What a wild roller coaster ride this past week for those of us who support the Bay Trail, a proposed bicycle-and-pedestrian path along the bay between Arcata and Eureka.
First, the Arcata City Council changed its position on the Caltrans 101 Safety Corridor Project, which comes before the California Coastal Commission in Eureka Thursday, from opposition to support providing it includes a separated bike and pedestrian trail. (Yay!) Then Arcata was turned down for a federal TIGER grant to pay for construction of a section of the Bay Trail from Arcata to Bracut. (Boo! A setback for sure, but there will be other pots of money.) Then, despite some odd public comments from one council member, the Eureka City Council reaffirmed its support for the Bay Trail (Yay!) and put a cherry on top when council members said they will not support a signalized interchange at Indianola as suggested by the Coastal Commission's staff (In my opinion, another yay!).
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is meeting today, Tuesday, as I write this prior to press deadline. The board will likely appoint Supervisors Mark Lovelace and Virginia Bass to speak Thursday to the Coastal Commission. On today's agenda is a draft position letter for the supervisors to consider that concludes, "Our Board may not be convinced that the project before you is the best possible solution to the myriad problems facing this corridor, but after considering this project many times over many years, we are not aware of a better one." (Yay. Me neither.)
I just read the newly revised Coastal Commission staff report and I have to say there is some hope. Even though commission staff continues to recommend that the commission find the Caltrans plan "inconsistent with the Coastal Act," the report maps a way forward for the Caltrans project to be approved and the trail to be built.
As you will see elsewhere in this week's paper, last week's cover story had a mistake regarding the Bay Trail Advocates. BTA has taken no position on the proposed interchange at Indianola. The official position of BTA — basically four people over 60 who want to see the Bay Trail built sometime before we die – is the exact same position as that of the Humboldt Trails Council:
1. There is strong community support for the Bay Trail.
2. A barrier-separated bike path on Highway 101 between the two cities is unacceptable.
3. There is the will — and there will be the financial support — to make the Bay Trail happen. (Italics mine.)
Here is where I differ from some trail supporters: I support the interchange at Indianola even though it's not perfect. I think the Coastal Commission staff report recommending a full-signal interchange with left-hand turn lanes at Indianola is clearly 20th century technology in the 21st century. A dumb idea. (They didn't even bother to hire a real traffic engineer to study what a full signal would mean.)
I live in Fieldbrook and work in Old Town. I am a commuter. There are 70,000 car trips per day on that stretch of highway. Two of those are mine. In 2002, after another horrid, deadly accident, Caltrans slapped us with a "safety" corridor. It's not the 50 miles per hour I mind. Somewhere between Arcata's 65-mph freeway and Eureka 35-mph Eureka Slough Bridge we have to drive 50 anyway! It's the pinball nightmare of driving that corridor. Going south from Arcata, drivers' brake lights come on as the speed limit drops from 65 to 50 mph. It's the same moment I tense up my grip on the steering wheel and wait for cars entering at very random speeds from the left and right for 6.5 miles.
And going south, just try to turn left on Indianola. Go ahead. Get in the queue and well, good luck to you. In fact that intersection (and the one at Mid-City) has double the average accident rate (among similar intersections) for very good reasons. In addition to the pinball machine, the commission staff wants me to come to a full stop three miles from any city and sit with my car idling for a minute and a half. My math skills are not great, but if I get "caught" by that red light going both ways, that's an hour of car exhaust per month from my car alone.
What about the Bay Trail? Upon the strong recommendation of the Humboldt County Association of Governments (and hard work by HCAOG, county and city staff), it looks like the trail will have to be built before or during construction of the Caltrans 101 Project as a condition of approval. (Yay!) A very good solution for all.
It's a fact that a city council or a board or commission rarely votes against its staff recommendations. I hope on Thursday afternoon, the California Coastal Commission finds a way.
Editor's note: The Coastal Commission meets on the Caltrans 101 Project Thursday afternoon at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka.