Normally, if I have the TIME, I prefer to run the trails that ribbon the rugged spine of open space that bifurcates the placid waters of San Francisco Bay from those of the Pacific Ocean. It is beautiful on that ridgeline, and the views can be breathtaking – all the way to the Farralons, Pt. Reyes, or Mt. Diablo on a clear day, above the swirling clouds on foggy one. I have seen coyotes, deer and four different types of snake up there, and many friendly runners, hikers and bikers. I rarely see trash on the trails – people care for this land, and it is special to many.
But the reality is, this public space is sadly not *that* accessible to everyone. The trailheads are somewhat remote requiring some degree of LOCAL KNOWLEDGE or research. Getting to the trailhead requires a CAR and TIME to make the trip. The trails are long enough and steep enough that running or walking them takes a lot of fitness and TIME. Add these factors up and suddenly you realize why every car parked at the trailhead or bike you see on the trail looks approximately like the one you own. Trails through beautiful and awe-inspiring open space are for the ELITE.
Which brings me to the run I did today. I parked at Target. I ran into to get “just a couple of things” and came out $300 poorer. Then I put the leash on my dog and started running down a new urban trail that has been developed on top of the BART tracks that run through some of the poorer neighborhoods of the northern peninsula. The trail is a narrow, multi-use trail, less than three miles one-way, from one BART station to the next. There are many run-down houses that you can see, there is a large open storm drain towards the northern end that is kinda stinky, and there are a couple of annoying stoplights that you have to wait through.
BUT there are also some nice community parks that you pass, a fun dog sculpture marking the location of a large dog park, smooth pavement and a dirt path along the edges, clear signage and lighting.
AND there are people. People of all ages, shapes and colors out there running, biking and walking on that trail. This trail is flat, mere blocks from very high density and low-income housing, and accessible to everyone. Everyone has access and therefore everyone IS accessing it.
I saw no trash or graffiti on this trail. People care for this land, and it is special to many.
Based on the signage it appears that an entire network of urban trails is planned in this area – I am certain that this is an amazing idea. I am less certain of the timing. With property values being what they are in the Bay Area I am sure it is no easy feat to develop land as community space and trails. That being said, the value it adds to a community – in the improvement of health and well being, of increasing community connectedness and investment, of creating opportunity seems like it would pay back in dividends.
I applaud the vision of those who converted this underutilized land in a transportation right-of-way into a highly-valued community space and experience. Urban trails may not have the full aesthetic value of unspoiled open space, but they are inspirational in an entirely different and equally important way. I will be back to run here, but to make it sustainable I am going to have to decouple the experience from going to Target.