Carlsbad gets funding for new Coastal Rail Trail segment

A cyclist rides on Carlsbad Boulevard just south of Avenida Encinas.
A cyclist rides north on Carlsbad Boulevard near Encina Avenue, which soon will be part of the Coastal Rail Trail.
(Phil Diehl / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Piece will link 2.5-mile stretch in Carlsbad with Encinitas


Carlsbad is finalizing plans for a 2.5-mile piece of the Coastal Rail Trail that will link the southwest corner of the city, a mixture of homes, hotels, businesses and recreational facilities, with Encinitas, its neighbor to the south.

Caltrans recently awarded Carlsbad a $1.77 million grant to build the segment on Avenida Encinas and Carlsbad Boulevard, and the city has budgeted $5.2 million in matching capital improvement money. The project includes almost two miles of bike lanes, sidewalks, signs and safety features such as high-visibility crosswalks with pedestrian-activated lights.

Avenida Encinas is a two-lane road that winds through commercial, industrial and residential areas and at times is closer to Interstate 5 than to the railroad tracks. The segment also has several North County Transit District bus stops and the Poinsettia Coaster Station, which has bike racks and bike lockers that riders can use while traveling by train to other destinations.

Engineering and design will continue through July 2022 and construction should begin in September 2022, said Nathan Schmidt, transportation planning and mobility manager, at a recent meeting of the city’s Traffic and Mobility Commission.

Some commission members asked why the rail trail can’t take a more direct route along Carlsbad Boulevard, which in most places is closer to the railroad tracks, or through some of the open areas next to the tracks.

“There are still environmental constraints in this area because it is biologically sensitive habitat,” Schmidt said. Also, construction costs are $9 million to $10 million per mile to build the trail along the railroad, so the Avenida Encinas route is less expensive.

“We see this as a great way to provide better access into the community here,” he said.

Also, the city is planning other improvements for the southern end of Carlsbad Boulevard, he said. The City Council recently discussed creating a “linear park” in the highway right-of-way along the coast from Palomar Airport Road to the Encinitas border.

Carlsbad Boulevard will remain an alternative for riders who don’t want to stick to the rail trail, Schmidt said. Also, there’s a chance that someday the city will have the money to build a separate bikeway closer to the rails.

To reach the proposed rail trail segment, northbound cyclists from Encinitas will take Carlsbad Boulevard until they reach the intersection with Avenida Encinas. There they turn right onto Avenida Encinas and take it north to Palomar Airport Road, where it connects with another segment of the trail.

Building the route along Carlsbad Boulevard from North Coast Highway in Encinitas avoids the prohibitive cost of building a separate bridge beside the railroad trestle that crosses the Batiquitos Lagoon on the border of the two cities.

The Coastal Rail Trail was initially planned in the mid-1990s as a continuous bicycle route that follows the railroad tracks from Santa Fe Station in downtown San Diego to the Oceanside Transit Center in Oceanside. It is being built in segments by the San Diego Association of Governments and the various cities traversed by the trail.

Most of the cities have finished at least part of the trail. However, in some spots logistics have forced the route away from the tracks and onto side streets or the old Highway 101, which has a different name in most of the cities it crosses.

Encinitas completed a 1.3-mile piece in 2019 that connects the downtown area with Swami’s Beach and Cardiff to the north. The entire segment is on the east side of the tracks, along San Elijo Avenue between Santa Fe Drive and Chesterfield Drive, with underpasses beneath the tracks connecting to South Coast Highway at each end.

Solana Beach finished its entire 1.7-mile segment along the west side of the tracks in 2004, a stand-alone bikeway for riders of all abilities. Pedestrians and joggers also use the route, which won awards for its design and artwork.

Carlsbad has completed two sections. One is a separate bikeway between Tamarack and Oak avenues along the east side of the railroad tracks in the downtown Barrio neighborhood. The other piece consists of bike lanes going north on State Street from Oak Avenue to the roundabout and ends at the Oceanside border.

A missing piece of the trail in Carlsbad would go between Tamarack and Cannon Road, where the railroad crosses the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. That section probably won’t get built for several more years until funding and logistics for crossing the lagoon are worked out. City officials have said a narrow bridge built next to the railroad crossing in 2016 to carry utility pipes and lines could also accommodate the rail trail.

Oceanside has finished two pieces of the trail. One is a separate bikeway on the west side of the tracks that goes from the downtown Transit Center to Oceanside Boulevard. The other, also a bikeway, is along Broadway Street from Cassidy Street to Vista Way.

Planning is under way for two more sections. One of those would connect Oceanside Boulevard to Cassidy and would include a pedestrian and bicycle bridge across Loma Alta Creek at Buccaneer Park. The other would be a short link from the end of Broadway to connect with South Coast Highway.