New pathway for bike community

The city of Rohnert Park is moving ahead with plans to build a 2-mile multi-use pathway which will run parallel to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line. 

The regional project is one of the earliest segments of a larger 70-mile trail-to-rail system that will run the length of the SMART rail line from just outside the ferry terminal in Marin County to Cloverdale. 

The path will be built with the help of $4 million in  federal highway funds. One grant is designated for East Cotati Avenue. to Southwest Boulevard pathway and the other for Southwest Boulevard  to Golf Course Drive  pathway. Hopes are that construction be treated as a single project. On Tuesday, the Rohnert Park City Council voted to approve SMART’s request for an easement onto city-owned property, which includes more than a half-mile section of the bike path.

Paul Klassen, manager of the pathway project for SMART, said that both grants are pending, a process that will last from a month to six weeks. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the area of future construction is reviewed.    Pathway construction may begin as early as the end of 2015, with projected completion expected for late 2016 or early 2017. The SMART train itself is scheduled to start running in late 2016.

“Looking at it from that point of view of the city, [the path] is a good thing,” said Jake Mackenzie, a Rohnert Park councilman and member of SMART’s board of directors. “But it’s a good thing for the university with connectivity on bike and foot. It’s also the beginning of making sure that we fulfill our promises that there will be a pathway along the whole railway.”

The distance between E. Cotati Avenue, SMART station and Sonoma State University’s campus is one mile. That’s about a 6-minute journey by bike, according to  Google Maps. 

“If you are living in Rohnert Park, it can potentially give an opportunity to ride your bike to school and not deal with parking,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. “If you live on campus, it lets you reasonably get to Cotati without taking your life into your hands.”

Briana Valenzuela, treasurer of Sonoma State’s Triathlon Club offered her perspective as an athlete.

“The distance for the bike course in a triathlon is 12.1 miles so it [Rohnert Park pathway] doesn’t really do anything,” said Valenzuela. “I might be able to go back and forth six times.”

But the path is a start, and Valenzuela said she is excited at the opportunity of the 70-mile pathway, a more suitable distance for training or recreation. 

“The SMART project as it was approved by the voters is breathtakingly bike friendly,” said Helfrich. “In fact it’s an unprecedented marriage of bike trail and commuter rail line. The question I always have is: ‘Is the commitment to the bike trail the same as the commitment to the train. The trouble is that there are pieces of trail being built, but it has to get connected up. Then it will be a big deal.”

In addition to the pathway, SMART trains will be designed to maximize bike capacity. 

Proposed in a 2014 document by the Sonoma County Alliance, a two-car train can carry up to 158 seated passengers, 160 standing passengers and 24 bicycles is planned.

Currently, 10 segments of the 70-mile multi-use pathway are funded from San Rafael to Santa Rosa, which includes Rohnert Park’s recently approved segments. Similar to Rohnert Park, these segments are treated as regional projects. 

“Bits and pieces are being built but we are far from fulfilling our promises to have this open by the time passenger rail service is complete,” said Mackenzie. “It’s just not going to happen. We do not have the money, we do not have the permissions. But, we have the plans and we have the intent.”

Construction of the 2-mile segment in Rohnert Park nearly fulfills the city’s requirement toward the 70-mile pathway. 

Mackenzie said building the remainder of Rohnert Park’s path can be “tricky” and are not funded as of yet. 

The remainder of the southbound pathway will be a joint task between the city of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove. Northbound pathway beyond Golf Course Drive will involve deliberation with the city of Santa Rosa.