The council voted 4:1 to move the rail trail to the west side of the tracks. Lisa Shaffer's newsletter with details of the meeting is below:
We have very mixed feelings about this outcome but the dominant emotion is disappointment - because important community needs are not being served.
This is the Big One: The City Council Meets on March 30 to Reconsider the Cardiff Rail Trail and Montgomery Crossing
Below is a letter sent to Mayor Gaspar and the Encinitas City Council in advance of the March 30 meeting to reconsider the Cardiff Rail Trail and Montgomery crossing projects (which starts at 6pm). We are going wide with our Council input because the Mayor was unwilling to schedule the meeting so that the founder of the Friends of the Cardiff Rail Trail could attend and speak, leaving the group's leadership feeling disrespected and unheard. Even a week's delay would have worked. Our group has over 1,700 supporters at this point, so we don't understand the slight. Another member of the group will speak on our behalf at the meeting.
Please attend the March 30 meeting regardless of how you feel about the rail trail and crossing projects. Anyone who's been following our group knows we are conflicted about elements of the current plan - but the underlying community needs that were answered by the trail and the crossing are still very much there. We want to make sure that the Council hears about these needs and addresses them with any new plan or change to the existing plan. So... go to the meeting. Speak. Tell the Council what you think. If you have any feelings at all about the rail trail, the Montgomery crossing, and the current state of the Cardiff Rail Corridor, then this is the one meeting you should attend.
If you are intimidated by the idea of attending the meeting and speaking, don't let that stop you. The process is not that scary. The City building is across Vulcan from the Encinitas train station (to the east). Simply show up a little early (at 5:30p or 5:45p), ask for a speaker slip, fill it out, and hand it to the clerk before the meeting starts. You'll be called up and will have three minutes to address the Council. Watch some of the video on the City web site from previous meetings if you feel shy... speakers are not always super articulate or polished in their presentations. However, they do speak from their hearts because they care about their community. What matters is that you are there, that you are heard, and that you are on the record.
Below is our official input to the Council meeting, sent to the City Council, press, and a core group of our supporters in the form of personal emails.
Mayor Gaspar and Encinitas City Council:
I am writing on behalf of the 1,700 people who support the Cardiff Rail Trail on the east side of the tracks. We acknowledge the recent issues with the trail and crossing that led to the March 30 Council meeting to reconsider these improvements. However, we need you to understand that any changes to the plans going forward must address deep community needs served by the current projects.
Mayor Gaspar, we know that you and some other Council members have listened to the organized and vocal rail trail opposition who have done a tremendous job of surfacing their own issues and concerns. We urge you to heed those concerns. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the needs of the other half of your community. Hear us as well.
First of all, you must know that we have a big problem on North San Elijo Avenue. The bluff top is a mess with haphazard parking creating an obstacle course for pedestrians and cyclists, forcing them out into traffic. This stretch of road is not safe for walkers and bikers, and it stands between Cardiff and the wonderful pedestrian underpass at Swami’s. We need a better answer, a safe path accessible to all.
To the south we have issues with beach access. People are crossing the tracks and Coast Highway illegally, risking their lives as well as a misdemeanor ticket and a huge fine. A consultant hired by the City recently documented up to 90 people crossing per hour on a busy weekend day. Let’s be clear, this is an accident waiting to happen.
There are other factors to consider. NCTD will fence this rail corridor in the next few years regardless of whether or not there is a rail trail. They’ve gone on the record. There are other projects that may affect access as well, such as a concrete drainage ditch running beside the tracks.
There is ultimately only one answer: A safe and legal crossing at Montgomery Avenue. This needs to happen now and not a decade or more in the future.
Also, we know that many of our supporters are not well served by the current dirt path to the south. A lot of Cardiff residents love this path, but it is not accessible to all pedestrians and is not a good answer for many cyclists. We need a path for people of all ages and abilities that connects the Cardiff market area with the Swami’s underpass to the north. It doesn’t matter if this path is wide or narrow, or runs along the road instead of through the unimproved natural areas. The goal is to get us out of our cars and onto our feet or bikes, to open up and connect our communities.
