09:17 AM PDT on Friday, August 20, 2010
By DUG BEGLEY
Pacific ElectricTrailThe city of Fontana is working to complete its portion of the Pacific ElectricTrail, which will one day span 21 miles from Claremont in LA County to Rialto.Published: 7/19/2010 03:14 PMhttp://www.pe.com/images/v4/icons/icon_slideshow.gif); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); text-align: left; line-height: 1.4em; background-position: 0% 0%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">Photo Gallery: Pacific Electric Trail
Nestled in an underpass beneath Interstate 15, in a spot between the two bridges bustling with traffic overhead, the Pacific Electric Bicycle Trail ends in a clean line where concrete gives way to gravel.
But not for long.
Literally pieced together by city officials in Claremont, Montclair, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Rialto, the paved bicycle trail will one day span more than 21 miles and offer recreational cyclists and commuters a smooth ride from Pomona College in Claremont to eastern Rialto.
It's one of a handful of bicycle trails built in the Inland area that follow either abandoned rights of way through cities or geographical features like the Santa Ana River. A trail along the river connects San Bernardino to Corona.
Just like local freeways, bike trails these days are going through a building boom, spurred by federal and state dollars and a focus on improving local exercise amenities. The trails come as more Inland-area residents commute by bike.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 25,000 Inland residents do not walk, hop public transit or drive to work. Those commuters, mostly bicyclists, increased by 25 percent in the past decade.
More commuting and outdoor amenities are driving an increase in trail use, officials said.
"It is actually pretty cool," said Noel Castillo, a Fontana senior engineer. "You come out here and there are walking groups and people coming and going. ... It adds a real sense of community."
Most of the western end of the Pacific Electric trail is completed. Fontana officials expect to begin construction starting at the city's northwest border -- where the trail ends its Rancho Cucamonga run under I-15 -- sometime in October. That one-mile segment will connect with another a few blocks away.
That section is also expected to open in February. When the two sections are complete, the entire 14 miles in both cities will be linked, making up the bulk of the trail. The pathway occupies the former Pacific Electric Rail Line property, now owned by San Bernardino Associated Governments.
Most of the $8.7 million for the Fontana leg of the trail has come from state and federal funding to encourage walkable access to stores, schools and other centralized places. The city has also contributed, officials said.
More money could be coming to Fontana and other locations. Federal housing and transportation officials have partnered to encourage more walking and biking paths in cities.
Called "livable communities," the partnership is steering more money toward paths and public transit. Those encouragements from Washington could find their way into the next transportation bill, expected in the coming months, federal and local officials said.
The Pacific Electric and Santa Ana River trails act as local recreational amenities and intercity connections. The purpose is to give residents in a city a safe, paved space to walk, run or ride a bike, but also offer those interested in commuting by bicycle an alternate to sharing the streets with traffic.
Riders who commute to work or school are divided on whether trails or streets are best, said Ryan Graham, transit planning analyst for SANBAG. Many commuters prefer riding on city streets because they can flow with vehicle traffic easily and do not have to wait for safe times to cross city streets.
Others prefer the safety of the trails, where riders do not have to contend with cars, Graham said.
"Having the trail gives people that option," Graham said.
Rafael Martinez, 36, of Rancho Cucamonga, uses the trail for part of his 10-mile commute to Montclair. Martinez said he prefers the trail because it avoids car traffic and the "close calls" that mixing with traffic can create.
"Basically the trail is the cause of my commuting with the bike," he said. "If it weren't for the trail, I would not commute that way."
The split preference for bike lanes on streets and trails is why many cities are building both, officials said.
Riders have different destinations and different tastes for how to ride. Trails are popular with women who ride their bikes to accompany children to school, Fontana officials noted.
Graham explained there is some gender divide among cyclists who prefer the trail and those who prefer riding with traffic, according to studies in the Portland, Ore., area.
The Pacific Electric trail was purchased by county transportation officials who planned to use it for a public transit line, such as light rail. But the line hasn't been a high priority, though it could be someday, he said.
In Fontana, the majority of users in the downtown area walk or bike the trail for recreation, but it is catching on with schoolchildren, said Kevin Ryan, strategic transportation engineering manager for the city.
The use by students is because of where schools are located, Ryan said. The trail follows the old train route, and many city elementary and middle schools are nearby because as Fontana and other cities grew, affordable and available land for schools was close to the train tracks.
Fontana officials said the trails, built piecemeal over the last four years, have become vital components of many city priorities.
"Healthy Fontana," a city-sponsored program to encourage more physical activity among residents, points people to the trails. Signs bearing the old Pacific Electric Line logo point runners and riders to notable places and city parks near the trails. Orange and lime trees line the trail as it passes east of City Hall.
Not all of the ideas have carried across the trail, though. The fruit trees were only planted for a couple of blocks, and then replaced by other shrubs and trees easier to maintain. A crew showed up a few months back to pick oranges, but city officials knew nothing about it and don't know where the oranges went.
"We have learned what worked and what didn't work," Ryan said of the trail construction.
Reach Dug Begley at 951-368-9475 or dbegley@PE.com