According to a recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “unless countries drastically accelerate efforts over the next few years to slash their emissions… the goal of limiting global warming… will likely be out of reach by the end of the decade.”

A YES vote on Measure D on the June 7th ballot would contribute meaningfully to this goal by connecting Santa Cruz County with a beautiful, safe, and continuous Greenway from Davenport to Watsonville. We can’t afford to wait when we have an available and affordable answer that could help people countywide get out of their cars and could be implemented now.

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Greenway is a term used worldwide, and there are already 24,000+ miles of rail-trails across the US. The tracks on our rail corridor, some of which are over 100 years old, have sat empty and decaying since the county purchased the corridor in 2012. With zero rail funding identified, no prospect for the re-introduction of freight rail service, and no plans to apply for any funding as “RTC staff is not currently undertaking or contemplating any rail transit planning activity”, converting our 32-mile rail corridor between Davenport and Watsonville into a Greenway would be the most realistic and environmentally beneficial use of this valuable asset.

Yet, in spite of an urgent need to address climate change and avoid local habitat destruction, the Greenway Initiative is opposed by avid train supporters who want the county to spend $1.3 billion on a passenger train that would not be built until 2047 and would not reduce traffic on Hwy 1 by more than 1.7%.¹

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Keeping the unusable railroad tracks and constructing an adjacent trail would actually delay trail construction by years due to a lack of funding as costs have skyrocketed for this trail, and would require the destruction of hundreds of heritage trees and vegetation.

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A Greenway would not require legal safety setbacks from the presence of railroad tracks, fencing the length of the corridor cutting off access to neighborhoods and the beach, displacement of native animals and natural habitats to make room for heavy infrastructure, or concrete retaining walls.

The existing vegetation, which provides a naturally efficient way to absorb CO2 and store carbon, would remain with a Greenway. By contrast, the production, manufacturing, and installation of large retaining walls, new bridges and “floating viaducts” does the opposite.

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Renderings of heavy infrastructure required to keep railroad tracks. Credit: County of Santa Cruz

The value of emission-free active transportation cannot be overstated. Whether for commuting or recreation, on foot, scooter, wheelchair, skateboard, bike or e-bike, a Greenway provides the only near-term transportation option for Santa Cruz County to use the corridor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through direct active transportation. If you doubt that a Greenway in Santa Cruz County would be widely utilized, note that the City of Monterey report over 70% of its residents use their trail, formerly also a rail line, at least once a week.

The window to address climate change and avoid the industrialization of the corridor is closing fast. By making wise choices today we can reduce our impact on the environment going forward. Building a Greenway on the unused rail corridor is a responsible step we can take NOW for the planet’s future.

¹ Average daily Hwy 1 round trips between the Santa Cruz/Monterey County line and the Hwy 1/Hwy 17 interchange were derived from traffic studies summing Highway 1 on-ramp counts and traffic at the Santa Cruz/Monterey County line in 2017.

Paid for by YES Greenway, FPPC ID # 1439610