ENCINITAS — The City of Encinitas has adjusted the new “Shared Streets” program, returning the stretch of Coast Highway 101 between D and E streets to four lanes — two northbound, two southbound — in response to concerns of residents and business owners.
After receiving dozens of emails and phone calls, the City changed the outdoor dining program, offering each business the option of either utilizing the space in front of their establishment or keeping it as parking stalls.
Pat Piatt, City of Encinitas’ public information officer, confirmed the changes to the program, stating, “we’re really trying to figure out the best way to do this, to support our businesses so that they can operate outdoors. We’re just making adjustments right now to try to accommodate everybody as best as possible.”
Complaints arose from residents claiming the initial decrease in lanes on Coast Highway 101 caused an increase in speeding and traffic on nearby side-streets, creating temporarily unsafe and loud conditions for both homeowners and businesses.
The city received the requests at a Traffic and Public Safety Commission meeting on July 13, implementing the changes the following week. The number of parking spots available directly in front of 101 businesses is now reduced, however, parking is available in the nearby City Hall parking lot.
The “Shared Streets” program itself is here for the foreseeable future, Piatt said. Until indoor dining is allowed and social distancing restrictions on businesses are lifted, the program will continue.
A few days after the program’s debut in early July, co-owner of Encinitas Café, Debbie Zinniger, shared with the Coast News her fears of how the reduced traffic pattern would harm local businesses.
The Coast News followed up with Zinniger at the Encinitas Café on July 29, one week after Hwy 101 traffic was returned to two lanes, as she had originally hoped for.
“It is so much better now that it’s back to two lanes and people driving [southbound] can turn left,” Zinniger said. “I think [the city] was responsive, hearing everyone’s complaints, because they listened and put it back pretty fast.”
The Encinitas Café now hosts three rows of outdoor seating on their portion of Hwy 101 and has a large sign out front directing customers to park behind their building.
As shared in the July 13th Traffic and Public Safety Commission meeting, another consequence of the program’s first setup was increased traffic and noise on parallel 2nd and 3rd streets.
A downtown Encinitas resident who requested to remain anonymous contacted the Coast News describing the increase in speed and frequency of cars on side streets, which she believes may be a combination of the pilot program’s initial layout and newly installed “scramble” crosswalks on Coast Highway 101.
“Residents have become so accustomed to traffic tangles on the 101, especially during business hours, that they have started to reflexively turn off the 101 to 2nd & 3rd Streets from the traffic signals at D Street and from Swami’s, coming from the south,” she said. “This has never happened before the long, unnecessary waits at D & E Streets—and shouldn’t be happening now.”
The resident did acknowledge the city’s response to initial feedback on the “Shared Streets” program was a positive move in the right direction, however, she still worries the slow timing of the new 101 crosswalks will hold up traffic, causing motorists to venture into nearby residential neighborhoods or avoid select downtown businesses entirely.
The majority of the complaints to the Traffic and Public Safety Commission shared with the Coast News mirrored these concerns.
For now, the “Shared Streets” program is here to stay, and according to Piatt, the City of Encinitas is willing to listen to vocal business owners and residents in an effort to help alleviate the financial burden placed on establishments by COVID-19.
“The City of Encinitas is trying to do the best we can to accommodate the community and accommodate the businesses so that they can keep operating through COVID.”