Encinitas council approves pedestrian path on La Costa Avenue


Sparked by a neighborhood petition presented last summer, a pedestrian path and bike lane buffer will soon be painted on La Costa Avenue.

With a 3-2 vote, the Encinitas City Council last week approved the traffic measures on La Costa Avenue, from Vulcan Avenue to Interstate 5. Specifically, the changes include:

• Restriping to add a 5-foot pedestrian lane on the eastbound side, to go with an existing 5-foot bike lane;

• On the westbound side, adding a 3-foot buffer between the 5-foot bike lane and the car lane;

• Narrowing each side of the road from 15 feet to 11 feet to make way for the work.

Resident Elena Thompson said cars travel too fast on the thoroughfare, making it difficult to turn onto and off side streets. Further, she said, it’s unsafe for Leucadia residents to walk to the beach via La Costa Avenue, because there’s only a narrow bikeway, rather than a pedestrian path or sidewalk.

“The pedestrians are really the heart of the matter,” Thompson said, adding that a sidewalk would be ideal, but another solution is needed in the meantime.

Thompson first brought the problem to the Traffic and Public Safety Commission’s attention last summer with a petition to slow down cars and encourage walking on the road, which gained 40 signatures.

City staff recommended a solution that would have added a 3-foot buffer in each direction between the car lanes and the existing 5-foot bike lanes. This entailed narrowing the car lanes from 15 feet to 12 feet.

Rob Blough, the city’s traffic engineer, said under state law, pedestrians could walk in the bike lane.

He also expressed reservations about decreasing the road width to 11 feet. Among his concerns, Blough said motorists have to keep at least 3 feet from bicyclists when passing, which would be even more difficult with an 11-foot wide road.

A council majority said staff’s preferred option wouldn’t do enough to help pedestrians.

“Pedestrians do not feel safe walking in a bike lane, and cyclists don’t feel safe riding in a bike lane with pedestrians,” said Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, who made the alternative motion that was ultimately approved.

Shaffer added it would be tough at night for cyclists to spot pedestrians in the bike lane. She also said that the lanes could be restriped if the project is deemed unsuccessful.

Councilman Mark Muir voted against the motion, saying city staff hasn’t had the chance to fully review the pedestrian path.

“I don’t feel comfortable designing from the dais,” Muir said.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar expressed similar sentiments, adding she was reluctant to go against city staff’s recommendation, since they’re knowledgeable on traffic safety.

“They do carry great weight in my mind,” Gaspar said.

Glenn Pruim, Encinitas’ director of public works and engineering, cautioned the council from approving the pedestrian path that night. He asked that the item be brought back so that city staff has more time to familiarize itself with the feature.

Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear said residents at previous Traffic and Public Safety Commission meetings voiced support for pedestrian improvements on La Costa Avenue. She added thus city staff should have looked further into options for improving walkability.

“It’s a really awkward position I think the staff puts us in, by being opposed to what the community wants,” Blakespear said.

Councilman Tony Kranz said studies have shown that narrowing roads reduces car speeds, boosting safety. He later added that Shaffer’s motion is a hybrid between staff’s recommendation and another alternative that was unanimously backed by the Traffic and Public Safety Commission.

Staff’s recommendation would have cost $2,000, while the commission’s option was estimated at $9,000. The price tag and timeline weren’t specified for the approved motion.