With only 16 miles finished, cyclists upset by SMART’s delays in completing promised bike path
Nearly a year and a half since the North Bay rolled out its commuter rail, cyclists in the region feel slighted over how little of the paved path SMART promised along the tracks is finished.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit is scheduled to extend by year’s end its train operations more than 2 miles south to Larkspur, completing 45 miles of the planned 70-mile line that will eventually stretch up to Cloverdale.
However, just 16.2 miles of the separated bicycle and walking trail linking each of the stations has been built. That includes short segments totaling about 5 miles across Novato, San Rafael and Cotati completed in the past two years.
Another 1-mile segment northwest of the downtown Petaluma Station is set to be built this summer.
Still, that will represent about a third of the 54 miles SMART pledged as part of Measure Q, a ¼-cent sales tax hike Sonoma and Marin county voters approved more than a decade ago to create the North Bay commuter rail system. Another 16 miles of existing trail next to the train corridor is to receive upgrades.
Critics, including two cycling advocacy groups in the region that boast thousands of members, contend what’s accessible now falls far short of SMART’s obligation.
“The goal of Measure Q was for the entire railway to have the bike and pedestrian path,” said Eris Weaver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. “Many people were expecting this to be continuously built with the track. We haven’t seen an actual commitment from SMART.”
SMART said it’s making progress on the path. Over the course of a week, however, the agency was unable to furnish figures showing how much it had spent to date on the multiuse trail.
SMART staff members planned to produce the total cost in time for an upcoming board workshop in April, an agency spokeswoman said.
Maps produced by SMART depicting completed and future sections of the multiuse pathway show existing bicycle routes near stations. Weaver said many of them are poorly maintained back roads without shoulders or protections from cars, and thus inadequate.
“It implies that this is a good bike route. But if you actually ride a bike, it’s pretty laughable,” she said, noting suggested connections along her daily commute from Cotati to Santa Rosa are not for the faint of heart. “I haven’t ridden all the routes in the county, but that one at least is not really somewhere you want to send cyclists.”
Ultimately the delay in build-out is a matter of available resources, according SMART board chairman Gary Phillips.
The agency had to deal with a sales-tax shortfall from the economic downturn, in addition to costly environmental studies on some stretches of path that have prevented completion, he said.
“Part of it is that there is only so much money to construct both the track and the paths and most of it has been devoted to the track in terms of priority, and that’s probably the appropriate emphasis,” said Phillips, who as mayor of San Rafael has served on the SMART board for seven years. “If you don’t have the money what are you going to do? It’s not that mysterious. Like it or not, that is reality.”