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Encinitas moving on plan for safe walking routes

Encinitas residents at one of the workshop sessions for the Let’s Move Encinitas project.
Encinitas residents at one of the workshop sessions for the Let’s Move Encinitas project.
( / Courtesy photo)

Making the city’s streets safer for pedestrians — around schools and throughout the community — is the goal of Let’s Move Encinitas, a project that has been under way since 2012 and is nearing completion.

The end product of Let’s Move Encinitas will be a comprehensive plan for safe walking routes that includes community priorities for safety improvements around schools and popular walking routes.

That plan is scheduled to be presented to the City Council for review in January, said Christy Villa, an associate civil engineer with the city’s Engineering and Public Works Department, who is project manager for Let’s Move Encinitas.

By the end of June, a “ranking tool” will be put up on the project’s website, letsmoveencinitas.org, where residents can prioritize a list of infrastructure improvements identified during a series of workshops last fall and this spring, as well as “walk audits” around neighborhood schools.

The draft plan will be presented to residents this fall during workshop sessions. It will include prioritized lists of projects — customized for specific schools and neighborhoods — designed to make pedestrians safer. The lists could include such improvements as enhanced crosswalks, signs, pedestrian underpasses, sidewalks and traffic-calming devi-ces such as roundabouts.

“It’s not just students who want to walk to school, but people want to walk downtown, to the beach, parks, the post office,” said Villa. “A comprehensive plan will benefit not only students, but people of all ages who want to get to the great destinations in our city.”

The city worked with the nonprofit group Circulate San Diego in a successful application for a $183,000 grant from the California Department of Transportation to fund the project, along with a $27,000 contribution from the city, for a total project budget of $210,000.

The effort was launched in 2012, and the program includes a task force made up of representatives from city neighborhoods and public agencies, said Villa. The task force meets monthly.

Along with the workshops and walking tours around schools, the project has a strong social media presence through its Facebook page and Twitter feed, Villa said. Some 800 people contributed online suggestions for safety improvements after the fall and spring workshops.

“We see that as really good participation,” Villa said. “We’re seeing a lot of people being actively engaged online.”

Each community and school has different goals and needs when it comes to safe walking routes, and the plan will seek to accommodate that diversity, Villa said.

While the plan doesn’t include funding for infrastructure projects, it should help the city seek grant money for such work, according to project organizers.

“Really, what it does is position the city... it makes the grant applications more competitive,” said Leah Stender, a former program manager with Circulate San Diego who worked on the Encinitas project since its inception. “It will give them a leg up over another community that hasn’t done the extensive outreach that we have.”

Stender, who has worked on a number of similar projects around San Diego County, said Encinitas residents participated at a high level.

“Out of all the projects I’ve done, I’ve definitely gotten the most community input for this particular plan,” she said. “There’s just a huge community involvement … it’s absolutely fantastic.”

Other cities have had success in using their safe-routes plans to obtain grants, said Stender. La Mesa, for example, has received about $3.5 million in grants over the past four or five years after completing its own plan.

Along with the practical purpose of providing a blueprint for the city in prioritizing pedestrian safety projects and obtaining grants, the process of compiling Encinitas’ plan also allowed city residents to have a say on an important issue, said Mim Michelove. She is participating in Let’s Move Encinitas both as a representative of the Encinitas Union School District, and as a resident of “new Encinitas,” which is centered on the El Camino Real corridor.

Encinitas students and parents are already using alternative means of getting to school, from walking and biking to skateboarding and car-pooling, said Michelove. District schools placed first and second for two years in a row in the countywide “Walk, Ride and Roll to School Challenge,” put on by iCommute and the Safe Routes to School Initiative, said Michelove.

“I’m hopeful the city will take this data and pursue more grant funds and put them into action to meet the needs of the community,” Michelove said.

“I thought it was a very positive experience. These people made me feel like anybody can be part of the process and the process can work.”


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