Encinitas OKs redesign of Streetscape project

To accommodate future rail line improvements, Encinitas will redesign part of its long-proposed overhaul of Leucadia’s Coast Highway 101 and designate part of the construction work as “temporary,” the City Council unanimously decided last week.

Encinitas is now “on the right track,” said Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze, who suggested the idea several weeks ago.

Councilman Joe Mosca agreed, calling the redesign “a proposal that makes sense.”

Known as Leucadia Streetscape and more than a decade in the works, the project involves overhauling a 2.5-mile section of Coast Highway 101 from La Costa Avenue to A Street.

The main part of the project — reducing the number of vehicle lanes, creating six traffic circle roundabouts and adding bike lanes — will follow the existing plans and be permanent. What’s now scheduled for a redesign are the plans for the far eastern edge — the area between the main roadway and the railroad tracks.

Previously, the city’s plans called for wide, paved parking pods along the east side of the roadway, but those parking areas will be redesigned to make them longer and narrower. They’ll also have a gravel or decomposed granite surface rather than asphalt. These temporary improvements can be easily taken out later, allowing flexibility for future railroad double-tracking and rail trail projects, Hinze said.

In mid-February, just as Encinitas was starting to move into the final design stages for the Streetscape project, it got some unwelcome news from a regional planning agency — the San Diego Association of Governments. In a letter to the city, SANDAG wrote that the city’s Streetscape plans needed to be rethought because of railroad corridor issues.

Among other things, a portion of a regional, 44-mile Coastal Rail Trail may need to occupy part of the now-vacant space between the coastal highway and the railroad tracks, the letter stated.

In response to SANDAG’s concerns, city planning staff suggested reworking the entire Streetscape plans, eliminating the east-side parking pods and replacing them with on-street, parallel parking. Council members rejected that proposal late last month, saying they wanted the separate parking areas because of bicyclist safety concerns.

The city’s new proposal for temporary parking pod areas has SANDAG’s support, city Development Services Director Brenda Wisneski said, mentioning that SANDAG sent Encinitas a “concurrence letter” on March 20.

There is one downside with the temporary changes proposal, Wisneski said. The city’s tree-planting plans for the corridor will need to be put on hold because there’s no sense in planting trees that would later have to be removed, she said.

On Wednesday, March 27, the council heard from five public speakers on the Streetscape item. One person called the temporary changes a “beautiful, elegant solution,” one person asked for additional landscaping in the temporary area, and three other people spoke about the overall Streetscape plans — two of them were opposed and one was in favor.

The city next expects to seek a final project sign-off from the state Coastal Commission. Construction on the Streetscape project is scheduled to begin in November.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune