NORTH COUNTY — The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG), a regional body whose board is comprised of elected representatives from the County and area municipalities met in the City of Atascadero on April 3.
Among their agenda items were two local presentations from County Planning Staff and the City of Atascadero Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore covering the planned Templeton to Atascadero Connector Bridge and Traffic Calming for Downtown Atascadero, respectively.
On track for 2021 the TAC bridge would provide a safe bicycle and pedestrian route between the communities. Local cyclists may have noted that Google Maps and other popular route-finding GPS software will currently send them onto Highway 101, a practice usually discouraged for non-motor vehicles.
Dunsmore explained to the SLCOG board why the City is looking at “Traffic Calming” along the El Camino corridor through Downtown as well, noting that the current design, in essence, places two Highways side by side since 101 carved through the City in its current alignment in the 1950s.
“El Camino used to be 101,” he said. “A better term would be ‘Complete Streets,’” he said of their plans to reduce the flow of traffic on the corridor between the Sunken Gardens and the new La Plaza development, “what we really need is a thriving downtown.”
With Paso Robles Councilmember Fred Strong of Paso Robles as SLOCOG Board president, the meeting sacrificed on time for the locally oriented presentations, as attendees got a sense of what regional cooperation can mean for resource allocation.
The meeting schedule was delayed from the start by an item seeking the closure of an accident-prone intersection on Highway 101 in Arroyo Grande. While the Caltrans, the state agency responsible for the highway system, was onboard to act with urgency if requested, City management from Arroyo Grande wanted assurances that any impacts to their local economy would be offset.
Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno spoke up wondering if that meant a resource allocation from SLOCOG as a whole for a project with limited regional benefit.
Likewise, District 5 County Supervisor Debbie Arnold noted that there were numerous such intersections throughout the North County which were not benefiting from this level of scrutiny.
The $30,000 assessment process looked at the impacts of restricting left turns on the stretch of Highway 101 spanning the of intersections El Campo Road, Tower Grove Drive, and Hemi Road.
James and Becky Grant wore black T-shirts with the face their son Jordan, and a social media campaign to close the intersections at the meeting.
Jordan Grant was a computer engineering freshman in October 2018 when his motorcycle collided with a BMW sedan making a left turn at El Campo. Since then his parents have traveled from their home in Plano, Texas, to every public meeting regarding the intersection and asked others to lobby for its closure.
One Atascadero resident in attendance said she had not planned to speak, but managed to relay quite quickly the devastating impact, and ongoing post traumatic stress, she’d experienced after a similar accident in the study corridor, noting that it cost her a career as a traveling nurse and her health.
The next step in the process will be for Caltrans to draft plans for the closure, with their spokesman at the meeting Jim Shivers noting that, judging from public reaction, it was one of the times, “real news was made in a SLOCOG meeting today.”