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Would narrowing El Camino Real make downtown Atascadero more walkable? A study says yes

A traffic plan for downtown Atascadero could narrow a stretch of El Camino Real from Rosario Avenue to Highway 41.
A traffic plan for downtown Atascadero could narrow a stretch of El Camino Real from Rosario Avenue to Highway 41. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A new Atascadero traffic study suggests reducing the number of lanes on El Camino Real could improve parking and walkability downtown with only minor traffic slowdowns.

City leaders have been exploring plans to narrow the road from Rosario Avenue to Highway 41, primarily to improve pedestrian safety and support the increasing number of small businesses opening in the area.

In November, the City Council approved a $100,000 traffic study to examine the impacts of turning the four-lane road into a two-lane road. The results will be presented to council members at their Tuesday meeting.

The study — conducted by San Diego-based KTUA and Central Coast Transportation Consulting in Morro Bay — suggests that reducing the number of lanes on the downtown stretch of El Camino Real would add 50 seconds of travel time for motorists driving north when the road is at its busiest.

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Renderings show street layout options for the stretch of El Camino Real that runs from Entrada Avenue to Traffic Way and Traffic Way to Rosario Avenue. Atascadero is exploring plans to reduce the number of lanes on the road to enhance pedestrian safety and aid economic development. City of Atascadero

Southbound drivers would experience only a nominal change in traffic at peak travel times.

The road sees the most traffic during school pick-up and drop-off times, as Atascadero High School and Atascadero Middle School are located nearby.

The study includes some alternative plans for different sections of the street, such as maintaining two northbound lanes from Entrada Avenue through Rosario Avenue to prevent traffic backups.

Bicycle lanes or shared lane markings would also be incorporated into most all of the layout options.

Nick DeBar, the city’s Public Works director, said the project would update El Camino Real, which still looks much like it did in the 1950s, when it was the precursor to Highway 101.

“You’ve got two kind of parallel expressways,” he said of the two roads.

Once the City Council weighs in on the study, staff members will develop plans for their approval. Then, the city would find funding sources, which could include grants or contributions from new businesses.

DeBar said the city would like to change the road’s layout during the next couple of years.

Phil Dunsmore, the city’s Community Development director, said modifying the road will help improve the downtown area’s economic prospects.

“It’s about making the downtown a place to go to, rather than go through,” he said.

The city will hold an open house at City Hall from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, just before the City Council meeting, to give residents and business owners the chance to review the results of the traffic study.

For more information, contact the city at 805-461-5000.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden
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