Google and South Bay city officials celebrated the latest milestone in an expensive, decadeslong effort to link 500 miles of Bay Trail on Tuesday, making it easier to walk and bike between Mountain View and San Jose on a scenic path contouring the Bay.
The ribbon-cutting event at Sunnyvale Baylands Park caps a three-year effort by Google and a long list of public agencies to replace a hodgepodge of uneven dirt paths with a contiguous trail fit for commuters and recreational users alike. The total investment in trail improvements by the Mountain View-based tech giant is $5 million, according to Google officials.
Javier Gonzalez, Google's public affairs manager, told attendees at the bright and blustery event that the project is the latest in a multi-phase effort to link the Peninsula to Milpitas, and is expected to attract more people to the trail as it gets more accessible and easier to use. The most recent stretch of Bay Trail that the company unveiled -- which skirts around Moffett Field and links Mountain View and Sunnyvale -- resulted in a 200% increase in ridership, Gonzalez said, and a similar increase is expected with the latest round of improvements.
The timing of the event was curious, given that the construction on the Sunnyvale portion of the trail concluded in the fall and was reopened to the public in November. The orange-yellow path of decomposed granite made it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to use the trail during the intense rain that hammered the Bay Area over the winter, the kind of weather that used to turn portions of the Bay Trail into a muddy mess.
Though the project does ostensibly benefit Google employees seeking to bike to work, Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein said the upgrades amount to better access for recreational use among Bay Area residents as well.
"There are a multitude of ways to enjoy this gem that we have," Klein said.
The caveat at the ribbon-cutting event, though not explicitly stated, is that there is still more than a 1-mile stretch of the Bay Trail that remains unfinished, just north of Sunnyvale's athletic fields and wastewater treatment facility. Julia Miller, a member of the San Francisco Bay Trail Board of Directors, told the Voice that the Santa Clara Valley Water District is in the midst of flood control work on what she calls the "missing mile" of the trail, and that contractors have to hold off on the last trail improvements until the water district is finished.
Maintenance work including levee repairs and sediment removal is expected to take place in the summer, after which Google can complete the trail improvements for a contiguous path to San Jose, according to water district staff.
The Bay Trail Plan, adopted by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) 30 years ago, has been the guiding document to link the 500-mile trail system stretching across nine counties and 47 cities. Although 350 of those miles have been built since then, the remaining stretches of trail are among the most challenging.
Snaking a trail along the edges of Moffett Field, for example, required a complex partnership between private entities like Lockheed Martin, Google, PG&E and Cargill, along with federal agencies like NASA Ames and the U.S. military. At one point, the trail was deemed too close to a munitions bunker maintained by the 129th Air Rescue Wing, which had to be moved for public safety reasons.