recommend that an applicant process an exemption request if standards for the project do not conform to an established community plan for the area.

“I think it has considerably improved the options that communities have,” said Jamul-Dulzura Community Planning Group chair Dan Neirinckx.

Keehan argued that road standards need flexibility, not just exceptions, but she wasn’t dissatisfied with the changes.

“I think that the county is moving forward,” Keehan said.

“We just want to make sure that we can get our apparatus in and out,” Hunter said.

“We strongly support the new road standards,” said Valle de Oro Community Planning Group chair Jack Phillips.

Phillips expressed a desire for off-street parking on non-circulation element roads in denser residential subdivisions. He noted that when residents hold parties the lack of sufficient driveway parking forces cars alongside other residences.

“There’s really no place to park and there’s no access for emergency vehicles if they do things at the party that they shouldn’t,” he said. “This really creates a mess in a neighborhood. It seems that this is evolving to the point that we will not have adequate streets in our new residential neighborhoods.”

Improvements to existing public roads are often required as conditions of approval for development projects. The “Flexibility in County Road Design” guidelines encourage designers to consider all modes of transportation including pedestrian, bicycle, and equestrian traffic as well as automobiles.

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