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New Bike Path on the Way For Old Railroad Line By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday August 26, 2005

Berkeley broke ground Tuesday on its newest bicycle-pedestrian trail—a four-block path the city hopes will one day connect to the Ohlone Greenway and improve access to the I-80 Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge. 

The trail will follow the old Santa Fe railroad line from Delaware Street, between Bonar and Acton streets, across University Avenue to Addison Street at Strawberry Creek Park. The project includes a new pedestrian-activated traffic light crossing University. 

The right-of-way north of University Avenue has been a 30-foot-wide expanse of grass with a narrow paved walkway since Berkeley took control of the land from the railroad in 1979. Berkeley is spending $115,000 and using a $1 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to build the path. It is scheduled to be ready for use by the end of November. 

Development Project Coordinator David Fogarty said the city hopes to raise additional funds to one day to extend the path two blocks north to Lincoln Street. There it would connect to Cedar Rose Park and the Ohlone Greenway, which provides cyclists a direct path all the way to Richmond. 

Bicycle advocates have said they are disappointed by the project, mainly because the city, bowing to neighborhood fears that the trail would invite crime, has agreed to fence it off at night. 

“This is supposed to be a transportation facility, spent with transportation dollars,” said Sarah Syed, Berkeley transportation commissioner. “What other roads do we cut off during certain hours?” 

The gate, to be installed on the north side of University, will cost $50,000. Fogarty said the city hadn’t decided what hours to close the path, but was considering shutting the gate between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. 

He added that, “If one day the neighborhood is convinced the trail is not a crime problem, the gate could be eliminated.” 

But neighbors said they were intent on keeping the gate that they lobbied hard to obtain. “If they don’t close it off, people from the streets will come here and camp out,” said Asline Jones. 

Before the city installed a chain-link fence at University Avenue in the 1980s to block the right-of-way, it was hard to police, said Liz Filmer, who lives along the trail. “It got pretty loud and rowdy at night,” she said. “The fence will give the neighborhood a feeling that it is safe and somewhat closed off from University.” 

Fogarty said the impetus for the trail came when Berkeley Montessori School purchased the property on the southern part of University Avenue. The previous owner, Catellus Development Corporation, a successor company to the railroad, had refused to let Berkeley extend a trail through its property onto Addison Street, Fogarty said. 

“Montessori said if you develop the trail, we’ll give you an easement. That’s what brought this project to the top of the list,” Fogarty said. 

While only a lack of money is keeping Berkeley from extending the trail north towards the Ohlone Greenway, a southern expansion is out of the question. Berkeley has sold off much of the right-of-way south of University Avenue to private homeowners and has dedicated other portions for public parks and housing developments.