In response to Fresno, California’s notorious air pollution problem, at least as part of that response, anyway, apparently, a brand spanking new hiking/biking trail from the city’s Manchester Center shopping complex at Blackstone and Shields avenues to the Old Town Trail in Clovis, is soon to see the light of day. Its name: The Midtown Trail. Money from Measure C – a half-cent sales tax initiative devoted to transportation improvement projects Fresno County-wide, and passed by 77 percent of the local electorate in 2006 – plus federal and state grants, according to an article in The Fresno Bee, is being used to cover the trail’s estimated $9.5 million cost.
Okay, let’s think about this for a moment. Fresno has the nation’s worst air quality for fine particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5), mainly from automobiles, trucks, buses, trains and from other off-road sources, and is high on the ozone pollution list as well, according to the American Lung Association.
According to information in a recent editorial, in fact, 85 percent of the San Joaquin Valley’s polluted air (to which Fresno – California’s 5th largest city – adds a significant part), is transportation sourced.
So, the question to ask is: Can and will a nine-and-a-half-million dollar, 7.1-mile-long pedestrian and bike path in Fresno make a real dent in the city’s deplorable, deleterious, dirty air condition? With the below analysis, I hope to be able to better answer this question.
Next we need to consider why people (commuters, etc.) drive, take the bus (school, transit, paratransit), trains, van and carpool. There are a whole host of reasons. (I’ll be looking at the more universally accepted and adopted ones).
If you live in any of the Valley’s major cities – Fresno/Madera, Tulare/Visalia, Bakersfield, Hanford, Merced, Modesto, Stockton/Lodi – you should be acutely aware that most people in getting to and from their places of employ, school, doctors’ and dentists’ offices and the like, run errands, dine out, take in a sporting event and such, and familiar activities such as visit friends or congregate at local gathering spots – namely, pubs, parks, coffee shops – or give a spouse, acquaintance, friend, relative, co-worker, other, a ride to the airport, bus or train station or picking them up from such, it is the motor vehicle, more often than not, that is called/relied upon to do so.
So, considering the amount of driving done (in the Valley, more than a cumulative 100 million miles daily, in no fewer than an estimated 2 million cars and trucks), tell me again exactly what percentage of it all is going to be given over to walking and biking this new trail once open for said use? (My own experience tells me that percentage won’t be high at all).
By putting such walking/biking infrastructure in place, if it is to have any real measurable impact in terms of emissions reduction, then it has to be with the singular purpose in mind of providing people a viable alternative transportation means in the hopes of their getting out of their vehicles in traveling from points A to B.
At this point I would like to introduce the rail/trail endeavor – SMART.
Sometime this year, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (acronym: SMART) passenger train service will make its own introduction.
The service will connect Windsor on the north end with San Rafael on the south, siphoning off some traffic from California State Route 101 which the line parallels. In conjunction with the railway, as part of the referendum passed by North Bay Area voters, included is a hiking/biking trail that will lay alongside the rail line’s entire length. The beauty of the trains, besides serving commuters and others who presumably would otherwise be driving the busy 101 freeway, is that they can also accommodate bicycles. For bike riders choosing to begin or end or begin and end their journeys using the two-wheel conveyances, they have the option of boarding trains with their bikes during any portion of their rides should they choose not to pedal-push it the entire distance. Or, riders may instead wish to take the train one way and bike the other. The idea behind this combined endeavor is to give area drivers but more transportation choices.
Now, in getting back to the Fresno trail project, between it and its northern California counterpart, inasmuch as they’ll both be serving mobility needs of people on foot and on bike using them, rest assured I’ll be paying close attention to which of the two does the far better job with respect to their being able to attract walkers and bicyclists, get motorists out of their cars and hence reduce pollution.
If only I had my way, I would see to it that at least a portion of this Fresno trail went hand-in-hand with a city-wide, fixed-guideway, mass transit network – one that people would actually use – providing yet additional non-polluting methods for getting around town. To me, that makes more sense than the incorporation of yet another trail among a collection that, quite honestly, in the grand scheme of things, see relative infrequent use.
For this newest of Fresno trails, will it be more of the same?
– Alan Kandel