Top Ten Reasons to Switch Gears and Build Greenway!
by Bob Landry
Friends of the Rail and Trail (FORT), the Land Trust, and some other groups recently ran an expensive ad in The Mercury News, The Sentinel and GoodTimes listing their “top ten reasons” for building the trail while keeping the rail.
- FORT: The Rail Trail is within a mile of 92 parks, 45 schools, and half the county's population.
Greenway: YES AND unlike the rail-with-trail plan, Greenway would provide a safe, level, continuous, off-street route to these locations. For example, to avoid using the Capitola Trestle, the rail-with-trail plan routes trail users down steep Cliff Drive, through Capitola Village and up Monterey Avenue—a route that's dangerous for children bicycling to school, illegal for skateboarders, and impractical for people in wheelchairs.
- FORT: More than $40 million has already been allocated to build it – and Measure D provides another $80 million.
Greenway: YES AND this money could be used to complete Greenway or begin building rail-with-trail. Using existing trestles and avoiding major retaining walls and other engineering projects would make Greenway MUCH easier and more affordable to complete AND MUCH friendlier to our fragile coastal zone.
- FORT: This approved trail is already being built – the first segment in Santa Cruz will open in 2018.
Greenway: NOT QUITE. Part of Segment 7, West Santa Cruz—Natural Bridges to California and Bay, might be built this year. The rest of Segment 7, West Santa Cruz—California and Bay to the Wharf, has been put on indefinite hold due to the first of many unbudgeted retaining wall projects that would make rail-with-trail at least twice as expensive as Greenway.
- FORT: 11 more miles (North Coast, Live Oak and Watsonville) of the 32 mile trail can be built in 4 years.
Greenway: MAYBE. However, if we switch gears to Greenway’s plan, the Measure D funds allocated to build a trail on the rail corridor would be enough to build the entire Greenway.
- FORT: Almost all of it can be built in 10 years.
Greenway: But at what cost? Why hasn’t the corridor been surveyed to offer a realistic picture of the financial and environmental costs of building a trail next to the rail? How many trees will be lost and how will this affect bird, butterfly, and other wildlife habitats? How many miles of green hillsides will be replaced with cement retaining walls? How will protected wetlands be affected if new bridges are installed? How many children will be left without safe routes to school and how many people will never have the opportunity to leave their cars at home and travel a safe new bicycle route?
- FORT: The current trail plan has been approved by all levels of government, after a 3-year public process.
Greenway: YES, HOWEVER, the current trail plan is a conceptual document that presents guidelines but does not describe many of the engineering challenges. Also, it was approved without public knowledge of other options prior to the passing of Measure D which requires a fair and open study of the best use of the corridor. The ongoing Unified Corridor Study is considering Greenway's plan.
- FORT: Abandoning the current plan will delay starting to build the trail-only choice by up to 10 years.
Greenway: ONLY IF rail advocates choose to delay the process. The Greenway plan is the affordable, environmentally sensitive, easy-to-build plan.
- FORT: The bike and pedestrian trail will be 12 to 16 feet wide, the widest paved trail in the county.
Greenway: NOT QUITE. 12 to 16 feet includes the 2-foot shoulders next to a fence and, in many places, a retaining wall. The usable trail space is 8 to 12 feet. Both East Cliff and West Cliff are wider than this at times and neither functions as a true transportation corridor for cyclists who tend to stay in the street. In reality, there are many locations throughout Santa Cruz, Aptos, Capitola, and Watsonville where rail-with-trail users would be diverted to streets to avoid necessary engineering projects at least temporarily—perhaps indefinitely.
- FORT: The Rail Trail preserves the rail corridor for the future. The trail only approach does not.
Greenway: NOT TRUE. Railbanking the corridor would preserve the possibility of a train if it ever makes sense in the future; allow us to build a safe, continuous trail soon; AND offer protection against railroad preemption, a loophole in federal railroad law that the oil and gas industry is exploiting to build unwanted facilities in unsuspecting communities all across the U.S.
- FORT: The Rail Trail will transform the way we get around the county – soon.
Greenway: SADLY NO. If we move forward with the current rail-with-trail plan it would not have a significant effect on our transportation needs. On the other hand—by separating faster commuters on bikes and e-bikes from walkers, joggers, etc. and potentially including modern small-scale transit vehicles—Greenway would offer safe, healthy new transportation options to many.
Building Greenway, reallocating $40M in Measure D rail study and repair funds to create a countywide protected bicycle network, and focusing our transit efforts to modernize our METRO bus system to be faster, more appealing, and more reliable would have a profound effect on our immediate transportation needs and our county's future.
It's time to switch gears and get people moving in Santa Cruz County!