The portion of El Camino Real that runs through Encinitas consists primarily of a series of strip malls punctuated by driveways. The city is studying ways to make it more friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. Seaside Courier staff photo.

By Kirk Sanderson

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear and some 40 other interested parties recently went on a “walking audit” of the section of El Camino Real that runs through Encinitas to assess how conducive it is to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

El Camino Real is one of coastal North County’s three major north-south arteries, the others being Interstate 5 and the Coast Highway (Old Highway 101). While the Coast Highway has become increasingly bike- and pedestrian-friendly over the years – with lower speed limits, sharrows (shared lanes for cars and bicycles) in Oceanside and Leucadia, bike lanes in Carlsbad and more sidewalks in Solana Beach – El Camino Real remains focused on the automobile.

Some would like to see this change, believing that most major streets should accommodate all forms of transportation. And the current stretch of El Camino through Encinitas, roughly two miles in length, consists mostly of multiple traffic lanes and strip malls with driveways that cut through sidewalks – where there are sidewalks. Encinitas officials say about 40,00 vehicles drive along El Camino Real each day. The “walking audit” of El Camino Real in Encinitas the last week of June was led by Dan Burden of the non-profit Walkable Communities Inc. He’s a nationally recognized authority on street design for safer walking, biking and driving. Burden has personally photographed and examined biking and walking conditions in more than 200 cities throughout the United States.

According to a recent newsletter sent out by Blakespear, Burden’s “sweet, grandfatherly manner and clear articulation of improved walkability and livability is accessible and inspiring…. Dan’s suggestions for El Camino Real included considering mid-block pedestrian-only crossings; planting trees in the roadway medians; widening the sidewalks; encouraging neighboring shopping center owners to link their properties with pathways when they remodel; narrowing some of the vehicle traffic lanes from 11 or 12 feet to 10 feet; and reducing El Camino’s vehicle speeds to 35 mph….

“My goal is for us to become a leader here in Encinitas with our transportation planning. The City Council unanimously supported hiring Dan to review upcoming transportation projects, starting with the imminent construction of two blocks of sidewalk, buffer and edging on the south side of Santa Fe Drive across from the recently completed north side sidewalk.”

Two years ago, local journalist Thomas K. Arnold wrote a column suggesting similar changes for El Camino Real, which we are reprinting here:

“I’m going on a crusade. The cause I am supporting is not a conservative one, nor is it a liberal one.

“It’s a common sense cause, a quality of life issue.

“Let’s see the three coastal North County cities of Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside band together to make El Camino Real a usable, attractive corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists. And keep in mind I’m not one of those utopians who believes we’ll all bike or walk to work because realistically, that’s never going to happen. Geographically, we’re not New York or Boston. We are too spread out. And on top of that, there’s the sweat factor. Many of us have to dress nicely for work, or run around town for meetings.

“No, I’m looking at this purely from a recreational standpoint — and for those who walk and bike for exercise. We only have three major north-south thoroughfares. Interstate 5 is barely functional for cars, so let’s take it out of the equation. The Coast Highway has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, and some of our cities have done a great job accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists along what’s often referred to as the “Mother Road” of our region, coastal NoCo’s answer to Route 66.

“But instead of focusing our attention on the Coastal Rail Trail, why not step up efforts to improve El Camino Real? Oh, I know, it doesn’t go the distance, but from Manchester Avenue up to north Oceanside it’s a clear sail — unlike the route of the Coastal Rail Trail, which due to lagoons, cliffs and narrow rail bridges resembles something of a patchwork quilt.

“El Camino Real – ‘The Royal Road’ in Spanish – is a natural. It’s a broad, fairly straight road that begins its cross-North County journey at Manchester in Cardiff and shoots north all the way to Mission Avenue in Oceanside, a distance of 18.5 miles (the road actually goes a little farther, but as a corridor this is it). It even has an official designation: County Road 11.

“It would be a great road to follow for pedestrians and cyclists — but, sadly, it’s a dangerous, even deadly path for anyone who dares venture upon it outside of the armored confines of a car.

“I found this out the hard way when I decided to walk from my house in north Carlsbad, just off Tamarack Avenue, to a car stereo shop on Oceanside Boulevard just west of El Camino Real. Half a mile north of Tamarack, I ran into trouble when the sidewalk on the west side abruptly ended, only to pick up again about 100 yards north and then disappear yet again until right before Chestnut Avenue. I’m hoping the widening of Tamarack and El Camino near the intersection of those two streets, on that nice now-shaved hillside where someone is building TOO MANY NEW HOMES, will result in a contiguous sidewalk, but allow me to continue.

“After Chestnut, it’s smooth sailing, even through the Vortex of Doom — where state Route 78, the Westfield Carlsbad mall and Vista Way all converge, creating perpetual gridlock.

“And then, up into Oceanside, it’s a nice, pleasant walk, past Fire Mountain, all the way up to Eternal Hills — where the sidewalk again inexplicably ends.

“And it is like that all the way to Oceanside Boulevard – a distance of only about 3 miles.

“Driving the distance the other day, I saw that things are pretty much the same all along El Camino Real. In Carlsbad, heading south from Tamarack, you get long patches of sidewalk that end abruptly; things get better in Encinitas, through the busy business district, but heading south, the west sidewalk ends just south of Cerro Street.

“I’m urging the cities of Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside to work together with the San Diego Association of Governments to make El Camino as accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists as it is to cars.

“There are sections where the road has four lanes of car traffic in either direction, and yet there’s a narrow sliver of painted bike lane and no sidewalk.

“Let’s get crackin’, folks: a broad, uninterrupted sidewalk on both sides of El Camino, from Manchester up to Mission, and a wider bike lane, ideally separated from the road by a berm — at least in the non-commercial zones, where the road is wide and there’s room to expand.

“Who’s with me? And who’s going to tell me it can’t be done, it’s too expensive, or it’s just not practical?

“I’m all ears.”

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