As a bicycle rider in Sacramento, I like to get off the hazardous streets and enjoy the scenic beauty of the American River bike trail, officially known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail.
My street smarts, developed as a youth in New York City, tell me the lower stretch of the 32-mile trail, where I ride most often, is generally safe. The folks who frequent the woods along the American River from Discovery Park north of downtown Sacramento to Cal Expo tend to keep off the bike trail.
By contrast, the Sacramento Northern Bikeway, which runs from midtown Sacramento up into the hardscrabble Del Paso Heights and Rio Linda neighborhoods, sets off my warning signals.
For starters, it intersects the American River bike trail near Del Paso Boulevard and Northgate Boulevard, a dicey area where I’ve encountered murder-investigation teams on two occasions.
If you venture farther north, you pedal across crowded Arden Way, West El Camino Avenue and Grand Avenue and might find yourself in staring matches with tough-looking dudes. Along the isolated rustic areas, you are likely to encounter grizzled bicyclists who don’t wear fancy pants and helmets.
These days, I usually confine myself to slumming through the mile-long stretch of the Northern Bikeway that connects the scruffy edge of trendy midtown to the main bike path. The spur trail gives me a convenient way to make a loop from my Land Park home, along with a fine bridge view of the American River. It also offers riders from well-populated east Sacramento and South Natomas a direct route into midtown at C Street between 19th and 20th streets.
In 2009, this mile-long spur, which begins near the Blue Diamond almond plant, generated national notoriety for Sacramento when city authorities drove off hundreds of folks from a tent city erected alongside the trail. The homeless still camp in the woods, and down-and-outers plod along the edges of the bike path, some muttering to their lonesome selves, others gesticulating wildly.
I’ve never had actual trouble here, and the increasing number of bike riders in recent years has made me feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, an agreement between the city and Union Pacific Railroad to close an at-grade crossing on C Street next spring involves blocking off the street to through traffic. This will isolate the entrance to the Sacramento Northern Bikeway, making it less inviting to bicycle users, more attractive to vagrants and incompatible with an integrated urban trail network.
The city agreed to the deal with Union Pacific in return for getting a new railroad crossing near Sacramento State University and Power Inn Road that would facilitate the building of a business park. Union Pacific, which wants to reduce the number of street-level rail crossings, went along in return for city-funded safety improvements.
Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates makes a strong case for extending the trail one block south along the rail tracks to D Street and creating an entrance there. The city has funds available for the modest project, SABA says. The trick is to get Union Pacific to agree. Putting pressure on the City Council is advisable at this time. It would be a shame to see this handy connector path become too isolated for safe general use.