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Richmond Leads in Bay Trail Construction

Bay Trail advances mile by mile

By Katherine Tam


Article Launched: 03/22/2008 03:03:30 AM PDT

An avocet looks for food in the Albany Mudflats along the Bay Trail on... ( GREGORY URQUIAGA )



Once a week or so, Tim Gilbert does something the average commuter might find unusual: He hops on his bicycle for a 10-mile journey to work.

His ride along the Bay Trail from Point Richmond to his office in Berkeley takes him past kite surfers, wetlands, boats bobbing at the harbor, dogs frolicking at Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, historic shellmounds and developments on the rise.

"I ride as much for the quality of the ride as for the physical benefits," said Gilbert, 59.

Like others who frequent the trail, Gilbert hopes missing segments will soon be completed. Gilbert drives from his San Rafael home to Point Richmond, where he parks his car to access the trail because there is no bike path across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

Trail advocates are lobbying to close the gaps on the Bay Trail, mile by mile, county by county. The trail ultimately will span 500 miles to link nine counties encircling San Francisco and San Pablo bays. Since the initiative began in 1989, more than half of this "Ring Around the Bay" has been built.

At 25 miles, Richmond has more completed trails than any other city in the Bay Trail network, and advocates plan to increase that amount. About 6.5 miles of trail are expected to be built this year, including 1.5 miles at the West County Landfill and 2.5 miles connecting Canal Boulevard to Brickyard Cove. The construction value is $2 million.

In addition, supporters are hunting for $385,000 to fabricate and install interpretative exhibits and art by the Port of Richmond as part of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park.

"We want to enrich the experience, so it isn't just a strip of asphalt," said Bruce Beyaert, chairman of the Trails for Richmond Action Committee.

At the same time, supporters are looking to the future and working on other stretches, which will require gathering land and designing the trail.

One of the most challenging pieces, Beyaert said, is a half-mile stretch at Chevron's Long Wharf, which would connect Tewksbury Avenue to a trail under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Chevron has cited security reasons for saying no. The Trails for Richmond Action Committee is urging city planners to require the oil company to provide an easement for the trail as well as build and maintain it as part of Chevron's facility upgrade proposal.

Securing land close to the shore and construction funds for trails around the Bay Area is no simple feat and has often come after lengthy negotiations. Some cities acquired land by requiring developers to set aside space for a trail as part of a project approval. Other sections were acquired as components of a wetland restoration, a highway realignment and a bridge reconstruction.

The hardest segments to snag are typically those on private land, across toll bridges and near airports, ports and other places where security is a concern. Places with steep slopes and other tough-to-build-on land also have posed a challenge.

More than a decade ago, Richmond started with trails at Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, Miller Knox Regional Shoreline and Marina Bay.

"It was a great shoreline trail but probably 10 people knew about it," Beyaert said.

That is until the Trails for Richmond Action Committee began promoting the pathway, seeking grants and pushing to make trails a priority. No other city in the Bay Trail network has such a committee.

In neighboring Albany, advocates are lobbying to extend the Bay Trail by connecting the existing trail at Buchanan Street north of the Golden Gate Fields racetrack to Gilman Street south of the track, said Robert Cheasty of Citizens for East Shore Parks.

"It's a piece of the puzzle that has not been completed," Cheasty said.

Golden Gate Fields and the East Bay Regional Park District are trying to hash out details, such as who would own, maintain and be liable for the milelong segment.

On any given day, pedestrians, joggers, in-line skaters and cyclists out for fresh air and exercise dot the Bay Trail. At Marina Bay on a recent day, Richmond resident Jose Diaz walked briskly along the trail. Eugenia Casillas strapped on her in-line skates for a ride. Al Adams took his 12-year-old Labrador out for exercise.

It is the trail's unfettered surface in a safe area with an unobstructed view of San Francisco that draws them back.

"It's the scenery, being near the water and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge," said Diaz, who walks here four or five times a week.

The trail is a magnet for recreation, but also is a commuters' corridor. Taylor Shoop rides his bike along the Bay Trail to his office at Mountain Hardwear in Richmond. With gasoline prices rising, riding a bike is cheaper than driving, he said.

Gilbert, the San Rafael man who drives to Richmond and rides to work from there, sometimes finds himself pedaling on the trail faster than the traffic crawling on Interstate 80.

By 2030, Bay Area drivers are expected to make 35 percent more daily trips and sit in traffic longer, according to the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

But gaps in the trail can discourage some from leaving the car at home, Gilbert said.

"I do it because it's so refreshing at the end of the day to get out and ride your bike instead of sit in a car and fight traffic," he said. "I'd do it every day if I didn't have to put my bike in the car or on a bus. It's only 17 miles. It's doable."

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.


  Links nine counties and 47 cities

  146 species of birds can be found between Point Isabel and Marina Bay, including the great blue heron, snowy egret, burrowing owl, clapper rail and peregrine falcon

  Connects to more than 130 parks and wildlife preserves totaling 57,000 acres of open space

  80 percent of the existing trail is separated from traffic; 20 percent consists of bike lanes or sidewalks

  Managers and owners: The Association of Bay Area Governments plans, promotes and advocates for completion of the trail. Cities, counties, park districts and other agencies acquire land and build and manage trails in their jurisdictions.

  For details, visit http://www.baytrail.org. For Richmond-specific plans, visit http://www.pointrichmond.com/baytrail