Bike Santa Cruz County, the Coastal Rail Trail, and the Future of Transportation in Our County

Why we support the plan for rail with trail, for now

Bike Santa Cruz County has been working to get a bike and pedestrian trail built in the rail corridor for more than 25 years. We are collaborating with our local lead agency, Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), the agency that owns the rail right-of-way, to promote and support this endeavor. The RTC developed the award-winning Trail Master Plan (linked below), and is the responsible entity for implementation of the plan. Working in partnership with local jurisdictions, RTC will guide the future of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Rail Trail.

We have been at the forefront, advocating for the Coastal Rail Trail to become not just a wild idea, but a viable project with more than $100M in funding.

In the past 6 months, the Bike Santa Cruz County board of directors was lobbied to take an alternative position on the corridor’s future use. The board heard presentations from both the Friends of the Rail and Trail and the Great Santa Cruz Trail Group (now Santa Cruz County Greenway). After hearing multiple points of view and weighing the costs and benefits, the board of Bike Santa Cruz County remains committed to the Coastal Rail Trail as designed in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Master Plan, while the RTC continues to study the practicability of rail. The primary reasons for this are:

  1. Construction of the Coastal Rail Trail is scheduled to begin in 2018 and 10 miles, or 33%, will be constructed within 4 years

  2. The potential of passenger rail service in Santa Cruz County makes preserving the tracks worth the time it takes to study its feasibility.

Half the county’s population, 92 parks and 44 schools are located within 1 mile of the rail corridor. Thirteen miles of the Coastal Rail Trail has been funded in full or in part, with construction to begin as soon as design, engineering, and environmental permitting are complete. These projects include 7.5 miles of trail from Wilder Ranch to Davenport, 2.1 miles through the Westside of Santa Cruz, 2.2 miles from the Boardwalk to 17th Avenue, and 1.2 miles in Watsonville from Lee Road to Walker Street. The first phase of one of the segments through the Westside, from Natural Bridges Drive to Bay Street, will begin construction in 2018. Bike Santa Cruz County’s efforts over the last 25 years are now truly beginning to pay off.

But there is a real fear beginning to spread: the potential for this project to be delayed due to the lobbying efforts of a small group that is advocating for the train tracks to be removed. Changing course now would mean the entire process would need to restart and projects currently in progress would be delayed. Comprehensive planning, new designs, building stakeholder buy-in, environmental review, and finding additional funding to remove the tracks, would, in an accelerated estimate by the RTC, take 10 years. Our community cannot wait that long.  

Traffic Violence in Santa Cruz County

Our county needs the Coastal Rail Trail to be constructed as soon as possible. The Community Traffic Safety Coalition recently released their Traffic Violence in Santa Cruz County Report. They found that Santa Cruz County ranks among the worst in the state for injuries and fatalities among bicyclists overall and pedestrians under the age of 15. They also found the 8% of residents in our county who walk or bike experience 26% of the deaths and severe injuries that occur on our roadways. That means that traffic violence (severe injuries and fatalities) disproportionately affects our most vulnerable road users -- cyclists and pedestrians.

We urgently need to reduce our community’s traffic violence by giving cyclists and pedestrians an alternative to our high collision corridors. The Traffic Violence in Santa Cruz County Report studied traffic violence between 2010-2014. During those years, 20 cyclists and pedestrians were either severely injured or killed on high collision corridors that run parallel to the Coastal Rail Trail. By building the Coastal Rail Trail we would give cyclists and pedestrians a direct route to move across the county safely, away from vehicular traffic. Lives are depending on it.

Mass Transit in the Rail Corridor

The future of Santa Cruz County’s transportation system depends on the use of the corridor. The RTC is in the process of studying the best use of the rail corridor from an environmental, economic, and social equity context through the Unified Corridor Investment Study (UCIS). The UCIS is reviewing multiple scenarios including transit with trail and trail-only in the corridor. Bike Santa Cruz County supports the RTC’s process to use the UCIS as a tool to determine the best use of the corridor.

Bike Santa Cruz County supports the RTC’s process because mass transit has a huge potential: allowing those committed to using bicycles as daily transportation to move further distances, encouraging new cyclists, and connecting Santa Cruz County residents to the statewide rail network. Mass transit in the corridor has the potential to improve travel for cyclists by allowing them to move further distances within the county by biking to a stop, hopping on the train, hopping off the train, and biking the last mile to their destination. Passenger rail and bicycling are a perfect match, and rail would support a car-light lifestyle by providing a viable alternative to driving. As the statewide rail system is built-out, the entire state would be more accessible to Santa Cruz County residents traveling without a car.

A passenger train also has the potential to provide an alternative route, with consistent travel times, for commuters between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. As population increases and housing costs in North County continue to rise, more and more workers will look for lower cost housing options in South County and beyond. Rail transportation would provide an alternative to sitting in traffic and would allow residents of Mid- and South County to spend more time with their families, increasing their quality of life.

It may be that the UCIS, or other future studies, determine that passenger rail is not feasible for our county. We acknowledge that rail transportation is a significant investment, and funding for capital improvements and annual operating costs would need to be secured before passenger rail could move forward. Bike Santa Cruz County believes that we should not give up the option for transit in the corridor without a thoughtful and informed community conversation. We look forward to the results of the UCIS, and our board will weigh the impacts of the study’s results on local cyclists before taking an updated position.

We need your help

Bike Santa Cruz County urges the community to endorse the process and to continue its trajectory toward building the Coastal Rail Trail in the shortest time possible and studying the future of mass transit in the rail corridor. How can you help?

Thank you for your continued support in making Santa Cruz County a safer place to bike.

Janneke Strause

Executive Director

Bike Santa Cruz County