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‘Holy grail’ stretch of SLO bike trail to move forward

A pair of cyclists walk along the the Railroad Safety Trail near the train station in San Luis Obispo. The city of San Luis Obispo has received a $3.2 million grant to complete a section of trail from Taft to Pepper streets.
A pair of cyclists walk along the the Railroad Safety Trail near the train station in San Luis Obispo. The city of San Luis Obispo has received a $3.2 million grant to complete a section of trail from Taft to Pepper streets. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A $3.2 million state grant will allow San Luis Obispo to complete a key segment of a long-term project to build a 4.5-mile bike path next to the railroad tracks connecting Cal Poly to the city’s southern limits.

“The big project, the holy grail, is to get across the freeway and reunite everybody on the California (Boulevard) side of the freeway to the downtown side,” said Tim Bochum, San Luis Obispo’s deputy director of public works.

The money will pay for the bulk of the cost to extend the Railroad Safety Trail about a quarter of a mile from California Boulevard at Taft Street to Pepper Street on the opposite side of the railroad tracks.

The trail would cross Highway 101 at the existing vehicle overpass on California Boulevard, extend behind the CHP office and cross the railroad tracks on a new pedestrian bridge at Phillips Lane to get trail users to Pepper Street and downtown.

The bridge will also, officials hope, prevent people from trespassing over the railroad bridge to get from California Boulevard east of the tracks to Johnson Avenue on the west side.

“This project is a valuable way to reduce trespassing and improve safety for everyone using the corridor,” said San Luis Obispo Councilman Dan Rivoire, who is also executive director of Bike SLO County. “We think it’s a win for Union Pacific, a win for the residents of the city and students at Cal Poly as well.”

“I think it will be a tremendous improvement,” Bochum added. “I think the day it opens up, it will get huge use.”

But that day is still some months away.

4.5 milestotal length of the Railroad Safety Trail when it is completed

Bochum said the city is still in negotiations with Union Pacific, since the trail would encroach a little into the railroad’s right of way. City officials also need to seek easements from the state, since the trail would encroach a bit onto CHP property.

He hopes construction starts between July 2016 and July 2017.

The Railroad Safety Trail has long been one of the city’s high-priority bike path goals, according to the 2013 Bicycle Transportation Plan. Construction started in 1995, with about two miles completed so far, Bochum said.

The most-used section, Rivoire said, is the trail near Sinsheimer Park.

“The connection over the railroad tracks with the Jennifer Street Bridge was a powerful closure of a major gap,” Rivoire said. “We connected that whole neighborhood to downtown in a way that would allow them to safely ride a bike or walk to downtown.”

With this latest segment, “we essentially had the same major problem related to the tracks and Highway 101 on the other side of town. Overcoming this gap will let us start focusing on the lower-hanging fruit of meandering through neighborhoods to get to the Sinsheimer area.”

While the latest project will get the city a quarter mile closer to completion, there’s still some work to do to complete the trail, which is intended to provide safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists over the railroad tracks that bisect the city. In southeastern San Luis Obispo, the trail ends at Orcutt Road near Bullock Lane; the plan is to head farther south to connect riders to Tank Farm Road.

I think it will be a tremendous improvement. I think the day it opens up, it will get huge use.

Tim Bochum, San Luis Obispo deputy public works director

“We also want to extend the second trail on the west side of the tracks from Railroad Square to Orcutt Road for people on the west side,” Bochum said. “This will mostly be along surface streets such as Victoria Avenue as it connects on that side.”

The entire cost for the Taft to Pepper streets segment is about $4.24 million, with the majority funded by an Active Transportation Program Grant from the California Transportation Commission. The rest will come from $300,000 in funds from the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments and city money, including $250,000 from the city’s local half-percent sales tax.

“This project will increase safety for our community and provide better connections for bicyclists and pedestrians,” San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx said in a news release. “It’s the largest active transportation grant the city has ever received.”

In addition, the station transportation commission allocated $295,000 to the council of governments to continue its regional Safe Routes to School programs, teaching children how to ride safely to school.

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