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.
When we made our long post about beach access a month ago, we were convinced that the planned at-grade crossing over the railroad tracks at Montgomery Avenue was the right long term answer for safe and legal beach access. The new crossing neatly addressed the access issue created by the NCTD-mandated fence along the rail trail.
Since we made our post, new information has come to light that makes us very concerned about the Montgomery crossing project. There was some big news from the Encinitas City Council meeting on February 24 where City staff stated that a Railroad Quiet Zone could not be established around the Montgomery crossing after all (because the Quiet Zone rules were apparently intended for vehicular crossings and not pedestrian crossings). This was a dramatic development and caught all of us by surprise.
The inability to establish a Quiet Zone at Montgomery is a tremendous blow. Without a Quiet Zone, trains will be required to sound their horns before they reach the crossing, resulting in a significant and unacceptable increase in noise for Cardiff residents to the north and south of Montgomery. The only way to stop the train horns is to install a system of wayside horns which are basically speakers mounted at the crossing site that blare out a simulated train horn sound as warning for an approaching train. Wayside horns would have less noise impact on Cardiff than train horns but may be unacceptably loud for the students at the nearby school and the residents in the surrounding houses, especially since the wayside horns sound for longer periods than the actual train horns. We need to know much more about wayside horns before we would support them as a substitute for a Quiet Zone.
We also have some concerns about aligning the completion dates for the rail trail fence and the crossing. We recently engaged all of the parties involved (the City Council, NCTD, and SANDAG) to advocate for coordinating the rail trail fence and crossing projects to ensure uninterrupted beach access in all reasonable scenarios. After a round of meetings and correspondence, we know that all the folks involved with these projects have empathy for the community and good intentions all around. There is a desire to work together to make sure there is no gap in beach access caused by staggered completion dates. However, there is still uncertainty. It’s unclear exactly how long the CPUC approval process for the crossing will take. Complexity is also introduced by having so many huge construction projects happening in the rail corridor at the same time (in addition to the rail trail and the Montgomery crossing, SANDAG is building a new railroad bridge across San Elijo Lagoon, double-tracking south of Montgomery, and overhauling the Chesterfield intersection). At this point it seems likely that the fence and the crossing completion dates will line up to avoid a gap in access because it makes sense to build the fence as the last component of all these combined projects. But there are a lot of moving parts and no guarantees. More work needs to be done here.
The combination of the Quiet Zone news and the uncertainty around project timing have caused us to rethink our near term priorities. While we love the rail trail as part of a tapestry of improvements that work together – connecting our communities and creating a network of safe and legal crossings at Chesterfield, Montgomery, and Santa Fe – we also believe that the Montgomery crossing is an essential part of the overall plan.
Our advocacy for the Cardiff Rail Trail is conditioned on preserving beach access, which is a core value for the Cardiff community and for us. At this point we believe we owe it to our community to temporarily shift our focus from advocating for the rail trail to advocating for a clear and credible plan for the Montgomery crossing that ensures beach access. It’s the right move for our supporters (who now number over 1,700).
For the record, our preference and our recommendation is to fund and build a grade-separated crossing at Montgomery Avenue to avoid the issues with Quiet Zones, wayside horns, and CPUC approvals. We understand that there will be additional cost involved but it’s the right answer.
The council will take up the Montgomery crossing at a future meeting, possibly soon. We will provide an update after the meeting.
There will also almost certainly be a future community meeting in Cardiff to discuss the crossing as well. We will keep you posted and we encourage everyone to show up for that meeting when it happens.
Most of the updates to our web site and our Facebook page going forward will be concerned with the Montgomery crossing until the issues around it are resolved. If other news breaks on the rail trail we will of course share it; for example, we’re expecting renderings of the new rail trail at some point in the coming weeks. But our focus will be on the crossing for a while. When we all have a plan for the crossing that feels solid, then we’ll go back to advocating for the trail.
We believe that all Cardiff residents should have uninterrupted access to the beach. This has always been true. The City Council feels the same way. In parallel with SANDAG's progress on the new Cardiff Rail Trail, the Encinitas City Council is working on a new at-grade crossing over the tracks at Montgomery Avenue that also includes a traffic light and pedestrian crossing on Route 101. Access to a new safe and legal crossing (over the tracks and a busy road) will offset the requirement for the 4-foot post-and-cable fence along the tracks that is part of the rail trail project. The opening of the new Montgomery crossing will be timed with the completion of the rail trail to ensure seamless, continuous access for residents.
There is currently no legal way to get across the tracks in Cardiff without walking all the way up to the Santa Fe underpass or down to the Chesterfield crossing. Residents are used to crossing the tracks illegally and then running across Route 101. This might work for some, but we need a better long term solution. It's not appropriate for kids, older folks, people with disabilities, or parents pushing strollers. Also, residents who cross the tracks are exposed to a $500+ fine and a misdemeanor ticket. Even after getting over the tracks, residents have to get across a busy Route 101 which is equally if not more dangerous. We can and should do better. The Montgomery railroad and road crossing is the answer.
