ENCINITAS— Picture 44 miles of an uninterrupted bike path running car-free from Oceanside to downtown San Diego. That is the vision for the Coastal Rail Trail, currently being completed in stages.
A 1.3-mile section of it — to accommodate both bikers and pedestrians — broke ground in Cardiff on April 30. It is expected to be open for use in early 2019.
The 10-foot-wide path, featuring paved bike lanes and a natural surface for runners and walkers, will run parallel to San Elijo Avenue east of the train tracks, extending from Chesterfield Drive to the undercrossing at Santa Fe Drive. An additional pedestrian crossing will be built at Montgomery Avenue near Cardiff Elementary School to allow safe and convenient beach access.
Tina White, who works at Cardiff by the Sea Lodge, hadn’t heard of the project plans but said there’s a need for more beach access, so “thumbs up for that.” She added, “As long as the pathway is landscaped nicely and adds more parks to the neighborhood, I think it will be a good thing and could bring more people to the area.”
Other locals, however, have concerns about the aesthetic impact of the project and its potential for creating parking problems. Seth Chalnick, a real estate broker and owner of Shoreline Properties in Cardiff, said, “The wild feel of the corridor is a classic throwback, distinguishing us from other cities. I’m concerned how paving the bluffs may impact Cardiff’s beauty and charm.”
Chalnick also wondered how functional the parallel-style parking along the northern section of the pathway would be. If considered unsafe, he worried that the city might impose more parking restrictions, which would impact access and visitation.
The Encinitas City Council had wanted the Cardiff section of the Coastal Rail Trail to run west of the railroad tracks, where there are already paved surfaces, as opposed to disturbing the natural environment and informal dirt pathways to the east. The California Coastal Commission rejected that plan in May 2017, explaining that the east-side development was more in keeping with the trail’s regional plan and would supply the Cardiff neighborhood with a much-needed additional transportation corridor.
Shifting the project east of the tracks will require additional bluff stabilization, drainage improvements and overall labor — and hence more money. As a result, the San Diego Association of Governments voted in June 2017 to expand the budget for the Cardiff section from $6.1 million to a maximum of $11 million.
Preliminary construction work getting underway for the mixed-use path includes vegetation removal and installation of concrete project barriers, as well as restriping San Elijo Avenue car lanes and moving them slightly eastward. During construction, bluff parking will not be allowed between Montgomery Avenue and the Santa Fe Drive undercrossing.
The Coastal Rail Trail is part of Build NCC, the first phase of the 40-year, multi-agency North Coast Corridor Program. Build NCC aims to ease traffic congestion, improve coastal access, protect natural resources and provide safe transportation alternatives. Projects entail extending the I-5 carpool lane from Lomas Santa Fe Drive to State Route 78, replacing the rail bridges at San Elijo and Batiquitos lagoons, installing pedestrian and bike trails, restoring the San Elijo Lagoon and more.
Build NCC — a joint project of SANDAG, Caltrans and the U.S. Department of Transportation — began construction in 2017 with an estimated completion date of 2021. Funding stems from federal, state and local sources, including the half-cent countywide sales tax, TransNet, allotted for transportation.