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Trail Blazing in Western Contra Costa County

The new Bay Trail bridge in Pinole arcs over the railroad tracks that hug the shoreline.
Karin Betts

Residents, city and park district staff and officials, hikers, cyclists, and even dogs gathered in mid-September along the shores of San Pablo Bay in Western Contra Costa County to celebrate two new sections of the San Francisco Bay Trail. In Pinole, a critical trail gap between Pinole Shores and Bayfront Park was literally bridged by a half-mile of new trail that includes a stunning, sloping bridge over the Union Pacific tracks. And less than a mile to the northeast, Hercules Bay Trail West provides a mile-long segment of Bay Trail that connects existing trail segments to Railroad Avenue in Hercules.

Now approaching its 30th anniversary, the San Francisco Bay Trail is over 70 percent complete, with more than 350 miles of completed shoreline paths encircling San Francisco Bay. The vision that then State Senator Bill Lockyer put forward in 1987 with Senate Bill 100 was ambitious: to create a 500-mile walking and bicycle trail that would encircle the shoreline of San Francisco Bay, traveling through all nine Bay Area counties, 47 cities and cross seven bridges.

But the reality is that it is the “easy” sections of the trail that have been built, and it is the more challenging sections — those with restricted rights-of-way, inadequate funding and the need to balance creating public waterfront access with protecting sensitive habitats — that remain.

A prime example is the Pinole shoreline and newly opened section of Bay Trail there — which consists of a 1,100-foot bridge and a 1,200-foot segment between Pinole Shores Regional Shoreline and Bayfront Park. The Union Pacific railroad tracks run along the Bay shoreline, in between a protected marshland and steep bluffs, which made it necessary to build a bridge over the tracks instead of a flat railroad crossing. Adding to the challenges, it took a dozen agencies — including MTC — to fund the $13.2 million project, which was spearheaded by the East Bay Regional Park District.

“It takes a village to build the Bay Trail,” said MTC Commissioner and City of Clayton Councilmember Julie Pierce at the September 12 ribbon-cutting. “To build and fund this section of the trail took a collaborative effort and partnerships that included a wide range of local, regional, state and federal agencies as well as public-private partnership with Union-Pacific.”

MTC allocated $4 million in Active Transportation Program (ATP) funds for the project, which is a good example of the type of projects that the state ATP program can fund – projects designed to encourage more walking and biking, whether for recreation, commuting or to get to school. Pierce noted that Proposition 6 on the November ballot is a threat to this program because it would eliminate $100 million per year statewide from the ATP.

 “The Bay Trail runs next to many major transportation hubs and will serve as a green transportation corridor, providing seamless connections to regional transit options — of all modes — for travelers throughout the Bay Area,” said Pierce.

Those connections could get easier in West Contra Costa when Hercules completes construction on a Regional Intermodal Transportation Center that will allow bicyclists to disembark the train and pedal along the trail. Another ribbon cutting earlier the same day celebrated a new mile-long segment of Bay Trail that was built in conjunction with the transportation center. MTC contributed $2.5 million in One Bay Area Grant (OBAG) funds to this project, which connects existing trail segments to Railroad Avenue in Hercules.

The two Bay Trail segments celebrated in September open up a new stretch of western Contra Costa shoreline to trail-goers. The East Bay Regional Park District is working on connecting the Bay Trail from Hercules to Rodeo, and Contra Costa County Public Works is planning an extension from Rodeo to Crockett. Together these projects will create a continuous Bay Trail from the Carquinez Bridge to Pinole, strengthening the bicycle and pedestrian connections between Contra Costa and Solano counties. 

To visit the new trail, use the trailhead and parking lot at Bayfront Park, 1 Tennent Avenue, Pinole.

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