Despite the many ways that 2020 was a horrible year, there were still sprouts of improvement to the common good. One sign of better things to come was the completion of the 1.2-mile paved Westside Rail Trail from Bay and California Streets to Natural Bridges Drive. After seven years of work, including funding allocation, permitting, environmental review, and extensive pre-construction and construction work, this landmark section of the Rail Trail is now busy with dog walkers, joggers, parents pushing baby strollers, kids on bikes, and many others.
The official ground-breaking ceremony was held on December 10, 2020 by the City of Santa Cruz, the lead public agency for this section of trail, and the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission, the lead for the entire Rail Trail project. It featured several partners, including our own Kirsten Liske. Ecology Action has been an active advocate and financial supporter of this project for more than twenty years.
This section of the Rail Trail – part of a planned trail along the Santa Cruz County rail corridor – cost some $7.5 million drawn from a variety of sources: federal (thanks to Sam Farr), state (Coastal Conservancy), and local funds (a nod to Measure D voters), and private donors (organized by Ecology Action, Bike Santa Cruz County, and Friends of the Rail & Trail) who helped spur city leaders to take on this project. A special shout-out to several local business donors: Giro/Bell, Santa Cruz Bicycles, Kelly’s French Bakery, Fox Racing Shox, and Ibis Cycles.
Several innovative features make biking the trail more comfortable, including the green painted bike crossings at intersections, which are like crosswalks for bikes. Flashing lights and signs along the trail warn cars to look for bikes and pedestrians at busy trail and street intersections. On Bay Street, there is a two-way protected bike lane where the trail leaves the railroad corridor to cross a busy intersection.
This section of the Rail Trail provides a safe, convenient, and direct route for local students, commuters, and grocery shoppers to many frequent destinations—and more once schools and businesses return to in-person operations. More families and individuals have discovered or rediscovered biking during the covid pandemic for fresh air, exercise, transportation, and stress relief.
What’s coming next?
Phase II of the Westside Trail will start at Bay and California Streets and connect to the Beach Boardwalk area following the rail line that runs between Bay Street and Neary Lagoon and skirts the Sanctuary Exploration Center. This section will connect to the Beach Street two-way cycle track (protected bike lane). If state funding is awarded this year and everything else goes according to plan, this section will be completed in 2023.
In Watsonville, a small section of the Rail Trail is under construction in the vicinity of Walker Street. This section will eventually lead to Lee Road, providing a 1.2-mile stretch of trail that connects to the existing Watsonville Slough trail network. The North Coast section from Wilder Ranch to Davenport will provide 7.5 miles of farmland and rustic coastal trail connecting the city of Santa Cruz to the future San Vicente Redwoods and Cotoni Coast Dairy National Monument and dirt trails. This 7.5-mile segment is not fully funded yet, but current estimates have construction starting at the end of 2022 and completed in late 2023 at the earliest— more likely 2024.
For more information about the Rail Trail, visit the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission Rail Trail website, which has fact sheets for most trail sections that are still in pre-construction work.
West Side Neighbors Use the Rail Trail
Santa Cruz resident Len Finocchio and his son Sandro, age 7, bike or walk on the Westside Rail Trail most days ever since it opened on December 10, 2020. The new, smoothly paved trail is a wonderful place for the father-son duo to exercise, have fun, and explore the west side. From their house on the far west side, they can easily and safely bike to Neary Lagoon and discover the waterways and birds of this wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the city. This trip is safer now that Bay Street has a two-way protected bike lane that Sandro can easily navigate. Sandro is also fascinated by the trail-user counters at either end of the new trail and likes dodging back and forth in front of this inconspicuous device.
Len and Sandro also use the trail to run errands, like buying food from New Leaf Community Market and picking up items from Ace Hardware for home projects like Sandro’s backyard fort. They have followed the trail construction closely throughout 2020, and they even befriended the Granite Rock construction workers, who told Sandro about their work, from building bridges and moving and smoothing earth to laying pavement. Sando was particularly interested in how Granite Rock recycled ground-up asphalt from repaving projects elsewhere in Santa Cruz.
They are both excited for the next section of trail connecting to Davenport, expected to be completed by 2024. The north coast section of the trail will allow them to ride to Davenport on weekends for lunch and then ride back. They are looking forward to a beautiful coastal ride along the car-free path.