Finally, we must consider the needs of the larger North County community. The Coastal Rail Trail is a regional project and will eventually run from Oceanside to San Diego. By choosing an alignment for the Cardiff Rail Trail, you are defining the future path for the rest of the CRT through Encinitas. You are making decisions for the Highlands, downtown Encinitas, and Leucadia, who have not had a voice in this rail trail debate. This is not just a Cardiff issue. A hasty, ill-considered, and reactive approach to selecting the CRT alignment will endanger the entire regional project and will not serve the rest of our community well.
Mayor Gaspar, we need leadership. You cannot simply kick the can down the road and ask us to wait for some nebulous rail corridor visioning exercise that won’t bear fruit for years or even decades. We’re still waiting for the underpasses promised in 2009. We’ve gotten one out of four built after seven long years. That’s not good enough. You need to make decisions and get results sooner rather than later.
You cannot unsee the damning information recently presented to you by your own consultant about the number of illegal railroad crossings; you own this now. The inevitable accident won’t happen because an able-bodied resident failed to stop, look, and listen before crossing the tracks – it will happen because someone’s dog or child wanders onto the tracks at the wrong place at the wrong time and the owner or parent reacts instinctively. Situations like this are why we’ve seen injuries and fatalities in other parts of the rail corridor. You put your community at risk if you ignore this issue.
Even if you decide to ignore the safety of your community and punt on the crossing, eventually NCTD will act first and fence off the rail corridor. You’ll find yourself reacting once again to yet another community outcry when it happens. What will be the answer then? Why will it be any easier or cheaper than what we could do now? Think ahead, show some vision, and solve this problem now!
You also should not ignore the mess on North San Elijo Avenue. It’s unsafe, unsightly, and unpleasant.
You should not ignore the deep need for an accessible path that connects our communities.
And you must not compromise the entire regional Coastal Rail Trail project by hastily and reactively choosing the alignment through Cardiff.
These are all hard problems to solve and there are lots of government agencies and interests involved. But you are elected to solve hard problems. Lead us to a better plan quickly, one that serves all of us.
On the heels of Catherine's newsletter with her change of heart on the rail trail comes an update from Lisa (linked below) urging the community, the City, SANDAG, and NCTD to "keep working to come together around a plan based on community values, public safety, fiscal responsibility, and facts". Lisa notes that we don't have all the information or all the answers and shouldn't rush to judgment.
Lisa's letter discusses the prospects for a Quiet Zone that encompasses the Montgomery crossing (maybe not as impossible as we thought), the idea that wayside horns could be configured so that they don't bother the school or nearby neighbors, new flexibility from NCTD around placement of the fence, and a potential compromise for the rail trail route in the south that places it along San Elijo Avenue rather than in the undeveloped natural area.
Here's the link:
Catherine Blakespear has had a change of heart and is now actively opposed to the rail trail project in its current form. In addition to the recent train horn mitigation issues at the related Montgomery crossing and concerns about staggered project completion dates (which we've noted), Catherine had a negative reaction to the SANDAG trail renderings she saw recently at an update meeting. She's now quite worried that the current design will have a bigger impact than expected on the scenic areas in the south part of the trail route (from Verdi to Birmingham). She's also increasingly unhappy with the level of public involvement in the process.
During the City Council meeting on March 16, Catherine requested that the rail trail alignment be added back to the agenda for discussion and a vote at a future meeting. She also hinted at the formation of a community work-group to discuss projects in the Cardiff rail corridor.
We are disappointed that Catherine felt she had to change her position on the trail. While we knew there were mounting problems with the combined trail and crossing projects, we wanted the City Council, SANDAG, and NCTD to work together to address the issues. In her recent letter about reconsidering the trail project (linked below), Catherine indicated that she tried to work within the current process but didn't see the path forward.
We hope that the upcoming Council discussion is the first step in a process to get a new and better plan. A large part of our community still very much wants an accessible trail east of the tracks and a safe and legal railroad crossing at Montgomery. However, we do need a clear and credible plan for uninterrupted coastal access as part of any project or combined projects.
We'll keep you posted as we learn more. Here's the link to Catherine's letter:
Excerpted from a letter from Dahvia Lynch, NCTD Chief Planning Officer:
It is NCTD's intent to install safety barriers (i.e., fencing and potentially a combination of other barriers) along the full extent of our right of way, including through Encinitas. Our intent is to coordinate with the City and SANDAG to pair this with formalized pedestrian crossings at various locations.
