Encinitas residents divided over location of rail trail route


Call it east versus west.

Encinitas residents were divided over whether the coastal rail trail in Cardiff should run along San Elijo Avenue or Coast Highway 101 during an April 21 meeting at Cardiff Elementary School.

Originally, the rail trail — a separated path for bikers and walkers — was planned east of the train tracks along San Elijo Avenue. But the regional planning agency SANDAG began looking to Coast Highway 101, since it would be difficult to put the rail trail on the narrow portions of San Elijo Avenue. In that instance, retaining walls would then be required on parts of the road to stave off erosion.

SANDAG held the meeting to get feedback on which route residents prefer for the first segment of the rail trail, which will run from Chesterfield Drive in Cardiff to E Street in downtown Encinitas.

Among the crowd of about 75, resident Julie Thunder expressed concern that putting the rail trail on San Elijo Avenue would trigger an adjacent fence.

“We should not put millions into developing a natural area that’s going to create a fence,” Thunder said.

It was revealed at the meeting that a small fence would indeed be required in order for the trail to be built on San Elijo Avenue, according to planning officials. But advocates of placing the path on San Elijo Avenue pointed out that regardless of where the trail goes, North County Transit District is planning to fence the corridor in the long term.

In response, Thunder said such long-term plans are less likely to come to fruition.

Resident Michele Jacquin said she’d like to bike and walk more along San Elijo Avenue, but the road doesn’t support either of those options.

“Cars go way too fast, and there’s no place for me on the road,” Jacquin said in favor of the San Elijo Avenue alternative.

Others said that residents would be more likely to use the rail trail on San Elijo Avenue, because it would better connect Cardiff neighborhoods and businesses.

However, some observed that if it’s on San Elijo Avenue, parking would be taken away from the road’s west side. With the path there, parallel parking would be required; cars now park perpendicularly on the dirt stretch.

Some simply voiced opposition to any fencing. Residents noted there are few places to legally cross the tracks, saying fencing would further impede coastal access.

One resident adamantly said that he’d take pliers to any fences that go up.

The fencing, according to officials, would be similar to the small post-and-cable fence next to the Santa Fe Drive undercrossing.

Dahvia Lynch, North County Transit District chief planning officer, said a fence is planned in the long term, though it’s not been designed or funded. She added that more legal crossings would have to be a part of any fencing.

According to preliminary estimates, the San Elijo Avenue option would cost $6 million to $7 million, and Highway 101 would run $4 million to $5 million, stated Chris Carterette, an active-transportation planner with SANDAG.

SANDAG has budgeted $5.1 million for the first segment. Those funds come from Transnet, the region’s half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.

On Highway 101, a short physical barrier would separate the rail trail from the road. In addition to the rail trail, a northbound and southbound bike lane, delineated by paint, are also possible.

However, making space for this option could mean eliminating one northbound lane on parts of Highway 101, or even one lane in each direction.

SANDAG officials have said traffic studies would have to support any lane reduction.

Construction is scheduled to start on the rail trail in 2017.

SANDAG envisions the path one day spanning 44 miles. The trail can already be found in places like Solana Beach.

“You want to give people a place to ride where they feel comfortable,” Carterette said.