Bay Trail Still Faces Roadblocks

Supporters believe they have a plan for the path through a heavy industrial section of East Oakland, but it needs approval from key property owners.

When the Bay Trail was first proposed 22 years ago, no one thought that it would be easy to create a continuous 400-mile path along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay. Remarkably though, significant progress has been made over the years, and today, there is more trail than not. However, some sections through Oakland have presented a seemingly unsolvable problem. Heavy industry and recreational trails don’t mix. Yet advocates for the trail and one business think they might have found a solution that could shore up a crucial gap. However, some key property owners could still block their path.

The plan crafted by the City of Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency, in cooperation with Hanson Aggregates, a major supplier for road-paving projects, is to build a steel canopy over the trail that would protect people as they travel up the shoreline. It also is their hope that by travelling along the shore, cyclists and pedestrians will stay off Tidewater Avenue, which is overrun with large industrial trucks.

In addition, they want to route the path so that it doesn’t lead people into the intersection of Tidewater and High Street, which is busy and lacks a traffic signal. To avoid this issue, the new trail alignment would go under the High Street Bridge, rather than slowing car traffic with a new traffic light.

If completed, the project would represent a big step toward the creation of a unified stretch of trail running down the East Bay shoreline. The City of Oakland has already broken ground on another Bay Trail project near 66th Avenue and is close to finishing the designs on one north of High Street. When done, the projects would create a usable section of trail from the Fruitvale Avenue Bridge to the Oakland Coliseum.

But even if the proposed trail alignment is approved by the City Council later this month, its construction is still dependent upon an easement from Home Dock Properties, which leases the land to Hanson Aggregates. And there are indications that Home Dock may not go along with the plan. Joel Peter from the Oakland Community and Economic Development Agency said he has heard from a source at Hanson Aggregates that Home Dock is not in favor of allowing the trail to run through its property.

And even if Home Dock grants the easement, there are other obstacles. For the proposed alignment of the trail to work it also needs approval by the DeSilva Gates Company, which owns Gallagher and Burk, the city’s primary road-paving contractor. At this point, it’s not clear whether DeSilva Gates will allow the trail to run behind its property near the High Street Bridge. The Bay Trail alignment also needs approval by the US Army Corps of Engineers to go under the High Street Bridge. That issue is currently being negotiated by the East Bay Regional Parks District, which wants to secure the segment to improve access to the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline Park.

The alignment of the Bay Trail also is part of larger issues for Hanson Aggregates and other heavy industrial businesses in the area. The Oakland Planning Commission recently approved plans to allow residential development on the south end of Tidewater Avenue. “The proponents of the residential area are saying that, because of the park down there and because of the path down there, that that is a suitable location for residential,” said Michael Bishop of Hanson Aggregates. “The drawbacks are that this area is densely industrial from woodworking shops to our aggregate business.”

However, there could also be benefits. “The Bay Trail starts attracting all sorts of uses out there,” said Bay Trail planner Lee Huo. “It starts improving the commercial developments in the area so it brings people down there for recreation as well as providing a commute route for folks.”

Indeed, as a commuter route, the Bay Trail could be a valuable tool for reducing traffic and carbon emissions. “The Bay Trail needs to be treated as a transportation facility,” said Robert Raburn of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. “If it’s not going to be treated as a serious transportation facility, then I’m going to have to turn my back on it and say, ‘Look, we’re going to go after getting bike lanes on the street.'”

Pressure to patch up the remaining sections of trail in Oakland, in fact, could come from the cycling community around the bay. “The trail is a regional project, not just a city project,” Peter said. “If the trail just goes a short distance and has to stop, it’s not very valuable.”

Although the fate of trail at Tidewater Avenue will ultimately come down to a decision by the local property owners, the timetable for completing the entire Bay Trail remains as uncertain as it was 22 years ago when the state Legislature signed the landmark bill to create it. “Various folks have various pieces of the puzzle and so it’s a matter of coordinating the various pieces,” said Larry Tong of the East Bay Regional Parks District. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

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