New Westside Rail Trail Paves the Way for Localized Bike Improvements

Small improvements add up to better biking, and today we can highlight a recent way that this happened.

New Leaf Community Market on the westside of Santa Cruz is a popular grocery store with a diverse and growing customer base. The store is located next to the new westside section of the Rail Trail, which provides a safe, pleasant, and direct paved path for walking, biking, skating, scooting, and other means of active transportation. The 1.3-mile trail has become a local and visitor favorite for a variety of users.

For Matt Kocher, a New Leaf employee, it provides a convenient and direct way to bike to work from his home in midtown Santa Cruz. Matt regularly bikes the one-way, 3-mile commute, and he loves the trail. He also looks forward to pedaling the section of trail that will stretch from Bay Street to Santa Cruz Wharf, which should be breaking ground in the next six months. When he arrives at work, Matt takes advantage of a secure, enclosed bike locker (provided by New Leaf) to store his bicycle.

As a participant in Ecology Action’s Bike Month Challenge, Matt was a lucky winner of a $100 bike shop certificate, which he used to buy bike bags (panniers) that attached to his bike to replace his backpack. This small adjustment to his bike setup means no more sweaty back for his bike commute to and from New Leaf. Recently, he’s noticed more of his fellow employees using electronic mobility devices such as e-bikes and e-scooters, enabling longer commutes without cars.

New Leaf Market, along with their property owner, agreed to give up part of their already constrained parking lot so that the City of Santa Cruz could keep this section of the Rail Trail on the bay side of the railroad tracks. Store management and Ecology Action staff also worked with the City to add more customer bike parking (5 bike racks that hold up to 10 bikes) on Fair Avenue and make biking to the store easier with a new curb cut to give cyclists a safer access point to bike parking compared to entering with the car traffic off of Fair Avenue. Biking through the main car entrance was awkwardly dangerous, as most cyclists heading to New Leaf had to transition from riding with traffic to cutting across the path of cars and onto the sidewalk to reach the store’s bike parking. The curb cut for cyclists alleviates the need to use that unsafe route across the parking lot entry and exit point, and the new bike racks are directly accessible from Fair Avenue. Anecdotally, the number of family bikes and cargo bikes seen parked outside New Leaf in the last six months alone suggests that biking to and from New Leaf has become more attractive to more people.

“We wholeheartedly support the City’s decision to increase accessibility for community use of the bike path because we believe it supports community health. Encouraging our customers to build eco-friendly habits, like riding their bikes to the store to shop, is one of the many ways we prioritize people and planet, and it’s a decision that’s completely in line with our values as a B Corp grocer,” says Kate Halper, New Leaf Community Markets Director of Marketing.

Just a few pedal strokes down the block over at the ever-popular Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, West End Taproom, Apero Club Plaza, a similar story is taking shape. Speaking with Emily Thomas, the owner of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, “The combination of COVID-adapted outdoor spaces and more bike and foot traffic from the newly constructed Westside Rail Trail made it necessary to do a soft alley closure between 12 p.m. – 10 p.m. to keep cars from speeding through. As a result, we are seeing even more bike and foot traffic to these local businesses.”

With infrastructure like the Westside Rail Trail going in, we are starting to see positive spillover effects that make it easier for people to bike and walk. We look forward to seeing more bike improvements in the vicinity of the Rail Trail to accommodate the growing number of people using it.