Highway improvements skirt fire safety codes

ENCINITAS — At least one person has been knocking on the doors of City Hall for months trying to get the attention of anyone who will listen to his concerns about the North Coast Highway Streetscape project.
Leucadia resident and Los Angeles fire Engineer David Smith said the final plans for updating the 2-mile corridor between A Street and La Costa Avenue may compromise fire truck access. He has gone door to door collecting signatures from neighbors in his quest to get the attention of city planners and department staff.
“The plans are problematic,” Smith said. He said public safety issues are being ignored. “The city is planning changes that will reduce the fire department’s access to neighborhoods in Leucadia,” he said.
Smith said he based his conclusion on analysis of the city’s general plan and municipal code, the North Highway 101 Specific Plan and the city’s fire department strategic plan. In contrast to Option 4A, a favored plan to revamp the highway by some residents, business owners, planning consultants and city staff, the documents Smith reviewed call for a 24-foot-wide northbound road area, removing one of the two northbound lanes. The extra space would allow the addition of roundabouts to calm traffic, increased street parking, widened bike lanes and pedestrian walkways.
However, Smith said the option calls for a 20-foot-wide northbound lane, which fails to meet city width standards for “major” roads and will increase firefighters’ response times to emergency calls.
Chief Mark Muir said the Encinitas Fire Department has reviewed the various streetscape options and approved them. While he agreed that the road width would be four feet less than the ideal, Muir said the proposed 20-foot-wide stretch, which includes an 8-foot-wide bike lane, meets state standards. He also said the city code gives him the option to make an exception to the 24-foot standard if safety is not compromised.
Smith said he worries whether a fire truck would be able to maneuver through the area. Muir disagreed, saying it wasn’t an issue.
After four public workshops and additional open houses spanning two years, the project’s Senior Planner Diane Lananger said plans have been thoroughly researched. “We’ve had a lot of community input and are very pleased,” she said. With the addition of consulting group MW Peltz and Associates, the final opportunity to publicly discuss the issues surrounding the project came at a meeting in mid-October.
Smith said his questions to the city regarding the public safety issues inherent in a narrower major roadway have gone unanswered and feels like he’s running out of time. “I’d just like for Muir of someone to talk to me,” he said. “I’ve tried to get meetings with the council, the city manager, the chief and I can’t get a response.”
City Council will review the streetscape options at its Jan. 13 meeting.

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