ENCINITAS — After several weeks of construction, Encinitas’ Highway 101 Project is nearly finished, changing the way cyclists and pedestrians access local beaches and travel along the 101 and sparking debate among residents.
Low concrete barriers establish a protected lane for cyclists by separating north and southbound shoulders from traffic lanes, in full compliance with state and federal traffic guidelines.
However, pedestrians unfamiliar with the new traffic patterns have increasingly drifted into the bike lane, creating confusion and frustration among cyclists.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear related the city’s desire to balance the interests and safety of all residents.
“It’s a safety-driven project,” Blakespear said. “We want everybody to be safe… to still provide for vehicular traffic but also for bikes and pedestrians.”
Vice President of Swami’s Cycling Club, Rob Klingensmith, disagreed with the new lane’s construction entirely.
“This is not a path for sport cyclists,” Klingensmith said, sport cyclists differing from recreational cyclists in their speed, skill, and intention on the road.
“Our members were never going to ride inside a curbed, constrained path filled with pedestrians and without any safe way to pass,” Klingensmith said. “Swami’s members will occupy the number two, [sharrow], lane… and we’re certain that other clubs and cycling groups will do the same.”
Acknowledging that while sports cyclists may not find the new bike lane to their liking, Blakespear said recreational cyclists, leisurely biking to Encinitas beaches and local restaurants, will find the lane much safer for families.
“The city is trying to create safe public spaces for people to bike and walk places,” Blakespear said. “We have this amazing climate and an outdoorsy, active population of people who crave this. This project, along with the rail trail, is a key part of accomplishing that.”
Last week, as a part of the bike lane’s construction, the city commissioned a speed study in an effort to reduce the speed of traffic on the 101 from 45 miles per hour to either 35 or 30.
Many residents, including Encinitas mayoral candidate Julie Thunder, have publicly spoken out against the new bike lane. Thunder expressed concerns with the speed of highway traffic, and both a lack of signage and general public awareness, among other issues.
“It’s just too dangerous for cyclists to be right next to cars going that fast,” Thunder said, criticizing the Highway 101 project’s entire premise.
“This project was not needed,” Thunder said. “There were no repairs needed to be done, no public cry to fix the road or make it safer. It had been relatively safe for years. They’ve spent $800,000 on a project that wasn’t needed when the money could’ve been spent on other more important things.
“Now you’ve got people on cruiser bikes going slow in the sharrow lane, people walking in the cycle track… surfers and their boards, people with their dogs,” Thunder said. “It’s a mess.”
Thunder stressed the city’s need to clearly and publicly designate each lane for pedestrians or cyclists to prevent the rising number of accidents.
The Coast News could not verify the number nor cause of accidents within the new bike lanes. However, both Thunder and Swami’s Cycling Club claim at least four cycle-related accidents have occurred since the lane’s construction began in April.
During Blakespear’s most recent Facebook Live event on May 9, a resident asked whether Encinitas was a biking or beach community and if the city should cater to pedestrians or cyclists.
“We can be a beach town and a bike town,” Blakespear said. “This project is aimed at people going to the beach on bike or on foot. We have two beautiful state beaches, but we didn’t have a way for people to safely get there without facing parking issues or to get between the two existing rail trails. This gives people that safety.”
“It’s giving joy to residents right now when we’re cooped up inside and have so many other amenities closed around us,” Blakespear said. “The joy in being able to ride our bikes down to the beach.”
In the weeks leading up to summer, Blakespear confirmed the city will both decrease traffic speed and increase signage to better spread community awareness of how to properly use the new bike lane.
After multiple discussions at the city’s Traffic and Public Safety Commission, the Highway 101 Project was brought to City Council for public debate in September 2019. The project passed unanimously, but with opposition from cyclists.
The city also voted unanimously to designate the outermost lanes of the 101 as “sharrows,” or shared lanes for both cyclists and vehicles.
Caitlin Steinberg is a Leucadia resident who is covering all things Encinitas for The Coast News.
She is also a fine art photographer, as well as a military historian and CEO of Operation Green Faces, a 501(c)3 nonprofit preserving the oral histories of UDT & SEAL Team operators in the Vietnam War.