Bikers, city officials and public safety authorities agree that Encinitas is a great place for a bike ride, but improvements can still be made.
With hills and limited dedicated bicycle lanes, Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego Bike Coalition, said Encinitas is more appealing to experienced riders rather than casual ones.
“Making biking a viable transportation option is something that all of our cities should be focusing on and finding ways to make it safer, more comfortable and more accessible,” he said on a bike ride on Coast Highway 101 in downtown Encinitas in May, at the beginning of National Bike Month. “We designed our cities for people to get around by cars, and now we’re trying to figure out more options for safety and getting people around by bikes, transit and walking.”
Encinitas city staff members said a number of improvements have been made in recent years for cyclists.
These have included “sharrows” for bikes to share lanes with cars, installing dedicated bike lanes on Coast Highway 101 and widening streets. The city has also painted buffers with cross-hatching next to bike lanes to make them more recognizable and create more protection for bikers, said Traffic Engineer Rob Blough.
In the future, the city might paint bike lanes a different color to make them more distinguishable, he added.
Mayor Catherine Blakespeare said she is committed to helping Encinitas become more bicycle friendly.
“That means the city needs to build the bike paths, paint the buffers that separate cars from bikes, think about routes between places when doing construction projects and have mobility top of mind in decision making,” she said. “I’ve heard from cyclists who ride from La Jolla to Oceanside, and they say Encinitas is the scariest part, particularly downtown Leucadia where the cars travel fast and the bike lanes are narrow. This is not great.”
In 2011, a bicylist, James Steven Swarzman, died after he was struck in a hit-and-run near North Coast Highway 101 and Jason Street. About three months later, Joseph Ricardo Fernandez, of Carlsbad, was convicted of the crime.
The challenge with designing improvements is keeping everybody — from bikers to car drivers — happy, said Kamran Saber, interim city engineer.
“We’re dealing with so many challenges, like a confined right-of-way,” he said. “Widening Coast Highway is a daunting task, and it’s not really supported by everybody. The business owners want parking, the drivers want the lanes and the bikers want their own lanes. We try to accommodate all these things and find the best fit that is responsive to all these different styles.”
Starting last month, the city began sitting down with interest groups — like Encinitas 101 MainStreet Association, Leucadia 101 and Bike Walk Encinitas — in non-binding, informal meetings, Saber said.
The city has been working on developing its segment of the Coastal Rail Trail, which was reviewed and denied by the Coastal Commission on May 11.
City council members envisioned the trail — which would support bikers and pedestrians — on Encinitas’ west side, closer to the coast, but the Coastal Commission voted to place it on the east instead.
The city has also been working on its Streetscape Project, for Coast Highway 101 from A Street to La Costa, for about a decade, Blough said.
He said the project will make the area modernized with traffic-calming techniques, pop-outs on the curbs, roundabouts and reversed back-in parking.
Some lanes will be dropped in some areas so there is one lane each way, Saber added.
“This plan creates an excellent balance for the drivers, pedestrians and the bikers,” Saber said. “It used to be everything for drivers, but to some extent, the pedestrians and the bikers were neglected. But now, with this new trend nationwide, this project is the product that will satisfy all facility users.”
In regard to safety, Blough suggested bikers should be aware of cars turning.
“When you’re going straight, you need to look to your left, because a car’s going to be coming, and they kind of pass you, then they don’t see you out of their blind spot, they turn and you go over their hood,” he said. “Those are one of the most common accidents there are. We don’t have a lot where people are getting hit from behind.”
Capt. John Maryon, of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s North Coastal Station, said the main violations are made by the bicyclists riding on the wrong side of the road while motorists are making unsafe turns into the bicyclists.
He said he does not see a pattern for dangerous areas in the city, but most bike-related accidents happen during the lunch hour (11 a.m. to noon), as well as the main time when people are driving home from work (4 p.m. to 6 p.m.).
In 2016, there were 16 injury accidents, four property damages from bicycles and 23 people injured, according to statistics from the Sheriff’s Department. So far in 2017, there have been three injury accidents, one case of property damage and seven people injured.
“The motorists and the bicyclists need to be patient with each other and work together to make the roadways safer,” Maryon said.