As for the fence, the owner of the railroad right-of-way insists on it: North County Transit District (NCTD) has gone on the record about their intention to fence the entire Encinitas rail corridor over the next several years. They have stated that they will seek money for a fencing solution if they can't get cities to build the fences as part of capital projects like the rail trail. The reason? Safety. Encinitas has drawn unwelcome attention at NCTD because of the number of illegal crossings and corresponding near misses. The problem will get worse as train traffic through Cardiff increases... the number of trains will double in the coming years.
The requirement for a fence along the tracks isn't ideal. But neither is the need for illegally crossing an active double track and then running across a busy road. With the rail trail and the new Montgomery crossing, we get a network of trails and safe and legal railroad/road crossings. The area will open up for people of all ages and abilities.
Finally, it's worth noting that Cardiff will be getting a new Quiet Zone to reduce train horn noise from current levels since the new Chesterfield and Montgomery crossings will be planned and plumbed for a Quiet Zone.
This tapestry of improvements will level up the area. Cardiff's special character will not be compromised by a safe, accessible trail that complements the natural environment to the south and brings order from chaos to the north. We'll get a better long term and sustainable solution for crossing the tracks and 101 (with the crossing timed with the trail so that residents have continuous, uninterrupted beach access). We'll reduce train noise. It all adds up to a community benefit for all of us.
CalTrans and SANDAG are holding a public hearing on January 26 at the Encinitas Community Center about amending the North Coast Corridor Public Works Plan / Transportation and Resource Enhancement Program (yes, that's a mouthful for sure). This is basically a sort of transportation master plan. Some of the proposed changes are related to the Coastal Rail Trail, including but not limited to the Cardiff segment. CalTrans and SANDAG basically want to make some minor language tweaks to redefine where it's permissible to build the Coastal Rail Trail. The current language in the master plan specifies that all segments of the trail absolutely, positively have to be built inside the railroad right of way. The proposed amendment will widen the definition so that the trail can also be built adjacent to the railroad right of way. The new language will apply to all segments. These changes are actually important and beneficial for the Cardiff segment of the CRT regardless of where you stand on the alignment issue: The changes need to be made for both the east-side alignment we favor and the alignment along the 101 which was proposed as an alternative. We are not planning to be at the meeting because the changes are very minor and don't favor one alternative over another. Really, it's just about giving CRT planners more flexibility. Also, the CRT is one tiny part of the meeting... the proposed amendments to the master plan touch many different projects from the railroads to the highways. With all that said, we've gotten wind that some trail opponents may show up and try to take over the meeting. My understanding is that the moderators will try to keep the meeting on topic. I don't think it's helpful or productive to create a brawl between supporters and opponents at a meeting that's not even really about the Cardiff Rail Trail... so I'm appealing to supporters to avoid picking a fight there. Let CalTrans and SANDAG get their business done. Our $.02.
Integrating the trail with the natural environment is a top priority. While the trail route along north San Elijo Avenue is currently just a chaotic dirt parking lot, there are some very scenic areas in the rail corridor to the south (across from the Cardiff school). The rail trail will be carefully integrated with the natural environment here, preserving the sand dune formations and other features that give this area its character. The new trail will make these special places accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
Pro-Trail Group Responds to Kristin Gaspar and Mark Muir Letter About the Rationale for Their "No" Vote on the Cardiff Rail Trail
Published on local community web sites as a counter-point to the recent letter and also posted on our Facebook page:
I am writing to set the record straight on the planned Cardiff Rail Trail after Encinitas City Council members Kristin Gaspar and Mark Muir recently wrote a letter about why they voted "No" on the Cardiff Rail Trail (which passed the Council 3-2 in May of 2015).
I am a member of the "Friends of the Cardiff Rail Trail", a group that supports the new trail along with the proposed at-grade railroad and road crossing at Montgomery Street. I created the yesrailtrail.com web site and its new sister site cardiffrailtrail.com.
While I respect Gaspar and Muir for going on the record with their opinions and the rationale for their vote, I am compelled to respond to some of the inaccuracies and scare tactics in their letter.
First of all, contrary to what Gaspar and Muir assert, the rail trail project enjoys a great deal of support in Encinitas. I know this because we have a list of nearly 900 supporters that grows every day. We have hundreds of strongly supportive emails, posts, and comments that are all attributable to actual residents (and these are not the automated form letters that Gaspar and Muir cite as overwhelming evidence of opposition). We also recently conducted an online non-partisan survey about the trail that was surfaced to 15,000 Encinitas residents and garnered several hundred responses. The bottom line from the survey is that Encinitas as a whole supports the trail with its east-side alignment by more than 2:1 and the community of Cardiff is in favor of it as well (albeit by a smaller margin than the rest of the city).
