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Encinitas commission recommends lowering speed limit on southern part of Coast Highway

(Charlie Neuman)

The Encinitas Traffic and Public Safety Commission has unanimously endorsed a proposal to lower vehicle speed limits along the southern-most part of Coast Highway 101 to enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety, the board’s chairman said.

It’s the latest proposal to try to balance the needs of competitive cyclists, newbie bike riders, cars and pedestrians on the extremely popular coastal route, which has grown even more heavily used in recent weeks as people seek exercise options while under the coronavirus shelter-at-home order. Other efforts include narrowing the roadway lanes to slow vehicle traffic and a “buffered” bike lane project that’s nearly complete.

The protected bike lane area, which uses wheel-stops to prevent vehicles from entering the bike lane, has been controversial because it removes a roadway edge area popular with long-distance, sport cyclists and replaces it with a barrier-protected space that’s more likely to be used by low-speed, less-confident riders.

At last week’s commission meeting, city traffic engineer Abraham Bandegan told the commissioners that he has been “bombarded” with “nice and nasty emails” about the now-under-construction bike lane.

Many of the people who oppose the project are sport cyclists who “feel like they have lost something,” and that’s a position he can understand, Bandegan told the commissioners. In the new buffered bike lane, sport cyclists can’t achieve the 20-25 mph speeds they prefer because they have to weave their way through slower riders.

However, “sharrow” markers — paint signs on the pavement indicating that cyclists can use a full vehicle lane — have just been added onto the roadway, and that should help eliminate the conflicts over the buffered bike lane, he said.

Commissioner Michael von Neumann agreed, saying, “Putting the sharrows in made a big, big difference as far as I’m concerned. Too bad they couldn’t have gone in first.”

Bandegan said other changes, including special signage and more pavement paint, are still yet to come. The city is moving ahead earlier than previously planned with the speed limit reduction proposal because so many cyclists and pedestrians are now using the Coast Highway route for exercise, he said.

The new speed limit proposal, which will require City Council approval, calls for lowering the roadway speed limit from 45 mph to 40 mph from K Street to Chesterfield Drive, and from 45 mph to 35 mph from Chesterfield Drive to the Solana Beach city limits.

Traffic commissioners wanted to drop the limit to 35 mph for the entire stretch of roadway “because we felt it was confusing to have this short stretch” with a different speed limit, Chairman Peter Kohl said.

However, that wasn’t supported by the city’s traffic study, Bandegan told the commissioners. Under state law, cities can’t arbitrarily set lower speed limits than what’s supported by current vehicle speed data and the K Street to Chesterfield stretch only qualified for a 40 mph limit because it hasn’t received the recent traffic-calming changes, including narrowing the roadway lanes that the sections further south got, Bandegan said.

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


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