Why walk when you can drive to the beach?

Encinitas seeks funding for pedestrian walkway under railroad tracks

Opening of underpass accessing Swami's beach, 2012
  • Opening of underpass accessing Swami's beach, 2012

The City of Encinitas has been denied, twice, transportation funds for undergrounding two pedestrian railroad crossings.

Having been turned down previously at the state level, SANDAG recently denied the $4.8 million grant request. The crossings are planned for El Portal Street and Cardiff by the Sea’s Montgomery Avenue. Both would be similar to the below-track crossing built in 2012 at the end of Santa Fe Drive.

According to a published report, councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said the plan was to tie in the planned Rail Trail and Leucadia 101 Streetscape project, which are scheduled to begin construction in 2017.

Some in the community have called the undercrossing a waste of tax money. Fiscal watchdogs continue to point out that residents have been safely crossing the coastal railroad tracks for almost 150 years. However with over 50 trains a day, it is illegal to walk on railroad property or cross the tracks. Surfers and joggers have been cited previously for crossing the tracks.

Would a $100,000 pedestrian crossing like this satisfy everyone?

Would a $100,000 pedestrian crossing like this satisfy everyone?

Taxpayer advocates say that rather than spending millions on an undercrossing, a $100,000 pedestrian crossing similar to the two in use at the Encinitas transit center would suffice. The city has countered that because funding will be from local, state, and federal agencies, it must comply with regulations that specify no possible pedestrian contact with tracks.

Community opposition subsided a little when the Santa Fe Drive undercrossing was built, which most say is now a beautiful gateway to Swami’s beach — an open walkway under the tracks. A closed in, under-track tunnel, as used in other cities such as Oceanside and San Clemente, reportedly attracts nighttime crime and sleeping transients.

The El Portal crossing would serve the neighborhood and families west of Coast Hwy. 101, some of whom cross the tracks to get to Paul Ecke Central Elementary School, just east of the tracks. The nearest safe crossing is several blocks to the south at Encinitas Boulevard and a mile north at Leucadia Boulevard.

The Montgomery Avenue crossing would serve residents in northern Cardiff’s “Composer District” (streets named after composers), with access across the tracks to Pipes surf spot and the San Elijo campground.

The city — not wanting to wait another two years when SANDAG grant applications would be accepted — will be exploring other funding options and grants.

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Cost analysis indicates that it is more cost effective to squish a few pedestrians besides shouldn't all these people be at work?

Given the increasing population density in those areas, how about making them both pedestrian and vehicle crossings? In Cardiff, you can still see the remains of what were vehicle crossings closed decades ago. They were OK then, but later on were closed for some reason, and now are unneeded except for foot traffic. No, the coast needs more spots to cross the tracks. The Encinitas Blvd under both the railroad track and I-5 is a mess. More lanes are needed, or some alternative(s). No matter how it goes, major construction outlays are needed, and when they are done, who will pick up the tab?

Some thinking outside the box would be a good place to stop, er start.

The congested and unsightly crossing at Leucadia Blvd is, by itself, more than enough justification for lowering the tracks below grade from the northern city limits south to the Encinitas Blvd bridge. And the quality of life benefits would extend well beyond those associated with the ridiculously expensive undercrossings. Unfortunately the city is stubbornly married to the undercrossings in spite of the messages that have now been repeatedly sent to them by grantor agencies (and most of Leucadia). Perhaps some new blood on the council will spark some rethinking.

The ideal situation would be for all those crossings to be over the tracks, and the tracks put into a trench, as was done in Solana Beach. That is a very costly and disruptive process, and is not going to happen for a very long time, if ever. No near neighbors of the rail line really like it, and in Del Mar they hate it. To put it below grade and double-tracked all the way from Orange County to, say, Miramar would b make it a 21st century line. Until there is a far more compelling reason to do all that work, it will not happen, and No Coast will be burdened with what still is a 19th century line.

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