Half Moon Bay city officials are rethinking a proposed project that would give a variety of traffic and drainage improvements along Poplar Street. The work was expected to provide safer access to pedestrians and cyclists on the popular thoroughfare.
At a Planning Commission meeting last month, several Poplar Street residents and planning commissioners said they were dissatisfied with the Poplar Street Traffic Calming and Safety Project because they believed it would not successfully reduce driving speeds or improve safety.
A key issue was the addition of paved shoulders for parking. Residents and commissioners said a widened corridor, even with the travel lane kept at the current width, was counterintuitive to the project’s original intent and wouldn’t reduce traffic speed.
“By widening the road, you’re basically inviting (drivers) to bomb through,” Commissioner Sara Polgar said. “Whereas, if you kept the pavement at the current width, it would be a lot harder for them to do that.”
The commissioners were more favorable to the addition of crosswalks and three traffic circles, believing they were effective for improving safety and reducing traffic speeds. Others took issue with the lack of a separate bike lane and not enough substantial improvements for Poplar Street east of Highway 1.
The Planning Commission requested the city redesign the project based on its feedback and bring it before the commission again in February. City staff members disagreed with the Planning Commission’s decision, saying that further delays could threaten the available grant money the city has for the project.
“We’ve been working on this for four years. If the council can give us their feedback, they have the authority to override and issue a (Coastal Development Permit), then the project can proceed without jeopardizing the grant money,” City Manager Bob Nisbet said.
In an unusual situation, after it was clear that the Planning Commission was not approving the proposal, staff requested commissioners deny the application of a CDP outright so the project, with suggested revisions, could be expedited to City Council as soon as possible. In that way, the city could potentially still meet the timeline requirements of the grant funding. Ultimately, the commission disagreed, confirming that it wanted to be presented with a redesign from the city in two months.
“I fully understand the risks and that we may miss out on the funding, but it’s a much bigger risk if the project went forward as is, without incorporating a redesign,” Polgar said.
The city is planning for this project to break ground in spring 2022. The work could take four to six months. Because plans call for sidewalks on the road east of Highway 1 up to the Main Street intersection, the city would remove six London plane trees from the southeast corner of Main and Poplar streets. To make up for the lost aesthetic and improve stormwater retention, the city would plant at least 30 trees along that section of Poplar Street.
City engineer Maziar Bozorginia noted that a primary aspect of the development is to provide ADA-compliant access. That’s a key requirement of the $1.2 million in grant funding the city received for the project from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2017. The project is estimated to cost at least $2.2 million and up to $4.5 million depending on whether the project incorporates both sides of the street. That means the city will need to make up a gap of between $1 million to $3.3 million through its general fund or a gas tax, which is the city’s proportional share of sales at gas pumps.
The project details additional curbs, gutters and landscaping to deal with stormwater flow. Bozorginia noted that the particular section of the plan will be modified to accommodate the two towering cypress trees that border Poplar Street between First and Second Avenue. These large trees are also expected to serve as traffic calming measures.
Since the inception of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, Bozorginia said many had requested safety improvements on Poplar Street given its reputation as a popular access point to the Coastal Trail from downtown.