Encinitas poised to revamp coastal highway through Leucadia


Anyone who has driven, biked or walked Highway 101 through the Encinitas community of Leucadia knows the discomfort of navigating the route while avoiding hitting someone or getting hit.

The Encinitas City Council approved a plan Wednesday, Nov. 14, that aims to severely reduce such traffic conflicts, thus improving safety.

The North Coast Highway 101 Streetscape Project also is designed to create a more serene, visually appealing experience along the city’s northernmost 2 1/2 mile stretch of the historic coastal highway, regardless of the transportation mode.

Council members voted 4-1 to approve the approximately $30 million project, based on modifications ordered by the California Coastal Commission in October.

After the council sent the plan to the state agency earlier this year, commissioners agreed to make their approval contingent on revisions to the language of the city’s Local Coastal Plan.

Municipal governments along California’s coast are required to adopt such plans to ensure they maximize public access to shoreline areas.

The modifications demanded by the commission focus on ensuring equal access to the beach among pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. The changes had no apparent effect on Encinitas’ blueprint for the 101 corridor’s overhaul.

“I really appreciate all the work that went into getting it to this point by staff and the community,” Councilman Tony Kranz said. “I’ve been involved in the planning for Streetscape for the 12 years of the life of the project and it really is a milestone.”

Councilman Mark Muir cast the “no” vote, but provided no comment during the council discussion on the reason for his dissent.

As the project evolved over the years, it attracted strong support as well as vigorous opposition, including an appeal to the Coastal Commission and a lawsuit against the city.

Many opponents disagreed with the project’s proposal to reduce that section of the highway’s automobile path between A Street north of downtown Encinitas to La Costa Avenue at the city’s northern border.

The road would shrink from two lanes on each side to one through-lane each way. Another lane would be dedicated to turns to cross-streets.

Objections also stemmed from the proposed installation of at least four traffic roundabouts along the route.

Opponents contended the squeeze on lanes and the roundabouts would exacerbate traffic congestion and motivate drivers to use neighborhood streets to get around jams.

Another concern was the ability of emergency vehicles to travel quickly, as voiced in Wednesday’s hearing by opponent David Smith, a Leucadia resident and former Los Angeles firefighter.

He contended the project, when constructed, could create a scenario such as the one that occurred over the last week in Northern California’s Paradise wildfire, in which motorists were trapped in their vehicles by walls of flames.

“When you look at this whole project, there’s a lot of things wrong with it,” said Smith, the only one among five speakers to voice objections.

Proponents applaud the concept for creating distinctly separated automobile lanes, bike lanes, walkways and parking spaces upon the highway segment’s length, eliminating the often dangerous, conflicting movements that occur now.

The new infrastructure also is expected to improve the curbside appeal of the famously rustic enclave, enhanced by the planting of about 1,000 trees.They would more than counteract the loss of several hundred mostly eucalyptus trees.

The city’s traffic analysis concluded the project will result in a smoother and safer, albeit slower, traffic flow. Motorists on Interstate 5 will be less tempted to exit the freeway for Highway 101 to bypass freeway congestion.

Throughout Southern California, the highway established almost a century ago ceased to be a high-speed route as cities and towns grew along the corridor.

Today, the thoroughfare’s southerly direction in Orange County discontinues in San Clemente, where drivers must get on I-5 to travel through Camp Pendleton until they reach Oceanside.

There, 101 picks up again as North Coast Highway, an urban street through the heart of the city’s downtown. It then continues into Carlsbad through that city’s coastal commercial core before opening back up into a more freely flowing four-lane highway en route to Leucadia.

South of Leucadia, the highway funnels into the thriving entertainment, restaurant and retail district of Old Encinitas, where traffic flow is interrupted by numerous signals and stop signs.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, construction of the Leucadia Streetscape improvements will begin by October 2019.

“I think this is a huge win for our city, and not just for my community in Leucadia,” said Roberta Walker, who applauded the project’s emphasis on sharing the road..

“I use several modes of transportation and when possible I like to choose my feet or my pedals over my steering wheel,” she said. “So the suggested modifications to target equity among all modes of travel to foster access to shoreline recreation areas is something I can get behind.”