Opinion: The planned path of the Bay Trail will be a disaster for the Berkeley Marina

The paved 16-foot-wide bike and pedestrian path that will sweep through a congested plaza between two sailing clubs and the seawall is a potential public safety risk.

This is an open letter to planners and users of the San Francisco Bay Trail, the city of Berkeley, media, parents, and those who value access to and recreational use of the Bay. It is from individual members of the Cal Sailing Club at the Berkeley Marina and others concerned with safety and planned construction at the Marina. Unless signed by the Executive Committee of the Cal Sailing Club, it does NOT represent any official club opinion or position. We encourage readers who share our views to speak out, reinforce our concerns, and get active, immediately.

Sometime in the next few weeks, probably by Christmas, bulldozers will begin tearing up a section of the Berkeley Marina. The effort is part of a noble project, the Bay Trail, designed to encircle San Francisco Bay with 400+ miles of built paths for cycling and walking and to provide residents with near-shore access.

Unfortunately, the construction will rip through the operational zones of two established sailing clubs, Cal Sailing Club and Cal Adventures, which provide low-cost sailing and windsurfing to the public. We are writing to warn that this 600-foot trail extension will create a potential public safety risk at a cost of $800,000 while constraining public access to the waterfront via well-intentioned but ill-conceived changes to the landscape.

San Francisco Bay is arguably the best sailing venue in the US due to consistent strong summer winds. Berkeley, directly opposite the Golden Gate – nature’s funnel – is the beneficiary. For decades, Cal Sailing’s trained volunteer instructors have taught hundreds of people a year to sail and windsurf, focusing on skill and safety. The inclusive club nurtures a vibrant community centered on Bay sailing.

The Cal Sailing Club is a hub of activity at the ailing Marina – a key attraction that draws thousands of visitors to sail and to enjoy recreation at this unique public space. For years we have offered the public monthly free Open House sailboat rides.  These short trips foreground the Marina’s facilities and superb views; they also introduce 2,500+ visitors a year to non-motorized recreation there.

Despite this symbiosis, the Bay Trail authorities have made little effort to work with Cal Sailing. Contact has been minimal. Would it not have been better for the proponents to make several early and follow-up site visits, and to speak frequently with club members about impacts and mitigation? In its own policy statement, the Bay Trail planners specify that design should create a trail

“ . . . which is designed to respect the natural or built environments through which it passes.”

people hanging out by sailboats in the Berkeley Marina
People at an open house for the Cal Sailing Club gather right where a spur of the Bay Trail is set to be built. Photo: Paul Kamen

The Bay Trail Plan would install a paved 16-foot-wide bike and pedestrian path sweeping through the congested plaza between the sailing clubs and the seawall, where the city maintains public hoists and docks. This area teems with equipment and children – Cal Adventures has a popular youth program and Cal Sailing includes numerous families and teens. The Bay Trail extension will run along the fence line, four feet from the club’s front steps.

Astoundingly, the trail continues along the bayfront path toward the entrance to the city’s beloved Adventure Playground, which in 2018 drew a “record 65,000 visitors,” an average of 178 kids and adults per day.

We think it is folly to install an $800,000 paved discrete bike and pedestrian path that is likely (by conservative estimate) to be crossed 1,000+ individual times on a busy day by visitors, as well as students, sailors, windsurfers, and kayakers carrying or moving masts, booms, boards, boats, sails and other equipment. There is enormous potential for accidents, collisions, injuries, and, inevitably, lawsuits. Is the liability to the city and Marina worth the risk?

Instead of installing a trail that essentially functions as a high-speed lane where a low-speed concourse already exists, the $800,000, funded and ready to go, could be used to improve the existing surface and facilities, creating a promenade that enhances Bay access for both visitors and habitual users of the bayfront. This would be constructive, not destructive.

The imminent Bay Trail construction will also:

  • remove established trees and community gardens
  • obliterate 10 prime public parking spots, perhaps the only safe parking area in the break-in-plagued Marina. This will make it harder for many non-club sailors, kayakers, paddleboarders, and swim groups to transport their equipment to and from the Bay.
  • by inserting new landscaping on the existing path, force people moving between the sailing clubs onto the Bay Trail itself to face head-on and rear bicycle traffic
  • by privileging people passing through along the water, discourage and hinder those regular Marina users whose days are spent taking people out on the water

We should be clear. We think the Bay Trail is generally a magnificent concept. We are not opposed to it. But the existing setup at the Marina’s South Sailing Basin provides precisely the public waterfront access envisaged in Bay Trail plans. The Cal Sailing Club, every day, brings people and water together.

Currently, the operating zone accommodates people on bikes, on foot, on scooters, in cars. They navigate the congestion successfully. Why? Because they have no choice but to go slow. Conversely, the trail’s plan: curtail bike speeding with signs marked

STOP

and:

“SLOW: CONGESTED AREA AHEAD”

We appreciate that city and Marina officials, who have in recent days listened cordially to our concerns, hope to decrease bike speeds using a corrugated surface. The central question, though, is how the $800,000 project, funded and ready to go, could be reshaped in a way that is less destructive to Marina sailing and more advantageous to the public.

As Cal Sailing Club members and friends, we seek a delay of the imminent construction start in order to discuss and rethink the current plan. We believe consultation – minimal to date — is the key to cooperation between the well-funded Bay Trail and the non-profit, volunteer-run Cal Sailing Club. We hope that our concerns as expressed in this open letter – on behalf of the larger community we try to foster here — will prompt a reevaluation of what is best for the users of the Berkeley Marina and its magnificent waterfront.

This 2013 video shows how busy the area in question is. Forward to the 2:20 mark,

Read the open letter and see the rest of the signatories here.

David Fraser, PhD, is an East Asia specialist, journalist and an editor at UC Berkeley. He has taught at Cal Sailing Club since 1994. Mariya Ryazantseva is an oncology nurse practitioner and has been a member of CSC since August 2017. Jack Chen, PhD, is an engineering director and senior skipper at CSC. Jaylen Hett is a 15-year-old high school student who joined the club early in 2019 and serves regularly as the first mate on sailboat rides for the public. Mark Elgood, of Livermore, CA, is a retired senior engineering director at Oracle Corp. and an avid cyclist who rides 5,000+ miles per year. He is a CSC junior skipper and frequent dinghy instructor.