Open Streets, Closed Minds

Open Streets, Closed Minds

Wouldn’t it be nice if our community was safe for biking, walking, and skateboarding every day instead of a few times a year?

Santa Cruz County was No. 1 among 58 counties for wrecks with cyclists involving injury or death in 2015, the latest rankings issued by the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Considering our local bicycle safety statistics, it’s disconcerting that Bike Santa Cruz County’s (BSCC) vision statement begins with, “Bicycling in Santa Cruz County is a safe, respected, convenient, and enjoyable form of transportation and recreation for people of all ages and abilities.”

Greenway acknowledges that our county is not yet safe for biking. We need to look beyond painting the street, giving helmets to children, and teaching bicycle and pedestrian safety and focus on physically protecting bicyclists.

The City of Watsonville has adopted a Vision Zero goal to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy and equitable mobility for all. The City of Santa Cruz has considered Vision Zero but has yet to approve it.

In her August 22nd Silicon Valley Bike Summit presentation, Leah Shahum, Director of the Vision Zero Network and former director of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, stated that the six “E”s of Vision Zero are not equal. We must honestly Evaluate the Equity of our streets and prioritize safer Engineering over Education, Encouragement and Enforcement.

No amount of paint or ‘bike safety education’ will keep a 1st-grader safe from distracted drivers. We must create safer options to encourage many who would rather bike than drive but don’t feel safe doing so now.

While BSCC and Greenway both envision a climate-friendly community where more people choose bikes and public transit over cars, Greenway is advocating for more realistic, affordable, and meaningful solutions with the potential to help alleviate gridlock soon.

Last week’s United Nations’ climate change report adds a new level of urgency to this conversation, “Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years.” We need realistic solutions that we can afford to implement now—not in 2035.

We should be looking to places that have figured out how to do more with less. According to former New York Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the protected bicycle infrastructure they installed was by far the most loved and used and least expensive solution to the city’s traffic needs.

If we table the unfunded passenger rail idea for now, we could railbank the corridor, recycle the tracks, and build a greenway designed to separate faster and slower modes with money already allocated in Measure D. This wide, effective trail could become the backbone of a countywide bicycle and pedestrian network. Such a network combined with a modern, effective bus system would be a cost-effective, achievable transportation plan for our county.

One would assume all bicycle advocacy, transportation equity, and environmental organizations would want an honest analysis of all approaches to developing the rail corridor as a daily commuting route.

However, BSCC, Ecology Action, the Land Trust, and the local Sierra Club continue to lobby for the rail-with-trail option despite no evidence that a passenger train would provide equitable transportation, mounting evidence that this path may be impossible to complete, and the fact that the rail-with-trail scenario is now tied to the 10-year contract with Progressive Rail that could impede all trail-building and daily commuting options.  

This seemingly blind support perhaps makes sense when one looks at the financial and leadership ties that connect all of these groups to the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) and/or the Friends of the Rail and Trail (FORT).

Greenway will not be at Sunday’s Open Streets. We have again been denied participation in this BSCC event. The fact that BSCC, a non-profit operating a program on public streets with grant funding from the RTC, should pick and choose who should be allowed freedom of speech is concerning.

The RTC hopes to approve the Unified Corridor Study (UCS) deciding the fate of the rail corridor and steering county transportation options for decades on Dec 6. RTC Staff will likely recommend Scenario B (Passenger Rail) on Nov 15. Share your thoughts with the RTC at

Visit to view the study and get information about the Oct 15 and 16 UCS workshops and the next public meeting on Oct 18.

Gail McNulty is Executive Director for Santa Cruz County Greenway and a mother of three children ages 7, 11, and 13. An interested but concerned cyclist, she is advocating for the types of infrastructure changes that will allow her, her family, and many others to make healthier transportation choices for themselves and our planet.