The plan for an east-side alignment of the Cardiff Rail Trail was left for dead after the Encinitas City Council bowed to the demands of a well organized opposition campaign in March of 2016, voting to endorse a west-side alignment along Route 101 and stranding Cardiff residents who wanted to walk, run, and bike along San Elijo Avenue.
The east-side alignment is now back from the grave. The rail trail alignment issue will go before the California Coastal Commission in early May. Correspondence between Commission staff and SANDAG during the latter part of 2016 indicates that Commission staff are opposed to the west-side alignment.
If the Coastal Commission votes against the west-side alignment, then the original plan for running the trail along the east side of the tracks may be resurrected.
We are in favor of nixing the west-side alignment and revisiting the alignment issue. Since the City Council vote in March of 2016, there have been a number of developments that mitigate in favor of giving the east-side alignment another shot:
1. The City Council has expressed a new openness to building a pedestrian undercrossing at Montgomery Avenue or Verdi Avenue instead of an at-grade crossing as originally contemplated. The undercrossing is desirable because of reduced regulatory delays and the elimination of noise caused by wayside horns and/or train conductors blowing their horns in front of an at-grade crossing. A safe and legal pedestrian crossing with no regulatory hair and no noise issue gives us confidence that any loss of beach access from a trail-side post-and-cable fence can be mitigated in a timely fashion. The need for this crossing is more acute than ever and the explicit linkage between the east-side trail and the crossing - because of the need to avoid or minimize a gap in beach access - will bring this project about sooner rather than later.
2. The delay in the San Elijo double tracking project has opened up an opportunity to sequence the construction of the trail and the new crossing. The current project to build a new bridge across San Elijo Lagoon and double-track from Chesterfield to Solana Beach will take at least two years. Trail construction will likely be another two years beyond that. That gives us four years to approve, design, permit, and build our new pedestrian crossing.
3. The temporary fencing around the staging area for the double tracking project has already disrupted access for those who wish to cross the tracks illegally and that will continue for the next two years. The community reaction to the disruption in illegal access has been muted. Those who currently choose to cross the tracks illegally are routing around the staging area... and the most traveled route across the tracks is now at the same place that the new pedestrian crossing would be built. This gives us heart that a new undercrossing will solve for beach access over the long haul.
4. Several months ago, SANDAG gave indications that they were open to changing the design of the trail between Verdi Street and Chesterfield Street to reduce its footprint and impact. Changes could include a narrower paved cross-section of the trail and a correspondingly wider deconstructed granite component. There were also some preliminary discussions about routing the trail closer to San Elijo Avenue in some areas (and avoiding some natural features like the mud/sand formations). If SANDAG is pushed back into the east-side alignment by the Coastal Commission, then the Encinitas City Council and the community will have the opportunity to come together and work with SANDAG to make changes in the design. We'll have leverage at that point that we haven't had up to now.
5. We have heard from many residents who feel regret that the east-side alignment was killed by the City Council. There is considerable latent support for the original plan. We know that the alignment issue divided the community and pitted neighbor against neighbor, but the eventual outcome simply disenfranchised one group instead of another. The east-side alignment served some very deep community needs including accessibility and safety along San Elijo and the rail corridor. Those needs are still there.
We await the results of the Coastal Commission meeting with anticipation. If the decision is made to kill the west-side alignment and thus push SANDAG and the City of Encinitas to reconsider the east-side alignment, then we stand ready to work with the community, the City, and SANDAG to shape the best possible plan for a rail trail that works for all of us and a safe pedestrian crossing at Montgomery Avenue or Verdi Avenue.