A Rail Transit and Trail Vision for our Community’s Future
Updated: Mar 30, 2022
by Joseph Haenlein, Aurelio Gonzales, Greg Larson, Faina Segal, John Caletti, Gina Cole, and Sally Arnold, Board Chair of Friends of the Rail & Trail.
The original published Santa Cruz Sentinel Op-Ed can be found here.
This region that we call home has many wonderful qualities. In addition to the stunning environment, our coastal community includes thriving local businesses, strong educational institutions, varied cultural resources, and an active citizenry. It’s no wonder we take such pride in our communities.
That community pride has been on display during this difficult year. We have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, the racial justice crisis, and the climate-change-powered wildfires with exceptional resilience and compassion.
But these challenges have made it clear that the time to invest in equity and clean energy alternatives is now. Creating car-free transportation options is one way to do that. We can do more than react to disasters. With courage and creativity, we can improve conditions for our diverse communities.
Coast Connect is the initiative to improve transportation equity and sustainability in our county. Developed by the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail & Trail, and endorsed by hundreds of individuals, businesses and community groups, Coast Connect is a vision for a transformed transportation system in our county, one that will provide an alternative to the expense and environmental damage of car dependence.
This vision begins with leveraging our under-utilized rail corridor into a multi-functional north-to-south transportation spine, including both a trail and a passenger rail service. The trail is under construction now and will connect more than half of the county’s population from Davenport to Watsonville. It will provide safe access to dozens of parks, schools and businesses.
Next to the trail, passenger rail service between Watsonville and Santa Cruz will connect our county, giving residents a clean, quiet, reliable alternative to Highway 1 traffic. Rail connections at Watsonville/Pajaro Junction will give us car-free access to destinations beyond our county. Synchronized local buses and shuttles will create smooth connections at the rail stops.
Finally, a network of safe streets, with complete sidewalks and bike lanes, will give bicyclists, scooters, pedestrians, and others a way to safely move between neighborhoods and connect to the rail corridor.
Slow Streets activist Greg Larson notes, “Safe streets will encourage more people to walk and bike to nearby destinations.”
Gina Cole, Executive Director of Bike Santa Cruz County, points out, “Bike lanes leading to and from passenger rail would allow people to commute safely by bike-rail-bike.”
This vision is already finding support in the local business community. John Caletti of Caletti Cycles says, “This is not just about building a direct, car-free cross town connection, but it’s a key piece in addressing the climate crisis, housing crisis, and social justice connectivity issues.”
A 40-minute rail ride from Watsonville to Santa Cruz will empower South County residents. Lifetime county resident Faina Segal recalls, ”Growing up in Watsonville, so many of the opportunities I needed were in North County. Unless you have a car and parent to drive you, those opportunities are not available. Rail service would change that.”
Watsonville City Council member, Aurelio Gonzales says, “When the Watsonville station is opened, we will become a transit hub for our region. The economic opportunities for our community are amazing.”
The Coast Connect vision seeks to preserve the natural beauty of our beloved region while proactively building the future we want. Let’s use the strength, resilience, imagination and courage that have been on display this year to take charge and plan a transportation system that improves economic access for all while preserving the natural beauty of our county.
You can take action to make this vision a reality. The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) study shows that rail transit is best for our county. Please email them firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them to follow the data and plan for a future that includes rail transit in Santa Cruz County.
And please join us in endorsing the Coast Connect vision at coastconnect.org.