.Rail Trail Breaks Ground As Key Vote Looms

Bruce Van Allen bicycles across the San Lorenzo River railroad truss bridge at least a couple times each week.

When he does, he rolls across the bike and pedestrian path slowly. If he comes across a pedestrian going the other way, he stops to let them pass. Sometimes, Van Allen says, he sees a fellow cyclist and blurts out to them, “Someday they’re gonna widen this bridge!”

The other cyclists, Van Allen says, inevitably yell back something along the lines of, “Yeah, sure, they’ve been saying that for years!”

But the era of a wider bridge is finally coming—it’s one step in a process many years in the making to build a bike and pedestrian path alongside the county’s coastal railroad tracks.The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) is scheduled to vote on a Unified Corridor Study (UCS) on Thursday, Jan. 17. The report includes a wide-ranging preferred scenario laying out the county’s next few decades of transportation planning. It recommends preserving the railroad tracks while further investigating other transportation options for the corridor, including bus-rapid transit.

On Thursday, Jan. 10, Van Allen, a former Santa Cruz mayor, hung out with hundreds of other transportation activists and politicians at the groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the rail trail in a Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk parking lot. Under a brisk, sunny sky, Mayor Martine Watkins took to the microphone first, followed by fellow leaders like RTC Chair Ed Bottorff and Bike Santa Cruz County’s Janneke Strause. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, meanwhile, poured its Rail Trail IPA into commemorative pint glasses, and members of Friends of the Rail and Trail—which advocates for a combination of a commuter train and a trail down the corridor, an approach that the RTC has generally supported—were in full celebration mode.

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Their rival nonprofit Greenway has pushed back, arguing, in part, that ridership projections are anemic and that the trail would be inadequately narrow if shoved next to running locomotives. The group has called for other solutions, including a trail-only plan or bus-rapid transit.

Greenway’s new Executive Director Manu Koenig says that he’s happy about the new 340-foot-long bridge improvement, although he’s more sanguine about the celebration’s underlying significance in the county’s wider transportation strategy.

Many cyclists were hoping that a much longer leg of the rail trail—segment 7, stretching from Natural Bridges Drive to downtown—would have been finished by now. Instead it’s been beset by multiple delays and hasn’t broken ground. Even six months ago, Santa Cruz civil engineers were boasting that construction would begin by the end of summer of 2018. But when bids came in above budget, the Santa Cruz City Council rejected the proposals, opting to try to get more funding, clarify the contract wording and send the project to bid again.

“Have a beer, say a cheer,” Koenig told GT, sarcastically, as rail trail supporters toasted around him. “Let’s party.”

For information about the RTC’s vote on the Unified Corridor Study, check GoodTimes.sc later this week.


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