By Lela Panagides
There’s nothing remarkable about driving my son to school. It was a daily ritual built of necessity, that had an added bonus of built-in quality time with my son during the week. As we drove, we would see other neighborhood children walking, biking, skateboarding and scootering to school.
Sage Creek High School, Calavera Hills Middle School and Calavera Hills Elementary School are all centered around Cannon Road and College Boulevard. Our community’s children are frequenting these roads with insufficient safety infrastructure. Fifty miles per hour, which is often 60 mph or more when people are speeding, is too high to keep our children safe.
This dangerous and unacceptable circumstance — the risk these children took to get to school — is a policy failure of our city government. It’s why I founded the Calavera Hills Traffic Safety Group and it’s what pushed me to run for City Council.
With the traffic safety group, I saw first-hand how fellow parents, small business owners, community residents and other stakeholders like school crossing guards and traffic and mobility commissioners can sit down around a kitchen table and solve problems for our community. I saw Carlsbad at its best. I also learned about the cracks in our foundation, what I call managing the elephants while missing the termites.
Compounding the speed limit is increased traffic congestion on Carlsbad roads. Our city’s growth management plan, passed by voters in 1986, stipulates that no development can occur unless improvements are made to meet demands created by that development. And yet, the City Council, including current District 2 Councilmember Keith Blackburn, continued to approve development in Carlsbad even after being warned as early as 2011 that our intersections were failing performance standards.
For example, southbound Cannon Road to College Boulevard was inaccurately rated with a letter grade of “A” when it was actually an “F.” And this happened to over 14 intersections in Carlsbad. The City Council ignored these warnings for years.
Blackburn, my opponent in this election, has been a councilmember for the last 12 years. Every time he ran for office, he promised his constituents he would reduce traffic. But he ignored the appeals from his constituents about the inaccurate and misleading data. Blackburn approved all developments over the last 12 years except one, all of which have added even more traffic and congestion to our roads, making them more dangerous to cyclists and to children.
The choices made by our representatives on this issue have not been in line with the community vision and we need to correct our path.
My proposal to address these issues is two-fold. We must invest in safety and mobility needs for our residents; and we must leverage the impact of COVID-19 on mobility and transportation to create more options for our residents.
To invest in the safety and mobility needs of our community, we need to support policies that create more effective and accessible transportation options across our city and region. This means ensuring safe routes to schools; promoting adequate space and safe markings for bike lanes; providing free, accessible and convenient charging stations for all electric vehicles including cars, e-bikes and e-scooters; providing accessible options for seniors and disabled community members; and working with neighboring cities to create safe, connected bike and trail systems.
By increasing other mobility options, we can make a dent in traffic congestion. But that will also take a specific focus from leaders willing to hold developers accountable. Developers need to pay the fees, or do the work, to improve road capacity and traffic flow before they start building. It should be their responsibility to ready the community for the influx of new residents and increased traffic that comes with each project.
We need leaders on City Council who will ensure that traffic solutions align with our climate action targets and the city’s growth management plan. We also need some simpler, pragmatic reforms, like right-turn signals on busy streets near schools where children are crossing the intersection.
These are common sense solutions to everyday problems. The standards we must all hold our city planners and leaders accountable for are not just quantitative in nature, they are qualitative and go directly to the quality of life we enjoy and hope to enjoy for future generations. We are in a time of crisis and transition, but it can and must be a moment that we leverage for the long-term vision of Carlsbad.
Lela Panagides is president of her own leadership consulting business and is a candidate for Carlsbad City Council, District 2, in November.