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December 10, 2008 > East Bay Greenway project

East Bay Greenway project

By Simon Wong

Two years ago, the East Bay Greenway was envisioned as a thirty-mile, pedestrian-and-cycle corridor from south of Lake Merritt in Oakland to Fremont BART station.

The project's Concept Plan, released in September 2008 and funded by the California Endowment, the State Coastal Conservancy and the Evelyn and Walter Hass, Jr. Fund, is the result of more than forty community meetings and details a shorter route.

For now, the East Bay Greenway will be a twelve-mile, bike-and-pedestrian path from 18th Avenue in Oakland to Hayward BART Station passing through some of the least affluent and most densely populated areas in the East Bay. The non-motorized corridor, which will connect communities and schools with transit and link the BART stations along its route, will be at ground level and run beside the BART tracks, beneath elevated sections and on roads adjacent to the tracks.

When BART was constructed, the original plans for the Oakland-Hayward corridor included a bicycle route that followed its tracks but it never materialized. San Francisco-based Urban Ecology (UE), a project partner, strives to create thriving healthy neighborhoods and sustainable environments through community-based design. When UE examined the corridor, they discovered that communities along its length had fashioned their own make-shift routes in the meantime, clearly indicating a demand for such an amenity.

The East Bay Greenway will run parallel to the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Ridge Trail. It will connect to both recreational trails via local bike routes allowing pedestrians and cyclists to create their own "loops" by combining sections from each of these paths.

The Ohlone Greenway, a landscaped cycle-and-pedestrian path in Albany and El Cerrito underneath the BART right-of-way, is used for recreation and commuting and an example of what can be achieved.

The East Bay Greenway project is important for five reasons.

First, it addresses environmental and social inequity. The communities along the Greenway are predominantly non-white, low-income and often marginalized. There is a correlation between socio-economic status and access to parks and recreational amenities. The Greenway will provide access to such resources. Moreover, low-income groups are more likely to use public transit, walk or cycle.

Second, health. Residents along the corridor suffer a gamut of health problems from asthma to obesity to coronary heart disease. These communities, which have a fraction of the National Recreation and Park Association's standard of six acres of parkland per one thousand residents, will have access to recreational facilities and open space that will directly benefit their health.

Third, it provides safe, sustainable and affordable transportation alternatives. Transit-oriented developments and public transit will be implemented along the corridor to facilitate access to services. Communities will enjoy better pedestrian and bicycle access, as affordable transportation alternatives, via the Greenway to BART stations.

Fourth, it increases public safety and community pride. Empty, urban spaces often become havens for refuse, vandalism and crime. Developing the Oakland-Hayward corridor will reverse the decline. The use of attractive landscaping and lighting and community-ownership of the space will deter crime. The route will include emergency call boxes.

Fifth, it will establish a sense of place and restore the natural environment. Neighborhoods beside the Greenway have suffered industrial and traffic pollution for decades. The Greenway will improve the environment and well-being of residents and instil community pride.

The preliminary cost estimate for the project is $32 million. This covers the design, engineering and construction of the preferred alignment of the East Bay Greenway but excludes land and easement acquisition and maintenance of the corridor. BART, the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) and city and county governments own the land along the proposed route.

Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority (ACTIA) is the "lead agency" for the project's environmental phase. Completion is expected in early 2009 at which point federal, state, regional and local funding will be sought for construction.

Although extending the East Bay Greenway to Fremont is not part of the Concept Plan, the idea has not been dismissed for the future.

For more information, visit www.urbanecology.org and www.actia2022.com

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