The fencing/ safety barrier effort is irrespective of the Coastal Rail Trail project. NCTD does not currently have a budget or established schedule for the fencing, but aims to move this effort forward along the entire right of way within 5-10 years, prioritizing areas with particular safety challenges such as Encinitas.
NCTD recently submitted a grant application to the state for project planning funds for this effort. The planning stage would include coordination with the municipalities and the public. We will find out in the spring whether that grant has been awarded.
Please note that the plan would incorporate any plans for crossings already underway in the respective jurisdictions. We would work closely with the City of Encinitas and other cities on the plan as it relates to their respective communities.
Some new information about the Montgomery crossing project, courtesy of a letter from Lisa Shaffer to a Cardiff neighbor. Excerpts below:
A fence is going to happen sooner or later, regardless of the rail trail. The consultant studying the Montgomery area counted illegal crossings on a few different days recently, and they were on the order of 45-50 people per hour on a weekend, and on President’s Day weekend rose as high as 90 people per hour. As the number of trains increases, there is a public safety imperative to provide a safe and legal crossing and reduce the illegal crossings. The proposed crossing at Montgomery has been planned and debated for many years and is not a new idea.
Current plans call for the corridor to be double-tracked at Chesterfield from the end of 2016 to the end of 2018. The rail trail project would start in the last quarter of 2017, according to current plans. So we have time to work on the aesthetics and the crossing before any rail trail construction actually begins.
Rather than just put a plan on a shelf for additional crossings and say it’s too expensive or too hard, as was done in the past, we hired a consultant to design a crossing and take it to the CPUC. We can’t know what will or won’t be approved until we submit an actual proposal, but the consultant is optimistic that we can make the case and get it done. The Council and staff are getting educated in this process and looking at alternatives to mitigate the train horn noise, which seems to be the biggest concern about the at-grade crossing. It appears that a below-grade crossing could cost as much as $7-8 million and be a much more impactful project due to ADA ramp requirements and stormwater mitigation (I.e., if you build a big basin to get the people below the tracks where the tracks are level with the ground now, you create a potential area for water to accumulate when it rains and you don’t want that, so there is a lot of engineering required.) It has the advantage, of course, of not requiring horns.
The at-grade crossing is a lot less expensive (approx. $2-2.5 million total) and we have a strong case that would allow the use of wayside horns instead of having the train blow its horn. There is still work to be done to understand the implications of wayside horns – I just saw for the first time what the actual crossing design looks like yesterday, and it appears that we could put in sound mitigation to keep the noise from getting to the homes and school on the east side of San Elijo. The consultant can model the noise and look at different placement of the horns and at landscape and other measures and tell us for sure what would happen. Until we have that information, I’m not prepared to rule out the at-grade crossing. And it we can make it work, we will have saved $5 million and probably saved some lives as well.
So what is happening is that the staff and consultant will lay out the options for us in the coming month, with drawings and costs and timelines and uncertainties. We will have to make a decision, as a community, after more public meetings and hearing from residents with realistic and accurate information, about their preferences.
Let me reiterate, the crossing needs to happen, in my view, completely independent of the rail trail project. I also support the rail trail project – for most of Encinitas, who lives east of San Elijo, this will be a huge improvement in safety for peds and cyclists wanting to go to Cardiff for shops, restaurants, school, parks, etc. They are not well served by riding on 101 with traffic and the “spandex” cyclists who go very fast.
The fence, which will be post-and-cable and not a big chain link fence as some have portrayed it, will be the last piece of this process, since it makes no sense to put up a fence and then build projects around it. So there is time to work on the crossing, and we have enough money in our current budget to fund and build the crossing. Public support will help us get CPUC approval and get the funding committed. Otherwise, double-tracking will happen, train frequency and noise will increase, pedestrians will be at risk, and eventually NCTD will build a fence anyway. An at-grade crossing at Montgomery, with well designed way-side horns, can have new and increased parking and make the whole corridor better. So I would like to see us pursue that to the point of knowing for sure that it will be approved, or not, before considering changing course. And the only course changes I can see are ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away, or paying for a more expensive grade-separated crossing.
Moderators and authors for the Cardiff Rail Trail page come from a group of dedicated volunteers.