Plans to overhaul Leucadia's portion of Coast Highway 101, adding traffic circle roundabouts and eliminating a vehicle lane in each direction, took a long-sought step forward on March 1.
After hearing from two-dozen public speakers, the Encinitas Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend approval of the project's environmental assessment and the issuing of project permits. Next, it's on to the City Council and state Coastal Commission.
Nearly all of the people who spoke to the Planning Commission March 1 said they can't wait for construction. Many said they watched wistfully a decade ago as downtown's portion of Coast Highway 101 received its beautification treatment and business there began to boom.
Leucadia art gallery owner Morgan Mallory told the commission that he wanted Leucadia's Streetscape project to reach this point some 16 years ago. Beach Inn owner Charley Marvin noted that supporters had put in thousands of volunteer hours so far and said the time had come for the city to get the job done.
"The benefits from this project as a legacy project will flow for more than a half-century .... Our great-grandchildren will enjoy the improvements," he said.
Many supporters stressed the project's public safety benefits. Antique shop owner Fred Caldwell said he was "vehemently opposed" to traditional intersections and thought the proposed traffic circles would be much safer for vehicles, while Leucadia 101 Main Street Association president Brian Evans said he didn't feel safe as a cyclist using Coast Highway now.
Plans call for overhauling a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of Coast Highway from La Costa Avenue to A Street, installing up to six traffic circle roundabouts as well as new sidewalks, roadway medians, bus stops, parking spots and storm drainage conduits. Designers have emphasized pedestrian and cyclist improvements and plan to create space for them by eliminating one vehicle traffic lane in each direction along much of the route.
It was the vehicle lane elimination that most concerned one of the few speakers opposed to the project. David Smith, a Los Angeles firefighter who lives in Leucadia, said the changes would delay fire response times and the new roadway width wouldn't meet city fire truck standards.
"In concept, on paper, this project looks very nice, but in reality you have a beautiful square peg that you're trying to put in a round hole," he said.
City Fire Marshal Anita Pupping said Smith was using the city's width standards for a two-lane road without a median and trying to apply it to a roadway that would have medians. Each proposed lane would be 14 feet wide, providing a total that was more than the 24-foot width that Smith mentioned, she said.
"It sounds like we fit within our code just fine," Commissioner Bruce Ehlers said after Pupping spoke.
"We do," she responded.
Planning commissioners said they had one key concern with the proposed renovation plans -- they worried about whether the changes would encourage vehicles to opt to use Vulcan Avenue instead of Coast Highway.
"Predictions say traffic will increase on Vulcan and speeds will be faster on Vulcan, and that has a strong potential to cause safety issues on Vulcan, so let's address them together," Ehlers said before the vote.
When they voted, they added a condition. They asked the council to explore "traffic-calming" measures — things like stop signs and speed bumps — to prevent spillover traffic onto Vulcan Avenue.
-- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.