ENCINITAS — These days, it’s common to see rows of cars parked in the dirt alongside the railroad tracks in Leucadia, particularly in the summer. And the trend hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“We don’t keep a count, but it certainly seems to be picking up,” said Glenn Pruim, Encinitas’ director of Public Works and Engineering. “Where we’ve really seen an increase is on the west side of the tracks in Leucadia, near the commercial businesses.
“People have found it’s easier to park in the rail right of way than in the neighborhoods,” Pruim added.
Fewer spaces are available in Leucadia, causing residents and visitors to park along the railway. So, NCTD and the city of Encinitas are drafting a cooperative agreement with the goal of cutting down on unauthorized parking and increasing the number of legal parking spots.
“There are more people parking near the railway, bringing more to cross the tracks, which is a safety concern,” Pruim said. “And the dust from cars can be an issue. Those are what we, the city and NCTD, worry about.”
NCTD owns the tracks and surrounding land. While it varies, NCTD’s right of way generally extends from the edge of the pavement on Coast Highway 101 to the edge of the pavement on Vulcan Avenue, according to Pruim.
He said the cooperative agreement would contain an outline of NCTD’s plans for its right of way.
Notably, NCTD plans on double-tracking some of the corridor. Depending on how much space is left, NCTD could potentially lease portions of the right of way to the city for parking.
As well as staking out portions of the railway, Pruim said the city might also look at converting vacant land in Leucadia into parking lots. This could ease the shortage of spaces, giving motorists less incentive to park along the rail corridor.
“It’s separate from the railroad conversation,” Pruim said. “But it’s all part of the parking solution. So, I think we’ll focus on the railroad rights of way, partly because it’s linear and you’re dealing with one owner, NCTD.
“But if we don’t think that solves our parking issues, we’ll start exploring options by looking around the city,” Pruim added.
He noted the Leucadia Streetscape, which calls for installing infrastructure, should help alleviate parking shortages.
J.P. St. Pierre, who owns Surfy Surfy in Leucadia, has a view of the tracks from his shop. He attributes the increase in cars near the railway to consumer demand outpacing Leucadia’s infrastructure.
“The tracks have become the place to park for the business corridor in the summer,” St. Pierre said.
And the railroad-parking trend accelerated due to more people checking out new businesses like Solterra, he said.
“I never thought I’d see cocktail dresses and heels walking across the tracks,” St. Pierre said.
He recommended that some of the popular restaurants set up a valet service during peak hours to solve some of the parking problems.
In addition to the cooperative agreement with NCTD, Pruim said the City Council signaled it would develop a larger rail corridor vision that would identify where to build planned railroad crossings and the rail trail — a bike path that will run parallel to the tracks.
“A lot will be happening in the rail corridor,” Pruim said. “So the city would have to be careful that any improvements we put out there aren’t thrown away.”
Technically, parking is unauthorized next to the railway.
However, because signage isn’t posted letting people know they’re trespassing, the Sheriff’s Department typically doesn’t issue tickets, Pruim said.
Reed Caldwell, chief development officer with NCTD, noted that historically tickets have only been issued to cars in Encinitas that park too close to the tracks.
Caldwell stated that the city and NCTD began discussing the cooperative agreement about four months ago.
Pruim said NCTD and the city are currently preparing a draft of the agreement. It will go before the Encinitas City Council and NCTD board for approval sometime next year. Although the agreement isn’t binding, it serves as guidance for how to move forward on parking and rail projects, he said.
“The railway is very integral to what we do as a city,” Pruim said.