ATASCADERO — Around 50 people turned up over the course of a two hour open house the City of Atascadero conducted Tuesday ahead of a packed City Council session.
Held to give the public some insight into plans for the El Camino Real Downtown Traffic Calming Study and Corridor Plan, the City’s consultants from San Diego-based firm KTUA literally laid out their plans for improvements staff said would boost safety for all modes of transportation and enhance opportunities for business in the downtown area.
“All we have right now are some general concepts and a lot of dreams,” said Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore, adding that the sense of a unique place in the community suffers when people drive 20 mph above the 25 mph speed limited stretch of El Camino Real, “we want the downtown to be something people drive to not through.”
Before delivering portions of the staff report later in the evening, Dunsmore discussed with residents the relative merits of angled, or even back-in, parking present in several of the route plans. Coupled with “flex space” parking in the center of the street, parking space numbers could be increased between 10 and 50 percent.
While there was concern over cyclists being struck by vehicles pulling out of the spaces suddenly, Dunsmore felt the current situation, where car doors open directly into the bike lanes without warning poses more danger.
Transportation Planner with KTUA, Joe Punsalan, said that it had taken roughly three months of study to come up with alternatives for the three legs of the 0.6-mile El Camino Corridor but one of their more unique ideas did seem to be a crowd favorite.
Alternative Two for the segment between Highway 41 and Traffic Way includes islands in the middle of the street for parking, as well as trees, and Punsalan added, an opportunity to place sidewalk markers with the history of the iconic El Camino route in the walk itself.
The resulting “flex space” could then be used for special occasions, booth space and the like, during events.
Even without vehicles present, the staff report notes, a difference in paving material would create a visual and texture difference, keeping drivers alert and in their own lane.
City Council reaction to the plans presented was largely in favor of the center street parking, but discussion also centered around preservation of turn-lanes, and where vehicle exhaust might be directed if angled spaces were introduced around businesses.
Unusual for a council meeting, said Mayor Tom O'Malley in that the body was being asked for input and direction and not yes or no decisions, he asked Council members to weigh in before remaining public comment, which started a full three hours after the end of the open house.
Some residents, like developer Mike Zappas, owner of the La Plaza property, were able to attend both events, but others said they were glad the event came first.
Camille Hayes, stopping by the open house with children ages 3, 6 and 7, said she’d seen a lot of success in other communities the family had lived where an effort had been made to revitalize the downtown.
“A slowed-down downtown makes it a much smaller close-knit town,” she said. “You see more people in your own community. Right now, we run into people we know from down the street at Target or in downtown Paso Robles.”
Input from young professionals or families with young children is often missing due to logistics, however, she added.
Ronald De Carli, Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, said that while his agency had not directly funded any of the City’s efforts thus far, while looking over the plans he said it seemed that Atascadero was on the right track, and that the cities of Pismo Beach and Paso Robles were good examples, where similar designs had worked to add “vibrancy” to well trafficked corridors.