Where will the Iron Horse go?
Pleasanton plans on building the missing link in this regional trail, but that's about all that's settled
When the iron horse steam engines roamed the landscape a century ago, their tracks were the harbinger of progress and the forerunners of business developments for the cities dotting its path. Around rail stations of old, towns sprang up to support travelers, shuttle goods and facilitate commerce.
To ensure they were not bypassed, communities rallied ranchers to donate the land required for railways. For ranchers, this often meant rail tracks bisected orchards and grain fields, but it was worth it in the name of community progress.
While the iron horses of old may no longer ride the rails, their pathways still exist and communities are rallying again to convert those forgotten pathways into trails for hikers, bikers, skaters, strollers and recreation of all types.
City officials gathered in March to break ground on the first segment of the Iron Horse Trail in Pleasanton. The mile-long portion of trail will stretch from Santa Rita Road to the intersection of Valley Avenue and Bush Road. It will afford walkers, joggers, skaters and babes in strollers a peaceful change of pace from the current sidewalks lining the traffic congested Santa Rita Road and Valley Avenue. The East Bay Regional Park District owns the regional trail and the city of Pleasanton will maintain the section of the trail within the city limits.
"This is just a start for linking up Pleasanton to the whole regional trail system," said Kurt Kummer, the Chair of the Trails Ad Hoc Committee, an advisory body to the city Parks and Recreation Commission.
Back in 1986 when the East Bay Regional Park District was dreaming big, it envisioned an Iron Horse Trail that reached from the Carquinez Straits in Martinez to the Livermore Valley. The pathway planned followed the old Southern Pacific Rail Lines built in 1891 and abandoned in 1977. The old rail line is ideal for trail conversion: It is already a straight, gently graded path that links several cities.
Turning this vision into a reality has been 20 years in the making. Segments have been added slowly as funds became available and opportunities presented themselves. Now, with the trail ending at the Dublin/ Pleasanton BART station, it is poised to enter the city of Pleasanton and the engines are in motion to bring it to town.
The funding for the project is a result of a public-private partnership between the city of Pleasanton, the East Bay Regional Park District, Ponderosa Homes and Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority, who together contributed a total of $2 million to get the trail on track.
According to Tess Lengyel, the programs and public affairs manager of Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority (ACTIA), this is the largest grant made in the county from the bike and pedestrian fund. ACTIA was established as a result of the voter-approved Measure B half-cent sales tax that was originally approved in 1986.
Once the trail is complete, it will feature a paved pathway with drinking fountains, benches, litter receptacles, landscaping and access to senior housing and the future site of the Presbyterian Church.
Late spring rains delayed construction on the newest segment but work is rescheduled to begin in earnest soon.
The city of Pleasanton, through contractor McGuire and Hester Inc., began work on the section from Santa Rita Road to Mohr Avenue on May 1. Ponderosa Homes, which is coordinating trail construction along their Ironwood project that stretches from Mohr Avenue to the intersection of Valley Avenue and Bush Road, is set to begin later this month.
Pam Hardy of Ponderosa Homes said, "We're looking at starting in late May and it will take two to three months to complete the construction process."
While the segment of trail under construction cuts through a busy section of Pleasanton, the route to access it is still undecided. The only portion of the trail set in stone is in north Pleasanton where the BART station exits on Willow Road. From that point, trail planners have some alternatives.
The current intended course of the trail leads hikers from Willow Road onto the south side of Owens Drive. The sidewalks on the south side of Owens Drive were built wider than usual for pedestrians leaving BART and to accommodate Iron Horse Trail users.
From the south side of Owens Drive, trail users will turn right on West Las Positas Boulevard and then cross the street at Stoneridge Drive. Hikers, bikers and skaters will then follow Stoneridge Drive to Santa Rita Road, crossing the street and turning right onto Santa Rita to access the new section of trail which will end at the corner of Valley Avenue and Busch Road. Signage along the route is planned to help trail users follow the path safely.
Some people may be disappointed that Pleasanton's Iron Horse Trail is routed on city streets, but Parks and Recreation Director Jim Wolfe is quick to point out another portion of the Iron Horse Trail that is similar.
"It's no different than it is in Walnut Creek," Wolfe said. "There are some areas in Walnut Creek that are not a straight line. It is much like it is in Hacienda."
East Bay Regional Park Officials and many local trail advocates prefer routing the Iron Horse Trail along the Alameda Transportation Corridor, also known as the old Southern Pacific Right of Way, which is still in tact. In fact, the East Bay Regional Park District owns the right of way along the old rail corridor.
However, the Archstone Apartments, a condominium development and some businesses built along the route abut the easement owned by East Bay Regional Park for the Iron Horse Trail. In order to gain access to the existing right of way, a public hearing process is required. According to many city officials, the approval process for the route would most likely be an arduous one given the current political climate in the city.
There is also a problem when the existing corridor crosses Hacienda Drive. It hits the busy street mid-block. The same problem exists when the transportation corridor crosses Stoneridge Drive. Determining the safest way for pedestrian's to cross mid-block is a key stumbling point. A mid-block signal is not desirable to city officials and there is no room or funds for a pedestrian over crossing.
Another proposed alternative is to divert walkers and riders from Owens Drive onto Tassajara Creek. The Zone 7 Water District has created an access route along the creek, but its primary use is for flood control. Trail users would be considered secondary users, and Zone 7 needs assurances from both the city and East Bay Regional Parks that users would not impede the primary purpose of the trail.
If this alternative were opened, it would allow users to access Stoneridge Drive from Tassajara Creek. This means trail users would spend more time on Stoneridge Drive and would avoid West Las Positas Boulevard altogether. While this alternative has caught the attention of many involved in the planning process, it is not yet an approved alternative.
"No matter what we do, it will take a lot of work," said Fan Ventura, an analyst for the city of Pleasanton who is familiar with the progress on the trail.
"We're pretty excited about the current options," said James Paxson, general manager of the Hacienda Business Park Owners Association. Regardless of the final routing, Paxson is glad to see progress on bringing the trail into the business park.
"There are plenty of benefits to the business park," said Paxson. "Trails bring the business park down to a human level."
According to Paxson, the business park is looking for better pedestrian flow through the park, residents are looking for alternative transportation, and the Iron Horse Trail meets both needs.
While the trail's route in through the business park has remained undecided for years, city officials will need to move quickly now to reach an agreement prior to the completion of construction on the newest segment. According to Wolfe, the decision needs to be made in anticipation of a fall trail opening.
"Once people get out there and realize they can walk to Dublin or bike to Danville, they will realize what a gem this is going to be to our city," said Kummer.