Last fall I wrote about the multi-use pathway that opened along a section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way. Over the past few months I have used the path quite often, and am finding that it has slowly been discovered by other walkers and cyclists. Where this paved section ends at Delaware Street, path users must take the street for a few blocks to connect to the Ohlone Greenway along the BART tracks. Recently a fence in the connecting section of the trail was opened on a trial basis, so I decided to check it out. Actually, I had previously walked both of these undeveloped trails up to the fence on either side, so it was a nice feeling to not have to backtrack along my route this time! It was a very pleasant and quiet walk between houses and through the grassy field (which I imagine wouldn’t be so grassy if it was paved like the other section).
After walking the Santa Fe section, I popped onto the Ohlone Greenway and walked north a bit through Berkeley to the Albany border. The trail continues through Albany, past the BART stations in El Cerrito to Richmond. There are several rail-trails and other multi-use trails in the Bay Area, most of which I have walked or cycled at some point. I am a big fan of trails like this that can be used for transportation and recreation, especially here in the population-dense Bay Area. The Ohlone Greenway is used quite a bit, but does not seem to be as wildly popular as some other trails I have visited. Some other trails can get so busy to the point of being unpleasant. If you have never been to a path like this, imagine a trail filled with lots of walkers, runners, cyclists, wheelchairs, strollers and baby joggers, people with headphones, people walking three or four abreast and talking, inline skaters, etc. — it gets to be pretty dangerous. This has not been my experience with the Ohlone Greenway; commute times and weekend afternoons are moderately busy on the trail, but it has never been over-run by people. Also, there are separate cycling and walking paths in most sections, and often an additional informal trail through dirt/grass on the side — in other words, plenty of space to avoid most collisions.
So what makes certain trails more popular than others for recreation use? Part of this is probably the setting. The most popular multi-use trails I have visited are in some natural setting — either through parks or along the water (Bay, reservoir, etc.) — as opposed to an urban area. It is probably an appealing combination for many people to have a flat, paved path that is easy to navigate with a bike/wheelchair/stroller, and get to experience nature at the same time. Another factor may be how much a trail is separated from traffic. Some trails avoid street crossings in some way, such as by an overpass or underpass. The Ohlone Greenway has many street crossings, some of which do not have traffic stop signs or lights. This isn’t too much of an issue for walking, but on a bike it can be a bit frustrating to have to stop so often, and dangerous in places. For fans of urban walks, though, the Greenway offers diverse sights, particularly in the Berkeley section: metal sculpture, murals, historical displays, exercise equipment, creeks, community gardens, benches, etc. Although I see plenty of people jogging along the Greenway, it is as much a place for strollers enjoying the sights along the way. This is not something you see much of on heavily used recreation trails.
So the section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way is open for a six-month trial period. Why a trial period? My walk in the daytime on the Santa Fe and Ohlone pathways was a pleasant one — spring flowers blooming, birds chirping, dogs being walked, cyclists on the way home from work or school — but this walk was during the day. Nighttime is a different story. While a few incidents of crime have occurred on multi-use paths in the Bay Area during daylight hours, the activity increases at night when it is dark and there are fewer people out and more secluded areas. There is also the concern that a fair amount of gang activity and drug dealing happens by bicycle, and creating an easy route between Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, and Oakland opens up all of the cities to more crime. I am not an expert in city planning, but it does seem that one of the better solutions to minimizing this problem on the paths is to keep them well-lit. The section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way that was completed last fall has many lights, and people on the trail are visible to passing cars and walkers. There is no dense shrubbery in this trail section, and there is an emergency call box at University Avenue. Some other trails are closed at night, but this isn’t very possible with the number of entrance points to the trails in Berkeley.
If you want to check out the trial section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way, you might want to start at University Ave. (just across the street from the Montessori school), walk the section that was paved last fall, cross Delaware St., and continue along the dirt pathway and through the now opened gate to connect with the Ohlone Greenway.