ENCINITAS — There was a time that bicyclers riding through Leucadia would avoid the east side of Coast Highway 101 and the west side of Vulcan Avenue between Encinitas and Leucadia boulevards at all cost.
The reason: Tiny jagged-shaped thorns that would flatten cyclists tires — from school-aged children to Councilman Tony Kranz and everyone in between — at a prolific rate.
“It’s always been a problem,” said Len Nathe, who was cycling along the east side of Vulcan Avenue Thursday morning, largely to avoid the dirt path. “One year, I remember blowing three tires in a span of two weeks.”
Goat heads, puncture vines or stickers — all common names for the spiny menace — are becoming less of an issue these days along the stretch, largely due to a renewed effort by North County Transit District to prevent the weeds that spawn them from growing and to eliminate the thorns when they appear on the path.
Recently, the goat head situation came up in a City Council discussion of traffic and safety issues at Paul Ecke Central Elementary, as parents, administrators and volunteers talked about the thorny situation, which keeps many kids from riding their bikes to school.
“In the past, you’d see kids coming to school with four or five patches on their tires because of all of the thorns they’d hit,” said Christine Andrade, who has volunteered for Central’s safety patrol the past four years. Andrade keeps bicycle tire inner tubes in her trunk just in case kids need new ones after encounters with the thorns.
“Kids just stopped riding their bikes because they would end up having to carry them to school,” she said.
This prompted Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear to inquire about the issue with the transit district, which is responsible for maintenance of the paths, which are on the district’s rights of way.
“We are making strides with this endemic goat head problem in the railroad right of way that pops bicycle tires and the public should know,” Blakespear wrote in an email to interim City Manager Larry Watt.
The transit district weekly has probationary crews — lawbreakers who have to serve community service as part of their conditions of their probation — scouring both sides of the street picking any thorns along the path.
In addition, the district twice a year sprays both herbicide and pre-emergent — a chemical that retards the growth of weeds — along the paths, said Dahvia Lynch, the transit district’s chief planning officer.
Lynch said the district redoubled removal efforts after the thorn issue resurfaced during the discussion at the March 18 council meeting.
“It came to our attention that it was affecting people riding bikes, so we got active and began removing the plants and the thorns,” Lynch said. “We believe the issue has been significantly reduced. We didn’t see any new plants, and are putting the crews out once a week based on community feed back.
“We are very vigilant about this,” Lynch said.
Andrade said the thorn situation is much better than in year’s past as a result.
“It’s gotten a lot better,” she said. “I still keep my tubes in the car, but you can definitely notice the difference.”