ENCINITAS — A seemingly innocuous transportation update on the San Elijo Lagoon Double Track Project turned into a heated disagreement at Encinitas City Council on Sept. 26 that boiled down to who wields inter- and intra-agency authority.
At issue was the Chesterfield Drive intersection at the rail crossing with South Coast Highway 101 and San Elijo Avenue in Cardiff. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) will completely remove the sidewalk on the south side of that intersection as the double tracking progresses.
Due to the grade and surface-elevation changes expected from widening the intersection to accommodate the second set of train tracks, SANDAG has said it’s infeasible to keep the original sidewalk there.
Encinitas City Manager Karen Brust explained during the Sept. 26 meeting that the city asked SANDAG to come up with options that would serve as alternatives to removal.
A report from City Engineer Chris Magdosku explains that SANDAG ruled out building a new sidewalk on the south side due to concerns that re-permitting would significantly delay the project. Installing a crosswalk there would also cause “substantial traffic backups” during peak hours, according to the report.
SANDAG decided that the most feasible alternative was to establish a bike lane on the south side once the sidewalk is removed. Magdosku’s report states that the bike lane “would not result in delays in construction” and would provide “enhanced and safer bicycle connectivity.”
The bike lane, which will be five feet wide, is not expected to impact vehicle traffic, according to Jessica Gonzales, associate public information officer at SANDAG. She explained that the north side of the intersection will have a bike and pedestrian path between 10 and 16 feet wide.
Brust asked the City Council to make a motion and vote on whether to accept the bike lane. Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear asked why that was necessary since SANDAG was making the decisions, not the city. Blakespear said, “I’m not happy about taking out the sidewalk, and I would prefer not to be voting on that if it’s not necessary.” She added, “This is SANDAG’s project.”
Brust replied, “It is SANDAG’s project; however, I want to ensure that the council is giving direction of the changes to their project.” City Attorney Glenn Sabine backed Brust’s request for a vote, saying it was “reasonable and makes sense in my mind.”
When Councilman Tony Kranz moved to take a motion, Blakespear said, “I actually think that this is out of order.” She explained that the authority rested with SANDAG.
Bruce Smith, a SANDAG project manager, was asked to weigh in and said his agency did not need any direction. Brust replied to Smith that he brought options before city staff, and she wanted to make sure that the council was comfortable with choosing the bike lane.
Kranz expressed that he didn’t see what the problem was with taking a vote, while Blakespear reiterated that she did not support voting on the “discretionary decisions” of another agency.
Blakespear told her fellow council members, “I don’t want the sidewalk taken out. I think it will reduce mobility in the city.” She called it a “poor part of this project” but noted that a bike lane there was better than nothing. The mayor moved the meeting on to the next agenda item without taking a vote.
Gonzales said the south side bike lane will be open for use in mid-2019 once the double-tracking project is completed. The city would not answer questions about the intersection, stating that it was SANDAG’s project.