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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Front-runner for SF Bay Trail in Novato is not nearest the Bay

By Brent Ainsworth, 12/05/2008

Novato would like to provide a key link for a footpath that runs along the perimeter of San Francisco and San Pablo bays, but exactly where to put it is proving a difficult task.

In March, three options were considered for the more than 500-mile-long Bay Trail at a public workshop. But a fourth option that surfaced at the meeting, called Option D, appears to be the front-runner.

Maureen Gaffney, the Bay Trail's chief planner who works for the Association of Bay Area Governments, said that option poses a few problems.

"The community strongly supported Option D, but that alignment is the one that meets the least number of goals of the Bay Trail," Gaffney said. "Two important factors to us are proximity to the bay and the recreational experience by the trail users."

About 52 percent of the Bay Trail is complete - some 290 miles - and being used daily by hikers and bike commuters. It connects all nine Bay Area counties and 47 cities that border the bays.

The Novato portion of the Bay Trail needs to connect the existing trail at Pacheco Pond in Bel Marin Keys with the Petaluma Bridge on the border between Marin and Sonoma counties.

Option D would take a hiker from Pacheco Pond due west along Bel Marin Keys Boulevard to Highway 101, then north alongside the freeway past Hanna Ranch and Vintage Oaks shopping center to the northern apex of Rowland Way.

From there, next to Novato Community Hospital, it would turn southeast along Novato Creek and through the marshlands behind Costco to the Deer Island Open Space Preserve. It would connect to Olive Avenue and Atherton Avenue before crossing under Highway 37 at Black Point and east to the boat launch at the Petaluma River.

Option D runs farther north and farther away from the bay than the other three options, which are:

- Option A (5.6 miles) - It follows Novato Creek around the north side of Bel Marin Keys on unengineered levees, east across private property, north along the StoneTree Golf Course border and east along Harbor Drive to Black Point boat launch at the Petaluma River.

- Option B (3.2 miles) - It goes north to Highway 37 and runs parallel to the highway on its south side all the way to the boat launch.

- Option C (5.1 miles) - It runs west to Highway 101, north to Hanna Ranch Road and then east along the north side of Highway 37, through some heavily traveled maintenance roads and Atherton Avenue, then to the boat launch along Harbor Drive.

Pam Shinault of Novato's Parks and Recreation Department said Option D, although much longer at 8.1 miles, has some obvious benefits.

"Some of the people who came to our workshop felt that there are better bay views than on the trails closer to the bay," she said.

Ignacio resident Bill Long, a retired engineer, serves on the Bay Trail board as well as the board for the Bay Ridge Trail, which links ridgetop trails around the perimeter of the bay. Long wasn't pleased with the first three options - especially the two that were alongside Highway 37 for several miles - so he brought other members of the board of directors to Novato to scout out possibilities.

"(Option D) came up as perhaps a more doable route that would bring it closer to the built-up areas in Novato and would be more accessible," Long said. "It's not on the waterfront, but it would be very difficult to create a trail on the waterfront in this area. ... You want a waterfront experience on the Bay Trail, but you don't want to create it in a way that's very remote for the public."

The best benefits of the Bay Trail, Gaffney said, are the enjoyment of the marshland environment and the alternative commute options. "Certainly the Mill Valley-Sausalito bike path, which is part of the Bay Trail, is being heavily used," she said. "We don't expect the Novato part to be used for that purpose as much."

Shinault said she hopes a final recommendation can be presented by February to the Marin County Open Space District and the county Board of Supervisors, and possibly to the Novato City Council. The trail is funded by ABAG, but municipalities must approve the plans before construction can begin.

"With any project you're going to have both support and opposition," Shinault said. "We're a little bit behind schedule because of a few factors, but I think it's going the way expected."

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