March 18, 2011 > Letter to the editor: Niles Canyon Tree Replacement
Letter to the editor: Niles Canyon Tree Replacement
I am the Chairperson for the Alameda County Parks, Recreation and Historic Commission that reviewed the "Niles Canyon Safety Improvement Project" proposed by Caltrans at its regularly scheduled meeting on August 8, 2010. The Commission provided comments for inclusion in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) being prepared by Caltrans. Inquiries were made about 440 trees slated for removal as part of the project and the "tree replacement program" proposed by Caltrans. It was requested that these trees be replanted within the Niles Canyon area as many of them are within the Historic View Corridor of this Scenic Highway. The Commission was also concerned about the visual impact of proposed retaining walls and increased vehicle speeds after the roads were widened.
Personally, I oppose the project as an unnecessary use of funds. The accident rate with bodily injury is less than the average on comparable roads. I feel that widening the road would encourage higher speeds than the posted 45 MPH, and that there would be more injury accidents. I consider this to be a scenic highway that should be driven slowly to enjoy the scenery, not a transit corridor to get from one place to another in the shortest amount of time. Widening the roadway will still be restricted by historic overpasses and bridges and these choke points will, in my opinion, cause more bodily injury accidents, or lead to eventual demolition of these historic bridges and overpasses.
EIR's are written to address the impact of a project on the environment. The historical significance of a building, bridge, or view corridor is part of the environment that must be addressed. I disagree with Caltrans about removal of the trees as an improvement of the view corridor; that is a subjective opinion. The current view corridor is the historic view corridor and that will not be protected by this project.
I am also concerned about the impact of this project on Alameda Creek, a source of drinking water in Alameda County. The widened roadway will be an intrusion into the waterway that, in high water times, will cause erosion to the opposing side of the canyon and add to pollution of this water source.
I am also concerned about the safety of the bikers who use this roadway. Widening the road will endanger bikers and result in either less bikers using the road or more bike/vehicle accidents.
I would have preferred building pull-outs so people who travel this road could safely stop and enjoy the scenic hills, trees, historic rail and a creek that has been unchanged for over 100 years. This is the road that Charlie Chaplin walked in the final frames of "The Tramp" with the only major change, paving of this road. I do not believe that Charlie Chaplin would recognize the road after this project is completed and this disappoints me.