Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT BAY – The county’s Grand Jury has flagged multiple safety issues related to the Humboldt Bay Trail and has “significant concern” about the use of the U.S. Highway 101 shoulder connecting two developed segments.
The Grand Jury is calling for a “safety barrier” along the unfinished U.S. Highway 101 shoulder stretch. Other safety-related recommendations include “regular daily security patrols” and installation of “safety lighting” in some areas.
The Grand Jury also recommends safety-oriented signage, development of rules for trail use, improving access for people with disabilities and installation of “specialized receptacles” for syringes, recycling and dog waste.
The Humboldt Bay Trail now consists of two developed segments – a 4.5-mile trail from the Arcata Skate Park to the Bracut Industrial Park area and a 6.3-mile trail from the Eureka Slough to Elk River.
The county area segment that will connect the two cities is in planning stages, with construction anticipated in 2021. Until the entire 14.6-mile trail is in place, the color-coded shoulder of U.S. Highway 101 links the two city segments.
Stating that “the major safety concerns of the Humboldt Bay Trail System arise along the county segment,” the Grand Jury refers to a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) survey which “indicates many people share significant concern for the safety of users of this temporary segment.”
The report notes that the highway’s vehicle traffic “often moves more rapidly” than the 50 mph speed limit. Those with “limited mobility, sight, hearing, or other disabilities would be in significant danger,” according to the report.
That situation motivates several of the report’s recommendations.
The Board of Supervisors is called upon to consult with Caltrans by September 1 on the installation of an “appropriate temporary safety barrier” between the U.S. Highway 101 shoulder and the vehicle travel lane.
The Grand Jury also advises the two cities to each install signs at the ends of their segments, also by Sept. 1, to “alert the public that continuing on the shoulder of Highway 101 may not be safe.”
Those recommendations are based on findings, including that “many trail users do not feel safe walking or riding bicycles on the interim trail along the shoulder of Highway 101.”
There are also safety concerns related to the finished trail segments. The report finds that “while groups may feel safe on the trail, individuals may not feel safe,” and “adding additional law enforcement may be warranted along each segment of the trail.”
As a result, the Grand Jury recommends that the county and the cities each provide the daily patrols by October 1. The safety lighting recommendation also has a timeframe, with installation called for by Oct. 15, 2019.
Creation of two working groups is also recommended. One would focus on ensuring full trail access for people with disabilities and another would develop rules for trail use.
The report also delves into trail maintenance issues, stating that “efforts of the Volunteer Trail Stewards to keep the trails clean, remove trash and clear excess plant growth are impacted by an insufficient number of regular volunteers.”
The Grand Jury believes the county and the recreation departments of Arcata and Eureka should “cooperate to develop a shared list of potential volunteer organizations for community trail work occasions.”
As outlined in the report, a trail maintenance fund managed by the Humboldt Area Foundation had at least $240,000 in it at the time of the Grand Jury’s investigation, with an ultimate goal of $1 million for “continual support of the trail.”
But as of now “recruitment of adequate numbers of volunteers remains a concern” and “fundraising needs to be ongoing” to augment the county and city spending on trail upkeep.
The Arcata trail segment has been open for about 19 months. “Since the opening of the trail, the number of homeless encampments has decreased,” the report states. “Reports of crime have also been reduced.”
As noted in the report, Arcata has a park ranger that patrols trails, including the city’s segment of the bay trail. The city’s installation of lighting on the trail segment from 17th Street to the skate park has “added an additional level of security for that section.”
The county Board of Supervisors, the City of Arcata, the City of Eureka and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office will develop and release responses to the report’s recommendations.