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SMART eyes new funding for Petaluma bike path extension

Buoyed by a potential $12.6 million in grant funding, SMART is planning construction of a bike path from Penngrove to downtown Petaluma, the next phase of its pathway project that critics say has lagged commuter rail development.

SMART is in line for the funding this month after the Metropolitan Transportation Commission recommended the North Bay’s rail agency for the grant. It would be used to construct 4.7 miles of pathway segments along the rail line in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and from Penngrove to McDowell Boulevard, where it would link up with a planned path from Southpoint Boulevard to Payran Street. Construction is lated for 2021.

“It’s great,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, a SMART board member. “We’re continuing to move forward. It’s all moving together.”

SMART was billed as a rail and trail system, providing a 70-mile bike path and commuter rail link from Cloverdale to Larkspur. So far, only 16.2 miles of trail have been completed between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. A separate grant SMART received two years ago will fund construction of a bike path from Southpoint to Payran. That’s due to be completed this summer, pending approval of permits, according to Jeanne Mariani-Belding, SMART’s communications and marketing manager.

“Every little bit helps,” she said. “We’re really working hard to complete as much of the pathway as we can.”

Bike advocates have pointed out that pathway construction has not kept pace with the agency’s commuter rail line, which opened in 2017. The Larkspur rail extension is due to open at the end of this year.

SMART has spent voter-approved Measure Q sales tax dollars on the rail line, but has largely relied on grants to build the bike path. In some places, it has relied on other agencies to build pathway links.

Bjorn Griepenburg, chair of Petaluma’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the new pathway funding is a good development for the cycling community, but he questioned SMART’s decision to rely on grant money.

“We are really excited to see the bike path coming to fruition,” he said. “A lot of people thought our sales tax would be going toward the rail and pathway. Looking back, it’s a little deceptive that there’s not much Measure Q money in the pathway. But, it’s great to get the pathway no matter how it’s funded.”

While most of the pathway from near the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport to the Larkspur ferry building will be built within the railroad right-of-way, some notable gaps persist, especially through Petaluma. Where SMART has deemed pathway construction unfeasible, either due to narrow right-of-way, busy intersections or sensitive wetlands, it has relied on other agencies to provide bike and pedestrian links.

According to SMART’s pathway plan map, the future pathway from Southpoint Boulevard will terminate at Lakeville Street. From there, city bike lanes will link the route to Petaluma’s Lynch Creek Trail to Water Street. The route will stay on city streets and bike lanes to Petaluma Boulevard South, where it will link up with a new frontage road being constructed east of Highway 101 to the Sonoma-Marin county line.

A Caltrans bike path picks up the route from there, taking it under the freeway to San Antonio Road. That links to a bike path in the Sonoma-Marin Narrows, fronting Highway 101 and Olompali State Park to Novato, where the trail will rejoin the train tracks.

Another small but significant pathway gap will persist between the rail crossing at McDowell Boulevard and the crossing at Southpoint, Griepenburg said, meaning the city will need to work to make improvements.

“We are going to have to look at that section closely,” he said. “To get people to use the pathway, we are going to have to close the gaps.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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