A truck verses cyclist accident Saturday morning that left one of the city's leading business association directors severely injured may result in the immediate launch of the long-debated Leucadia Streetscape project.
It's extremely unfortunate that the collision happened, but it may be what finally galvanizes the city to start its estimated $30 million overhaul of Coast Highway 101 through Leucadia, city Traffic & Public Safety commissioners, Streetscape advocates and cycling enthusiasts all said Monday, Dec. 10.
"This is a wake-up call, we have to do something," Commissioner Charlie Lisherness said during the commission's meeting.
City traffic engineer Abraham Bandegan said city employees met earlier Monday to hash out options for making some initial roadway improvements within the next month. They're exploring the idea of immediately eliminating one southbound vehicle lane in order to create a designated bike lane, he said.
They're waiting on direction from the City Council, which meets Wednesday night, but one proposal under consideration is obtaining an emergency construction permit from the state Coastal Commission, city engineer Edward Wimmer said.
"Please don't think that for one moment we're not exploring every option available," Wimmer told the commissioners.
The city has about $10 million of the $30 million Streetscape project's funding in place, and there are some "very promising" grant prospects, Wimmer said.
The Streetscape project — a long-planned overhaul of a 2.5-mile stretch of Coast Highway from La Costa Avenue to A Street, including bike lanes as well as sidewalks and six traffic circle roundabouts — wasn't on the traffic commission agenda Monday night. It's already been approved by the City Council and is in the final stages of state permit approvals. But the topic was repeatedly brought up by public speakers and commissioners saddened by Dec. 8’s accident.
Roberta Walker — the executive director of the Cardiff 101 Main Street Association, and a passionate advocate for city bike and pedestrian improvements — was struck when she was cycling southbound along the coastal route early in the morning. She was thrown from her bike, sustained severe head and spinal injuries, and is undergoing multiple surgeries. Family and friends are posted updates on her condition at: https://heambailey.wixsite.com/roberta.
Kellie Shay Hinze, a friend of Walker's and the executive director of the Leucadia 101 Main Street Association, told the traffic commissioners Monday that the accident was painfully predictable given the current state of the Coast Highway route. The area where Walker was riding doesn't have a designated bike lane, she noted.
Instead, there are "sharrows" — painted-on markings on the roadway pavement noting that bikes are allowed to use a full vehicle lane because there is no space for a bike lane. Avid cyclists told the commissioners that the sharrow system isn't a good fit for the coastal highway because it puts cyclists at risk of severe injury or death. It's "absolutely a danger zone," said John Abate, a Leucadia business owner who was struck himself and nearly paralyzed while cycling on Leucadia Boulevard.
"This is definitely a pressing issue that I would urge you to pay attention to," he said. Commissioners said that two years ago they endorsed having the city do all the major portions of the Streetscape project in one phase, and they voted to re-endorse that position Monday.
They also said they would send representatives to Wednesday's council meeting to speak in favor of starting Streetscape work immediately. They said that even if the city didn't have the money to make the project look beautiful, it should at least install the roundabouts and rework the roadway lanes.
Commissioner Brian Grover, a longtime cycling advocate, said he, for one, would be attending the meeting. He'll be stressing that Walker wouldn't have ended up in the hospital if work had begun several years ago on the project, he said.
"People continue to get hit there and it really is just a mater of time before someone dies," he said.
Grover said he also wants to make certain the city does more than just eliminate a roadway lane, saying if it does that without installing a temporary version of the project's proposed roundabouts that will greatly back up vehicle traffic along the route.
Prior to the meeting, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said Dec. 10 that she will request city staff to put together an immediate plan to have the road operate as it will after the Leucadia Streetscape is finished.
“We need a dedicated bike lane there and the roundabouts installed, even if they are only temporary structures,” Blakespear said. “The remaining approvals needed from other agencies for drainage, parking in the rail right of way and other issues should not hold up the city from building basic elements of the project to improve safety. We need to see the safety of that road improved now.”
— Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune. Encinitas Advocate reporter Brittany Woolsey contributed to this post.