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Filling in Oakland’s gaps in the Bay Trail

on July 12, 2011

Oakland’s public works committee spent about a minute Tuesday morning discussing a resolution that would connect a gap in the Bay Trail underneath the High Street Bridge in East Oakland near the city’s border with Alameda, before approving it by consensus. But that doesn’t diminish the step forward towards completing the trail, said Laura Thompson, the trail’s project manager.

“This is what makes the Bay Trail happen, so this is tremendously important,” Thompson said. “What might seem like small steps that a city takes are essentially what makes the Bay Trail a reality.”

The Bay Trail is a planned 500-mile network of hiking and biking trails around the San Francisco Bay. About 310 miles of the trail have been completed, and the entire project is scheduled to be completed around 2025, according to a 2005 report. A general estimate on the cost to complete the remaining 190 miles of trail is $150 million, Thompson said.

The concept of the trail was part of a 1987 state senate bill authored by then-senator Bill Lockyer that would develop a “ring around the bay.” A shoreline trail system then was incorporated into each county and city general plan along the route in the early 1990s.

The City of Oakland went a step further, Thompson said, and implemented a specific waterfront plan that includes development of the Bay Trail. Voters approved a nearly $200 million bond measure in 2002, Measure DD, which focuses on improving the waterfront at Lake Merritt and on the Estuary. Measure DD funds cover connecting the Bay Trail at the High Street Bridge, according to the committee’s report. The trail currently ends on the north side of the bridge and picks up again a quarter-mile after the bridge.

There was no debate in the public works committee Tuesday about the resolution, which would allow the city administrator to enter into an agreement with the County of Alameda—the owner of the bridge—about a plan to connect two sections of the trail below the bridge so pedestrians and bicyclists wouldn’t have to cross heavy traffic.

“Exciting project,” councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said. “I’m looking forward to being able to bicycle the whole route.”

Development of the Bay Trail is left up to local jurisdictions, so the city needs property rights to the bridge from the county in order to begin work on the Bay Trail. Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan (District 3), who represents the area that covers that part of the trail, was in session Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

While other cities also have gaps in the trail that need to be closed, Oakland’s challenge is unique, Thompson said, because so much of the shoreline is industrial, or a highway, or controlled by a different government entity, like the Coast Guard or the county. Other gaps in the trail in Oakland include a section that will connect to the Bay Bridge pathway in 2013, which is in the planning stages, as well as a few gaps near the Embarcadero Cove and south of Union Point Park.

“A lot of (the challenge facing planners) is figuring out how the trail can be placed within an area that’s currently being used for industry,” Thompson said.

Even if an agreement with the county is reached and a boardwalk is built under the High Street Bridge, there is still a quarter-mile gap in the trail north of the bridge. Thompson said the city has been moving toward connecting the trail along other parts of the waterfront with projects like Union Point Park and the Oak to 9th neighborhood development along the estuary. “It’s falling into place, piece by piece,” Thompson said.

In order for an agreement with the county to move forward, the city council has to approve Tuesday’s committee decision.

But meanwhile, the committee’s decision was greeted with cheers from the bike advocacy group East Bay Bicycle Coalition. Executive director Renee Rivera called the decision “fantastic” and said the city also needs to focus on filling in other gaps in the trail. “It’s really just a wonderful facility for the people in Oakland,” Rivera said. “We would like to see more of that, particularly in places like West Oakland where there isn’t a lot of access to recreation and nature.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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