Committed to building a first segment of the South Tahoe Greenway next summer with $920,000 of its own funding, the California Tahoe Conservancy is applying for state grant money to help extend the ambitious bike trail project.
The project aims to eventually turn almost 10 miles of right-of-way that Caltrans bought for a freeway that never materialized into a greenway corridor of bike and pedestrian paths linking Stateline, South Lake Tahoe and Meyers.
California Tahoe Conservancy acquired the right-of-way from Caltrans in 2000. The Class 1 bike trail’s first phase will be built next summer and span about 2,500 feet from Herbert Avenue to the edge of Bijou Meadow at Glenwood Way in South Lake Tahoe.
About $7 million in grant money is being requested from California’s Active Transportation Program to extend the greenway another two-plus miles, north to Ski Run Boulevard and south to Sierra Boulevard.
Submitted in late-May, the grant request is paired with a nearly $4 million Tahoe Transportation District request. That money would help build the West Shore Bike Trail between Sugar Pine and Meeks Bay and pay for a Highway 89 and bike trail realignment around Fanny Bridge as efforts also continue to build bike trails all the way around Lake Tahoe.
“Active Transportation is a brand new program that Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing and the legislature agreed to, to focus bike money into projects that have the best chance of actually getting people out of their cars,” said Sue Rae Irelan, an associate environmental planner at the California Tahoe Conservancy.
State transportation leaders are compiling a recommended project funding list and the California Transportation Commission will announce grant awards in August.
Local officials hope state leaders recognize the South Tahoe Greenway as a top priority. It would turn the right-of-way for a never-built freeway that Caltrans once envisioned to funnel cars to and from the casino corridor into a backbone for South Lake Tahoe’s growing bike trail network.
These first two phases of South Tahoe Greenway would link the Lake Tahoe Community College campus, Community Playfields and Bijou Community Park to nearby neighborhoods and create loop systems with trails on U.S. 50, Ski Run Boulevard and Al Tahoe Boulevard, leaving only minor gaps that other agencies such as the city of South Lake Tahoe and Lake Tahoe Unified School District are working to address.
“It’s not just the park, it’s the college, the school district, and through other connections it’s down to the beaches at Ski Run and to the rec center and the library complex. You really see use climb the more your network is filled in and we’re starting to see that in South Lake Tahoe,” Irelan said.
“Pieces being done are critical. Harrison Avenue, the El Dorado to Ski Run piece, what just happened at Lakeview Commons. All these little pieces are starting to come together. And the greenway is a through-system with the capacity to tie a lot of that together.”
Future phases would extend South Tahoe Greenway north to Van Sickle Bi-State Park and ultimately south to Meyers. The southern leg faces significant challenges with environmentally-sensitive areas. Efforts are being focused on building the greenway through the most densely populated areas in South Lake Tahoe.
With the right-of-way in its possession, California Tahoe Conservancy initially thought it would be able to build the greenway in one project, but that has proved unrealistic over the last 10-plus years. The challenge is large: Transforming an urban environment developed entirely around car-use to better serve pedestrians and bicyclists, something that takes lots of time and money.
“Existing bike facilities we have often cross a lot of driveways and streets. They aren’t continuous. It’s a real disincentive to using a bike,” Irelan said. “We have to flip that around. We have to make the incentive to use a bike.”
One big advantage for the South Tahoe Greenway is that the California Tahoe Conservancy already has 10 miles of right-of-way for the project, something that would be next to impossible to acquire otherwise. The agency will continue to plug away at the project, starting with the first segment that will be built next summer regardless of whether state grant funding is made available to expand on that effort, Irelan said.
“We’re in kind of the bulldog part of it. We’re going to get asphalt on the ground, and that really ramps up the stakes and gets us going.”