Op-ed: A top 10 list for the Rail Trail
Friends of the Rail & Trail, local partners and supporters ran an ad in the Sentinel, featuring the “Top 10 Reasons to Build the Rail Trail.” The ad inspired a lot of discussion. To continue the community dialogue, what follows is the Top 10 list and a review of arguments promoted by opponents who are trail-only advocates.
Reason 1: It’s within a mile of 92 parks, 45 schools and half the county’s population. Opponents who say the trail would be diverted through Capitola Village are incorrect. The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) recently identified a funding strategy allowing replacement of the trestle bridge to accommodate rail and trail, using Measure D funding to leverage Senate Bill 1 funding from the state.
Reason 2: Over $40 million has been allocated for the trail — Measure D provides another $80 million. Opponents suggest this isn’t enough. However, there is enough potential funding to cover the full project.
Reason 3: The trail is being built — “segment 7” in Santa Cruz opens in 2018. Opponents say part of segment 7 is on indefinite hold. In fact, there is absolutely no hold on segment 7. Unanimously approved by the city council, segment 7’s first phase is scheduled to begin this year. Phase 2 will likely be permitted this year and completed next.
Reason 4: North Coast, Live Oak and Watsonville segments can be built within four years. Opponents agree, while suggesting Measure D funds could fund a complete trail-only idea. Measure D when combined with available matching funds provides enough funding to build the entire Rail Trail.
Reason 5: Nearly all the Rail Trail can be built in 10 years. Opponents question financial and environmental impacts. Pursuing trail-only sets back the planning process eight to 10 years. Opponents have no certified engineering reports or environmental studies to support their claims. The Rail Trail is backed by an award-winning master plan and is supported by many organizations including the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Bike Santa Cruz County and Regeneración Pajaro Valley Climate Action.
Reason 6: The trail plan is approved at all government levels. Opponents agree, though they assert the plan lacked public input regarding trail-only. However, the master plan and EIR reflect years of public input and study by engineers, biologists, geologists and planners. The RTC publicly discussed the trail-only option and voted to proceed with Rail Trail.
Reason 7: Abandoning the current plan delays starting a trail-only idea by up to 10 years. Opponents make an unsupported claim that Rail Trail advocates might delay the project, and that trail-only is an “affordable, environmentally sensitive, easy-to-build” approach. In truth, their no-rail-transit idea would be met with opposition from local, state and federal agencies needed for approval.
Reason 8: The Rail Trail will be the widest in the county. Opponents believe the trail will be 8 to 12 feet wide. They’re wrong; the plan definitively includes a trail fully usable at 12 to 16 feet, wider than local trails like Arana Gulch, Watsonville Slough and the trail to Wilder Ranch.
Reason 9: The Rail Trail preserves the tracks for the future. The trail-only approach does not. Opponents offer “railbanking” to preserve the possibility of rail service someday. This is misleading. Not once, anywhere, has railbanking been used to rip out tracks, replace them with a path, then later remove the path and put tracks back, and restart rail service.
Reason 10: The Rail Trail will transform how we get around — soon. Opponents believe the Rail Trail plan won’t address transportation needs, and that an additional path is needed to separate walkers from bikes, e-bikes and “small-scale transit vehicles.” However, the Rail Trail will address our needs, providing a safer route than our streets for kids and adults, while keeping the tracks for future transit options that will provide an alternative to cars. Opponents’ claims about “small-scale transit vehicles” are not supported by facts; state law even excludes the fastest class of e-bikes from dedicated bikeways. Shared, multi-use trails for cyclists and pedestrians are a proven success throughout California.
Rail & Trail will serve the many, not just the few.
This letter originally ran in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on April 14th, 2018 and was co-signed by Mark Mesiti-Miller, Janneke Strause, Emily Thomas, Glen Schaller, Val Cole, Jill Dion, Dan Dion, Linda Wilshusen, Barry Scott, Rick Longinotti, David Van Brink, Sally Arnold, Robert Arko and Grace Voss.