Walt Disney doesn’t get enough credit for being an advocate for well-designed integrated public transportation systems. As a child, I loved getting to and traveling around Disneyland. Trams and a monorail whisked us from our parking space to the entrance where a train waited to take you to your desired destination; and don’t get me started on the walkability of Main Street. While 7-foot mice and princesses may not be the vision for local main streets, fast, integrated and pleasant public transportation likely is.
In January, the City of Santa Cruz hosted a pubic groundbreaking event to celebrate the start to construction of the first phase of the rail/trail in Santa Cruz County. Segment 7 between Natural Bridges and Bay Street will soon be built, providing dedicated walking and biking opportunities separated from auto-filled roadways. Additional segments are being planned to provide a continuous multiuse corridor along the coast from Davenport to Watsonville.
But what will we do with the rail portion of the corridor? There are a number of options that the County
Transportation Commission is currently investigating as part of its Alternatives Analysis process (sccrtc.org/projects). The website notes “transit alternatives will be compared to define a locally-preferred alternative that offers the greatest benefit to Santa Cruz County … Proposed future intercounty and interregional connections to Monterey, Gilroy, the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond will be considered.”
Public input is encouraged at events on Tuesday and Wednesday with additional public events planned later in the year. Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail and Trail has an informative website (railandtrail.org) that helps answer many questions about the pros and cons of rail.
While fiscal challenges are always an important consideration, costs to develop transit along the corridor should be weighed against what we are already spending in dollars, time and inefficiency on our mobility. Here are some ideas to include in public discussion as we decide how to integrate the rail line into our transportation network.
Half of county residents live within one mile of the rail line. The alternatives analysis gives us an opportunity to embrace the corridor as a resource and time to discuss how best to integrate the rail line with our current system of private cars, buses, carpooling, bikes and e-bikes and ridesharing services.
Linking bus routes with rail line stops, through pulse scheduling (buses ready when the train arrives) and seamless ticketing between train and busses can reduce commute times and costs. Some are concerned about bikes sharing the corridor with trains but new quite electric trains passing every 15-30 minutes are likely more pleasant than current interactions between bikes and cars on local streets. Riding to and from work will be an option for many more people if long distances can be reduced aboard a quick train ride. Trains are bike-friendly, providing easy on and off support.
Active input by the public into the ongoing alternatives analysis will hopefully provide insight on how best to integrate transit along the rail corridor with the entire transportation network. As has been shown along the rail lines of the San Francisco Bay Area, once service and stops are established, urban infill development is often focused along these corridors, reducing residence reliance on cars and increasing the ridership of the rail line itself.
Committing to the viability of transit service now will allow city planning to address the housing shortage in ways that do not clog our streets and highways, but rather invest in a more integrated and efficient transportation system moving us throughout the county and someday all the way to Disneyland.