WatchSonoma Watch

Slow pace of SMART bike path construction frustrates cyclists


A signature element of the Sonoma-Marin rail project and a key selling point for many of the voters who approved it — a 71-mile bikeway, postponed due to a funding crisis — is moving forward in places, but not fast enough for bicycle advocates.

The planned bike path, which eventually could be one of the longest of its kind in the nation, was crucial in winning voter support for a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit commuter line.

But faced with slumping sales-tax receipts during the recession, the rail authority was forced to build the line in stages and cut a third of the pathway funding.

John and Pat Rich ride along the multi-use trail next to the SMART tracks, between 8th Street and College Avenue in Santa Rosa, for the first time on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

John and Pat Rich ride along the multi-use trail next to the SMART tracks, between 8th Street and College Avenue in Santa Rosa, for the first time on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

With revenue now on the rebound, the agency has been laying track throughout Sonoma County. But construction on the bike path — envisioned as the spine of a growing bike network in the two North Bay counties — remains largely suspended, troubling bike advocates and enthusiasts.

The agency has yet to build one segment of the pathway and has no estimate for when it expects to finish the project, though officials have said they are aiming to complete the first phase of the rail project, from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, by the end of 2016.

“The fact that they haven’t established a date for completion (of the pathway) gives me concern about a lack of commitment,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. “We feel that the bike path should be happening quicker. We want to see more of a ‘can do’ attitude.”

SMART officials say they can’t do work on most of the pathway until federal environmental regulators give the go-ahead. That approval should happen later this year, SMART spokeswoman Carolyn Glendening said.

In some places, the pathway will follow the rail; in others, it will veer off onto existing bike paths and city streets. Where the path runs along the rail, construction can happen only after the rail line is built, SMART officials say. Otherwise heavy machinery used to lay the rails would tear up the asphalt path.

A total of 17 miles of path will be on bike lanes along city streets.

Cities and other jurisdictions will build some segments of the trail. The city of Santa Rosa finished 0.3 miles of the path from West College Avenue to Eighth Street in November, and Caltrans is working on part of the bike path as it widens Highway 101 from Novato to Petaluma.

This summer, Sonoma County Regional Parks will construct a mile-long segment through Roseland south of Santa Rosa with federal funds and money from Santa Rosa’s former redevelopment agency that the state agreed to release.

Recent action on the bike path has excited some cycling groups. In November, SMART awarded a contract to construct seven segments of trail, including three in Sonoma County. Those segments, including stretches in central and southwest Santa Rosa and Cotati, are not part of the federal environmental process that has delayed the rest of the path.

“This is extremely exciting,” said Andy Peri, advocacy director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. “Overall, we’re optimistic about having a lion’s share of the pathway completed in 2016.”

When it is finished, the system will be one of the longest so-called rails-with-trails systems in the country, said Barry Bergman, trail development manager for the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

“It will be a tremendous benefit for walking and biking,” he said. “It’s a great project.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.)

13 Responses to “Slow pace of SMART bike path construction frustrates cyclists”

  1. Jim says:

    First phase of the rail project, from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, complete by 2016??

    Man, this is a complete black hole for taxpayer money. A means for politicians to siphon money to connected contractors who are forced to overpay (i.e. pay prevailing wages) for something that will never be finished.

    Who is going to ride the train from Santa Rosa to San Rafael? Then what, hop the bus there? What does that do for the ridiculous traffic at the Narrows? We all know the money is being wasted on the third lane because it’ll be a carpool lane. there aren’t enough carpoolers to make the lane worth anything in terms of traffic congestion.

    I can’t believe the elected liars get away with this garbage.

    I’m starting a construction company. May as well siphon some of my tax money back from the leeches in government.

  2. James Bennett says:

    R.B. Fish:
    One of the names for Smart Growth is…
    ‘Work Force Housing’.


    ‘Human Settlements’.


    ‘Islands of Human Habitation’.

    Their terms, not mine.

    Like past oppressive takeovers, adherent followers think there will be a special place for them in the new government.

    Sarcasm aside, I can’t believe we are we where we are.

    What’s more unbelievable is how many folks don’t recognize the landscape of this road.

    As being a road to tyranny.

    It takes a little courage…
    denial isn’t courage.

