ENCINITAS — Bicyclists aren’t out of the woods yet.
The California Coastal Commission will rule if a new bike lane can remain on Coast Highway 101 during a public hearing, likely to be held in several months. So far, two residents and two state coastal commissioners have filed appeals against the project, triggering the hearing.
Recently, a traffic lane north of Leucadia Boulevard was eliminated to make way for an 8-foot bike lane, despite objections from the Coastal Commission.
A month ago, the Coastal Commission urged the city to hold off on the bike lane, arguing the project requires a Coastal Development permit, as well as an amendment to the city’s local coastal program, because it significantly impacts the road.
In response, city staff said the bike lane is exempt from the permit and amendment, stating it’s a minor project. Council agreed, voting unanimously three weeks ago to move forward with the longstanding plan for the bike lane.
But Council’s approval risked penalties from the Coastal Commission, an agency that oversees land use and beach access throughout the state. The penalties range from a cease-and-desist order to fining a city $6,000 a day for projects that aren’t in compliance with its standards. But according to Eric Stevens, an analyst with the Coastal Commission, financial penalties aren’t on the table.
“At this point, there’s no talk of financial penalties,” Stevens said.
However, the Coastal Commission could order the city to undo the bike lane and restore the road to how it was before with a majority vote from its 12-member body at the hearing. Also, the city installed “sharrows” — lane markings that remind cyclists and motorists to share the road — at the same time as the bike lane. Stevens said that sharrows from Grandview Street to La Costa Avenue could also be subject to an appeal and removed, but the Coastal Commission hasn’t made that determination yet.
The Coastal Commission conducts hearings on a variety of issues during its monthly meetings throughout the state. Stevens said the bike lane appeal will go before the Coastal Commission when the agency has its next meeting in Southern California, either in June, July or October — at which point the Coastal Commission will be in San Diego.
At the meeting, the Coastal Commission has the option of requesting no changes to the bike lane, forcing the city to remove it, asking the city to make small changes to the bike lane or requesting a study of the bike lane to gauge its impact.
Stevens said there are potential concerns with how the bike lane affects coastal access and safety.
“We haven’t weighed the pros and cons of the project,” Stevens said. “We weren’t aware of it until recently.”
Ed Deane, senior civil engineer with the city, said the Coastal Commission wasn’t notified several months ago that city staff determined that the bike lane is exempt from the state permit and local amendment. The city hasn’t provided a notice of exemption for quite some time, he said.
“We haven’t done that since 1995,” Deane said.
Deane said a meeting with the Coastal Commission after the Council meeting was “productive.”
And he said he’s encouraged that financial penalties aren’t being pursued.
“That doesn’t seem to be a path they want to go down,” Deane said.