The setting is perfect - the unique coastal landscape of California, the shimmering Pacific Ocean, the calm, protected waters of Monterey Bay. When it's complete, some seven years from now, the 32-mile rail-with-trail running along the coastline a short trip south from San Jose, California, will without doubt be one of the most remarkable rail-trails in the country.
Even more remarkable - the trail will share the corridor with an active tourist, and possibly transit, train service. Yet another project demonstrating the growing popularity of rail-with-trail, the proposed Coastal Rail Trail will be a tourism draw, a recreational amenity and a vital piece of transportation infrastructure rolled into one. Such is the efficiency of designing bike and pedestrian trails into rail reactivation plans.
In 2010 the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission decided to purchase the 32-mile section of corridor from Union Pacific, fully aware of its transportation utility and recreation potential. Championed by U.S. Congressman Sam Farr, the project has inspired an organized and energetic local community of advocates, including Friends of the Rail and Trail (FORT), People Power of Santa Cruz County, and the visionary folks at the transportation commission (confusingly known as RTC - hey, that's us...)
One of my favorite things about this project is that, in addition to being just a short trip from the Bay Area, the trail passes within one mile of half the county's entire population and provides access to 88 parks and 42 schools.
The Coastal Rail Trail in Santa Cruz will be a key segment of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network, which Congressman Farr is championing in part to foster appreciation for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Although there is tremendous local and regional support for the project - residents have voted in favor of local tax dollars being directed toward acquiring the corridor - these things take time. Supporters hope to see the first section of the trail begin construction within the next three years.
What a great day that will be for those Californians, like me, who believe that pathways for active transportation are terrific investments in the places we live.