  3. R.B. Fish says:

    Stalin used call people like the haphazard environmentalist such as the Bike people “useful idiots.” The bike path will never be built and these people will be used again by the liberal left and they will follow like sheep. Unfortunately, the SMART train is the beginning of the end of the SOCO quality of like. It’s our very own Obamacare. Fortunately, I will be able to avoid the vulgarity of the SMART train fiasco when it pretends to arrive. With the SMART train, ObamaCare, Common Core and amnesty I feel sorry for the younger people who are being herded into a mundane socialist existence. Yet, they still believe banning plastic bags is a big achievement in saving the world.

  4. MJN says:

    I hate to say it, but allot of people told you so !!!

  5. John Parnell says:

    Elephant – Yes, I remember quite well. There’s even a picture of one of the blockers on our Facebook group. As I look at his picture to post the link below, I wonder if he ever got that work he was promised.


  6. John Parnell says:

    “The agency has yet to build one segment of the pathway and has no estimate for when it expects to finish the project,…” That tells the story.

    I remember telling the leaders of the bike coalition that I felt sorry for them, because I thought they were used as pawns. They wouldn’t be getting their bike path, despite SMART’s promises. What made it obvious to me, was that the bike path was scheduled to be built AFTER the railway.

    If you were putting in a new rail line and a road next to it, wouldn’t it be nice to have that roadway built beforehand for the trucks and equipment? Add another layer of asphalt afterward, and call it a day. Especially when you were so broke that you had to cute the project in half.

    I’m sorry to see my prediction coming true, as we see what’s not really happening. SMART will try to do with the path what it’s doing with the stations. They will try to make the cities, counties & feds pay for what our tax was supposed to cover. The Feds might not, but the SMART board members will see that our counties & towns pay, since they serve on those boards too.

    We see our transit money meant for our roads & other pathways being siphoned to SMART. Yet the end result is no SMART path, and more potholes on our local roads with ill-equipped bike lanes.

  7. Steveguy says:

    The vote was supposed to for SMART paying for the whole line. With bike path.

    Guess who is paying for many bike segments and stations. The Cities, that is who.

    When did they apply for the permits and why is it taking so long ? Blaming permits seems to be just another excuse to not deliver on the promise.

  8. Steveguy says:

    SMART is a day late and multi-millions short. 2014 was the projected opening, then it changed to 2015, then late 2015/early 2016. Now they say late 2016.

    The Press Democrat never mentions that. They still won’t when it turns into 2017.

    I would like to see the books of SMART. They should be public record.

  9. James Bennett says:

    Ah, nothing like the smell of diesel emissions on a morning bike ride.

    Once we’re close neighbors we’ll get a feeling for city life like our global citizens from China and India.

    An opportunity to really get to know each other.

    The smell is often what we remember when we visit abroad.

  10. Francis says:

    The photo tells a lot about the unsmart bike path. Two lonely riders peddling along next to tracks that haven’t seen a train, smart or otherwise, in years.

    That is about the usage these useless bike paths will have when and if the unsmart train ever leaves the station.

  11. Elephant says:

    The promise of bike paths was just one of the many fairy tales that DUMB told in order to get support from the public. I honestly don’t think that they have any real plans or intentions to build bike paths. Just as I don’t think that they really have plans to go to Larkspur. One factor in that is that the old train tunnel that runs between Terra Linda and San Rafael cannot be used.

    No the real backer of DUMB and the only one that will benefit (besides their outrageously paid administration) is the construction industry. Their only goal is to build high-density housing that we do not need and do not have the infrastructure for (including water) that DUMB themselves require to be built around train stations. Anybody remember the thugs that one of the unions sent out to harass people out getting petition signatures to repeat the sales tax measure that funds DUMB?

    When will the masses wake up and see the truth of this white elephant?

  12. Don says:

    More lies from those who govern us!

    I love how the PD keeps citing the downturn in the economy as the reason this is not happening.

    Does anyone believe they ever planned on building a bike path?

    It was just a slick way to get what they wanted.

    Have you noticed that they do not have the cash to build the whole rail line!

    Just keep voting the same losers back into office.

  13. James Bennett says:

    Lotsa folks I know aren’t frustrated…

    they’re pissed.