ENCINITAS — A long awaited redesign of a key stretch of Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia cleared a critical hurdle earlier this month.
The Encinitas Planning Commission on March 1 unanimously recommended the City Council approve the North Coast Highway 101 Streetscape. The project will dramatically transform the stretch of 101 into a bicycle-, pedestrian- and transit-friendly enclave complete with six roundabout intersections.
The project has been in the works for a decade, and both city officials and most residents who attended the three-hour meeting said it is time to move forward.
“What we are trying to achieve is details of what has been in the (plans) for decades,” Commission Chairman Glenn O’Grady said. “Trying is trying to improve the street for residences and for commercial uses, that’s been there. We are just in the details.”
Those details have been discussed and debated since 2008 over a series of public workshops, outreach events and council and commission hearings.
The current iteration calls for six roundabouts between A Street and La Costa Avenue, bike lanes, pedestrian paths and crosswalks, bus facilities, on- and off-street parking, and the planting of more than 1,000 trees to restore the street’s famed tree canopy.
At least 80 of the nearly 400 mature trees — mostly eucalyptus — will be cut down as a result of the project, but officials said the addition of 1,000 trees more than makes up for it. Those trees, however, will be a mix of different variety and sizes, meaning the canopy will look different.
Most of the 20 speakers at the March 1 meeting endorsed the current plan and urged the city to move forward. Several said that Leucadia had waited patiently after a series of false starts, questions about funding and other projects moved ahead on the city’s priority list.
“It’s our turn,” longtime resident and art gallery owner Morgan Mallory said. “I support now 1,000 more trees, calmer street traffic, safer bike lanes, safer intersections, wider sidewalks, more markings and a more attractive and efficient North Coast Highway 101 corridor for future generations.”
Mallory said he thought the streetscape plan should have moved forward 16 years ago when the city completed a similar project along Coast Highway 101 in downtown. It didn’t, but Mallory said now is as good a time as any to finally get it started.
John Abate, a bicyclist who was seriously injured in a hit-and-run along Leucadia Boulevard in 2015, echoed Mallory’s sentiments, adding that he believed it was time to make one of the city’s most important arterial streets safer for all modes of transportation.
“This project is vital for the thousands of people that travel this very high impact corridor, both pedestrians and cyclists,” he said.
Some residents did express concerns about the project, including how slowing traffic along Coast Highway 101 would affect neighboring streets and police and fire response times, among other issues.
David Smith urged the commission to keep working on the project and delay the vote, calling it a “square hole in a round peg.”
“You are trying to put 10 pounds of potatoes into a five-pound bag, there is just too much there and not enough real estate,” Smith said.
The commission, however, agreed that it was time to move the project along to the City Council, but also added in its recommendation that the council explore ways to calm traffic along Vulcan Avenue and at the intersection of Vulcan and La Costa Avenue.
The City Council could vote on the design, environmental report and coastal development permit as early as next month, which would then advance the plans to the California Coastal Commission.