Leucadia Streetscape plans remain in place, but concerns still loom

Coast+Highway+101+grates+can+be+found+throughout+downtown+Encinitas%2C+installed+as+part+of+a+streetscape+project+several+years+ago.+A+similar+project+is+now+slated+for+Leucadia.+%28Photo+by+Jill5141%2C+iStock+Getty+Images%29
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Leucadia Streetscape plans remain in place, but concerns still loom

Coast Highway 101 grates can be found throughout downtown Encinitas, installed as part of a streetscape project several years ago. A similar project is now slated for Leucadia. (Photo by Jill5141, iStock Getty Images)

Coast Highway 101 grates can be found throughout downtown Encinitas, installed as part of a streetscape project several years ago. A similar project is now slated for Leucadia. (Photo by Jill5141, iStock Getty Images)

Coast Highway 101 grates can be found throughout downtown Encinitas, installed as part of a streetscape project several years ago. A similar project is now slated for Leucadia. (Photo by Jill5141, iStock Getty Images)

Coast Highway 101 grates can be found throughout downtown Encinitas, installed as part of a streetscape project several years ago. A similar project is now slated for Leucadia. (Photo by Jill5141, iStock Getty Images)

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After more than a decade, the city of Encinitas aims to begin construction of the Leucadia Streetscape Project in October, pending full approval of the project plans from the California Coastal Commission, anticipated in August.

The project is a redesign of the approximately 2.5-mile stretch of North Coast Highway 101 from the intersection at A Street to the intersection at La Costa Avenue. The intention of the project is to create safer traveling conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists who frequently travel along the crowded road.

In addition, the City Council also aims to make travel safer for motorists by lowering the speed limit, reducing road lanes from four to two, and creating up to six roundabouts at various intersections.

However, the project has faced opposition from some members of the community.

Encinitas Residents Coalition President Leah Bissonette said that she and numerous members of the community she has spoken to while canvassing the neighborhood have expressed concern about the reduction of lanes the project proposes.

“What we get from people is they say ‘no the city wouldn’t do that, that would be insane,’” Bissonette said.

Supporters of the coalition have rallied behind the motto “One Lane? Insane!” circulating through social media and fliers located around Leucadia.

The coalition is now attempting to stop the current project proposal through legal action. It has filed an objection to the Coastal Commission in hopes that the project will be resolved in a way that is more acceptable to the community.

Additionally, it has filed a writ in the Superior Court to challenge the city’s Environmental Impact Report, in which Bissonette said she believes “a number of things were overlooked,” including traffic and emergency vehicle response times.

The coalition has begun a GoFundMe account to help pay for legal fees, which has so far raised just over $2,500. It has also received checks for various amounts.

Although the streetscape project has no shortage of critics, there are also many in the community who feel the project is long overdue.

Fred Caldwell, a business owner who runs an antique shop on the Leucadia highway, is one such person. Caldwell noted that several of the improvements that are going to be made to the street by the project are ones that have been desired by the community for around two decades.

“We want trees, better sidewalks, lighting at night, bike lanes, better drainage,” Caldwell said. Designated bike lanes were of significant importance as Caldwell has seen safety issues with bicyclist along the road in the past.

“A couple years ago, there were no markings at all for bicycles for two miles along here,” Caldwell said. “And that’s when we had our worst problems; people were getting ‘doored’ in front of my shop, where the car door opens and the guy on the bicycle goes head over heels.”

Caldwell said he believes the addition of roundabouts and street lamps at night will provide a higher level of safety for those traveling the route.

Doug Fiske, a resident of Leucadia who lives west of Highway 101, said he disagrees with the notion that roundabouts will make the street safer, however.

In a blog dedicated to the opposition of the project, Fiske asserts that statistics cited by the city touting reduction of vehicle accidents apply to larger four-way intersection roundabouts, not the smaller T intersection roundabouts proposed in the project.

Fiske also noted that bicyclists traveling through these roundabouts would either be required to step off their bikes and travel through the pedestrian crosswalks or enter the roundabouts alongside motor vehicles, leading to reduced bicyclist safety.

Fiske also shared the concerns of the Encinitas Residents Coalition regarding traffic buildup.

A sign welcomes drivers to Leucadia, pictured Aug. 12, 2017, southbound at La Costa Avenue and Coast Highway 101. The stretch of historic highway through Leucadia is slated for major changes in the coming months. (Photo by Doug Berry, iStock Getty Images)

During a City Council meeting March 21, Fiske shared photos he took of various traffic jams he had been stuck in as a result of motorists from Interstate 5 converging onto Highway 101. He proceeded to assert that the traffic would only be exacerbated by the reduction of lanes.

He further expressed concern that the increased traffic would lead to spillover traffic on the two streets adjacent to Highway 101, Vulcan and Neptune avenues.

However, Councilman Tony Kranz rebutted Fiske, contending that motorists from Interstate 5 would not tolerate the longer traffic.

“I assure you that people will not back up past La Costa Avenue,” Kranz said at the meeting. “They will divert to (Interstate) 5 and sit in the traffic and move faster.”

Kranz is a proponent of the project, and voted to approve moving forward with it in March.

“We have currently a highway that was designed decades ago, and has really not seen any significant improvements over the last many years,” Kranz said in an interview. “We are working with a plan that has been, I think, well thought out.”

Kranz emphasized that the project’s primary goal has been to create a streetscape that is much safer and friendlier to pedestrian and bicycle travel, and he said he believes that the City Council has taken adequate steps to ensure that.

“It isn’t all about moving cars as fast as you can,” Kranz said. “It’s about creating a place for people to gather, and to enjoy the beauty of our community.”

The Leucadia Streetscape Project remains a topic of controversy among residents and business owners along the stretch of highway.

“I think whether the design itself actually turns out to be OK or not, I think the problem is that a lot of people feel kind of slighted and feel kind of angry that their input wasn’t taken into effect,” said Jean Paul St. Pierre, who goes by J.P., a business owner of the Surfy Surfy Surf Shop on the Highway 101

St. Pierre said he is generally supportive of the project, such as the idea of more crosswalks and the addition of parking spaces, but still holds some reservations.

“I think it’s perfectly natural for a city to invest in infrastructure every 50 years to keep it going,” St. Pierre said. “Overall, do I think we should have a streetscape? Yes. But I don’t like seeing all the angst and anxiety and people yelling at each other; it’s kind of split the town apart.”

Linus Smith is a North County freelance writer

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