Aside from confirming our hypothesis that a silent majority wants the trail, the survey also highlighted that 85% of Encinitas residents who support the trail actually plan to use it themselves. This was true for people living in Leucadia, the Highlands, the coastal/downtown corridor, and areas east of the 5 Freeway. This project is a community benefit that will be enjoyed and appreciated by the entire city.
As for scare tactics, Gaspar and Muir raise the specter of an even taller fence along the tracks than the planned 4 foot tall post-and-cable fence that is a part of the rail trail project. Their letter says: "NCTD has reaffirmed that if people choose to cross over the new 4-foot fence, a taller, more effective fence will be needed".
They are just trying to scare you. NCTD has always had the right to build whatever sort of fence they want along the corridor. This is not new information. It's their right of way. NCTD originally wanted a 6 foot chain link fence to go with the rail trail project. The 4 foot post-and-cable fence in the current plan is a negotiated compromise because NCTD is trying to be sensitive to the community's desires and needs. However, given NCTD's concerns about safety and liability, they have to reserve their right to stop illegal crossings. When pressed, of course they will assert their right to try a different solution if this one doesn't work. Does that mean a project to replace a fence that isn't even built yet with some sort of other nightmare fence is on a hair trigger? Of course not. And for the record, a safe and legal railroad crossing at Montgomery Street is the key to reducing illegal crossings over the long haul.
There is also a logical inconsistency in the Gaspar and Muir position on the fence. In one part of their letter they argue that a rail fence might never be built at all because NCTD has not allocated funds for it. And yet at the same time, they are quick to say that NCTD is poised to replace the planned fence with some sort of horrible Berlin Wall monstrosity. The latter argument doesn't make sense in the context of the former. You can't have it both ways.
Finally, in response to the argument that NCTD has no money allocated for a fence, I would point out that NCTD has publicly stated that it will be seeking planning dollars to develop context sensitive fencing solutions for the area. Those are their words, not mine. So it seems disingenuous to say that fencing is nothing but a twinkle in NCTD's eye. We should grab the compromise while we can, especially since it is a part of a community improvement that will benefit the whole city.
On the topic of the Montgomery crossing, Gaspar and Muir claim that the city will have to spend $1MM after the crossing is built to silence the resulting noise pollution. This is an incomplete version of reality at best. The $1MM will go towards establishing a "Quiet Zone" that will actually reduce train horn noise along the whole Cardiff corridor from current levels. This is arguably worth doing even if no Montgomery crossing were built.
I'd also like to point out that Gaspar and Muir would rather wait another three, four, or five years to get funding for the perfect Montgomery crossing. Then it will take years to plan it, permit it, and build it. I'd rather we move forward. A $2MM at-grade crossing will do the job. Let's get it done now and not wait the better part of a decade (or more) for something that will be two or three times the total cost in the end.
The plan of record for four new underpasses throughout Encinitas came into being in 2009 and so far only one has been built (at Santa Fe, at a cost of $6MM) with funding for another at El Portal just recently approved. Given the current inertia, the Montgomery underpass is years and years away... and will likely cost far more than the $6MM spent at Santa Fe.
Last but not least, I want to address the concerns Gaspar and Muir raised about the trail's impact on the undeveloped area and on parking. Gaspar and Muir use the word "dramatically" twice to describe the negative effects of the planned trail on the undeveloped area and on the parking along San Elijo Avenue. With respect, that is entirely too much drama.
The planned trail will wind through the natural environment and complement it, not replace it. More people will be able to enjoy the area.
The situation with parking is more nuanced. There will indeed be a moderate reduction in parking spaces along the stretch of San Elijo near Santa Fe, although it won't be "dramatic". But the trade-off is for pedestrian and bike accessibility and safety. That north stretch of San Elijo is not safe nor is it accessible. The trail with its parallel parking along the road solves the safety issues and opens up that corridor for all of us. Cars may have to park a little farther south on San Elijo on busy holiday weekends in exchange for a safe, accessible, and pleasant pedestrian and bike path.
Please get the facts about this project. Don't react to scare tactics and to a partial picture that emphasizes the negative. You can now see where your City Council stands since most members are on the record (Catherine Blakespear and Lisa Shaffer have written extensively about their reasons for voting "yes"). There are advocacy groups on both sides of the issue, each with hundreds of supporters who have surfaced volumes of data about the rail trail. There is a great deal of public information out there. Do your research and make an informed judgment.
There has been quite a bit of press coverage about the Cardiff Rail Trail and the debate that has erupted around it. Here is a round-up of some of the articles over the last few months:
A very balanced article in the Union Tribune about the trail and its supporters and opponents.
A balanced article in The Coast News that includes an interview with an NCTD spokesperson who clearly communicates the intent to fence off the Encinitas rail corridor and the concerns with safety that are driving that decision.
An article in the Encinitas Advocate about the emergence of the YesRailTrail supporter group.
Moderators and authors for the Cardiff Rail Trail page come from a group of dedicated volunteers.