Blazing a trail in South Land Park

Abandoned rail line near Fruitridge Road.

This week’s interview is with Brian Ebbert, a South Land Park resident, and president of the neighborhood association there.

We talked at length about a really interesting project called the Del Rio Trail, which would turn a 4-mile stretch of old abandoned railroad line into an urban trail and greenbelt that could connect several Sacramento neighborhoods and create some interesting new public spaces. It’s still in the very early stages, with engineering and environmental studies just about to begin. And the costs are unknown. In our interview, Ebbert mentioned possible numbers, $15–$20 million. But really the price tag is going to vary a lot depending on the extent of the environmental cleanup, the types amenities that are built into the trail, and other factors we don’t yet even know about.

(Click the little play button on the player below to listen to the interview! Or go to iTunes, Stitcher or whatever podcast service you use and subscribe to “Open Ears.”)

The project idea was developed by South Land Park residents after they learned that the Sacramento Railroad Museum and State Parks system wanted to start running tourist trains along the line. Neighbors hated that idea, unsurprisingly. And so they pitched this alternative — a trail for bikes and walkers. The City is supporting the idea, and has been awarded $2.2 million from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to do the environmental review and engineering studies. (A contract with Dokken Engineering was just approved last week.)

At this point, the project is sort of a blank slate. Graduate students from the UC Davis Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design program have come up with several different proposals for innovative features that could be built along the trail. Lots of ideas for public art, proposals to open up cafe spaces , bike repair stations, even an open air food truck market.

I’ve actually been intrigued by the this space for a long time now. I think the possibilities are sort of endless. To show you what I mean, I want to take a detour here, to my old hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.

I grew up in and around Atlanta, and after being away for many years, I had an opportunity last summer to spend a few days there, wander around some old neighborhoods, and see how the city had changed. There were a couple of projects that I was particularly interested in checking out: Atlanta’s new streetcar line and the ambitious new Beltline project around the city.

The streetcar is a lovely tourist attraction. It’s clean, air-conditioned and only cost $1 to ride. It makes a perfectly pleasant little loop from Centennial Park (built when the Olympics came in 1996), through downtown to Georgia State University to Auburn Avenue and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change and historic site. It was also almost completely empty at 4 and 5 o’clock on a weekday afternoon. This is not just my observation. Atlanta media have reported a major drop off in streetcar ridership since the line opened.

Atlanta Streetcar, somewhere around 4 pm on a Tuesday afternoon in July.

I was surprised and impressed however with Atlanta’s Beltline. The 2.2-Mile Eastside Trail is part of a much larger loop of abandoned rails surrounding the central city, which are being converted into greenbelt, walk and bike trails and other public spaces.

The first thing I noticed when I started strolling the Beltline was lots of people moseying, including kids. And every section of the trail had some significant public art or, native plant restoration project, or something for people to stop and check out.

Eastside trail with the Ponce Market in the background. The building was a Sears and Roebuck from 1920s to the 1970s, then a City building for a while. All my memories of the building are that it was abandoned. There are lots of fancy shops in there now.
These old warehouses now house small businesses. The back doors, seen here, are opened onto the Eastside trail. The front doors, and the street, are on the other side.

This is a little different from them Sacramento American River bike trails which don’t really invite people to linger.

Probably the biggest difference between Atlanta Beltline and Sacramento’s existing urban trails is the constant and explicit interaction between the Beltline and the surrounding neighborhoods. There are lots of entry and exit points to and from the surrounding neighborhoods. New businesses have opened up in old warehouse buildings, which have opened their back doors onto the trail. There’s even new housing being built right along the trail.

Art boxes along the Eastside trail. There are little paintings in there.
Lots of big art on the Eastside trail.
Don’t worry it’s a bench.
Apartments built along the Eastside trail, with sculptures. Right, more art on the trail.

All of which is to say, it’s worth looking at projects like the Beltline when we think about how we want to tackle the Del Rio project, and decide what kinds of amenities we want to invest in.

The American River trail in Sacramento is obviously more of a nature trail, and I’m guessing its presence next to the river prohibits much of that section from really having any kind of urban uses.

Access along the Sacramento River Trail is frustratingly fragmented in the south area, thanks to homeowners who decided that the public easements along the river levee are their own private property. There are places where neighborhoods and buildings are right next to the Sacramento River trail, but the interaction is pretty limited.

And the Pocket/Greenhaven area and other neighborhoods have some nice greenbelts, but those are more suburban in character.

So, the Del Rio Trail could end up a lot like the trails we have now, which would be alright. But after talking to Brian (Ebbert, my guest on the podcast this week, in case you’ve forgotten after such a long detour), I’m hopeful that it will be more interesting and more urban. It’s going to take a long time to build, so we’ve got some time to look at examples like the Beltline and other innovative rails to trails projects.

Just a reminder that you can listen to these interviews on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and other podcast services. You can also catch them on KUBU 96.5 FM every Tuesday at 5 pm. You can even sign up to get an email whenever new interviews are posted.

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