January 25, 2012

RTC Brings Rail-With-Trail Expertise to Coastal California

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Western Regional Office has been watching with great interest the progression of plans for a rail-trail along Monterey Bay in the Central Coast of California.
So too have the people of Santa Cruz County, and the champagne corks were well and truly popping with the announcement recently that the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) had closed the deal to acquire the right-of-way beside the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.
This 135-year old transportation corridor parallels California State Route 1 from the town of Pajaro in Monterey County, to Davenport, linking major tourism and activity centers as it crosses the Pajaro River, Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and the San Lorenzo River. In addition to providing non-motorized access to a number of state beaches, state parks, swim centers and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the proposed Santa Cruz Coastal Rail Trail would pass within one mile of more than half the county's population.
Now, trail advocates, such as the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail Trail, are anxious to see work begin on a multi-use trail alongside the active tracks. Enter RTC.
Utilizing our technical and planning experience with rail-with-trail projects, RTC staff met recently with the SCCRTC and a large group of regional officials, engineers, planners and community advocates to begin designing a Santa Cruz Coastal Rail Trail.
The line will continue to carry freight and recreational passenger services, so great emphasis will be placed on designing a trail that is safe for all users.
Entering this phase of rail-trail planning was the perfect opportunity for RTC to bring the Healthy Transportation Network's "Designing for Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety" Workshop to Santa Cruz to share the safety record of rail-with-trail projects, successful strategies for community stewardship of trails, and methods to avoid user conflict.
"A lot of rail lines in California are still in use for passenger and freight service, so we are seeing some really great rail-with-trail projects," says Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development for RTC's Western Regional Office. "Combining both a trail and an active train line makesincredibly efficient use of these corridors in our transportation system."
A project of the California Department of Public Health's California Active Communities program, the Healthy Transportation Network has been presenting this free workshop in communities across California for the past four years. They were able to bring the workshop to Santa Cruz thanks to help of local sponsors including the University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, Spokesman Bicycles, Family Cycling Center, Ibis Bicycles, Traugott Guitars, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and Ecology Action.
Some more great news for the people of California came with the announcement this week that land has been acquired for the development of another mile of the city of San José's burgeoning trails network.
A remarkable multi-jurisdictional effort involving the city of San José, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (Open Space Authority) and the Parks and Recreation Department of Santa Clara County, the one-mile addition to the Three Creeks Trail will expand recreation and transportation options within the urban core, and create linkages between the Los Gatos Creek, Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek regional trails. It will also enable the continued growth in non-motorized commuting and errands that have been documented in annual San Jose trail counts since 2007.
Both of these projects are manifestations of a growing demand in California and across the country for healthier and more active options for getting from A to B.
"Growing active transportation mode share is critical to continued improvements in air quality, congestion mitigation,and health of California residents," Schweigerdt says. "Santa Cruz and San José are taking important steps in the right direction, and their residents and businesses will benefit."
Photo courtesy of Howard Cohen

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