A number of real facts have emerged in the last few weeks which shed a harsh light on the plans advocated by the RTC and FORT, which have long been considered "serious" by Commissioners and rail with trail advocates. We are now seeing the truth emerge as the RTC, FORT and their supporters like the Land Trust, Ecology Action, and Bike Santa Cruz must actually implement what they have been advocating for years.
Several speakers at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit on August 22nd challenged local leaders to make brave choices. It’s time to create equitable communities that encourage people of all ages and abilities to bike, walk, and use other healthy non-auto modes by making these options truly safe and convenient.
During a meeting this past June in the Watsonville City Council Chambers, I witnessed something that really rattled my cage. In a packed house, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) voted on whether to agree to a 10-year contract with a Minnesota freight company called Progressive Rail.
The Capitola City Council voted 5-0 at its meeting last night [Aug. 9, 2018] to add the Greenway Capitola Corridor Initiative to the November 2018 ballot. The initiative aims to empower the City to do everything within its power to advocate for an entirely off-street bicycle and pedestrian route that continues across the Capitola trestle.
Santa Cruz County Greenway, a local non-profit organization, filed a lawsuit against the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission. The complaint details concerns over the Commission’s June 14th decision to enter into a ten-year contract with a new operator for its Santa Cruz Branch Railroad line, which runs from Watsonville to Davenport.
Although Greenway believes using most of the 32-mile rail corridor that stretches from Watsonville to Davenport as a wide separated pathway makes sense, it’s only one aspect of our vision for the county. We also care about other meaningful transportation improvements including safe, connected routes for people biking and walking; serious improvements to the Metro bus system; and achievable solutions to address the gridlock nightmare.
For years FORT has been pushing the plan that its name indicates—“Friends of the Rail and Trail.” In fact, a slide presented by FORT to the Scotts Valley City Council in January 2018 is titled, “Rail + Trail = Best Way.” The name change to “Trail with Transit” is a marketing gimmick to dress up the old plan to retain the tracks, even though there is no viable train plan.
Lakeville, MN had the opportunity to turn a rail corridor into a greenway many years ago. If only they had gone that route, they would be enjoying the corridor rather than policing it. Pam Steinhagen, who runs a daycare that backs up to the train tracks, has been a vocal community advocate speaking out about safety concerns caused by "out of use" cars that Progressive Rail has been storing for 9+ years just outside residents' backyards.
Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) staff, better known for careful long-term studies than agile decision making, are moving quickly and quietly with the current rail operator proposal and negotiation process. Given the unique and extraordinary value of our coastal corridor, this is not prudent.