Proposed Niles Canyon “Trail” (see https://www.acpwa.org/projects/2021/Niles-Canyon/NilesCanyon.page?)

 

1. We've been misled. We were told that the trail would be elevated (using the "secret sidewalk"), and that no habitat would be destroyed. It's not true. The preferred option destroys a huge amount of habitat with a 14' wide clearcut including 10' wide pavement, especially at the start and end of the road (10' of pavement is a road, not a trail; two cars can pass each other in that amount of space).

2. The proposal touts a "wildlife friendly fence", but I doubt that all deer, for example, can jump over it. It (and the presence of humans on the road) would prevent animals from getting to the creek to drink.

3. The proposed railroad fence would block all animals larger than a lizard. No deer could jump over it. The huge vertical cuts would interfere with animals' need to travel.

4. The proposal claims that Niles Canyon is the only east-west travel option. That's, frankly, a lie! Calaveras Road runs roughly parallel to Niles Canyon and provides access from Milpitas (just two BART stops from Fremont - the west end of the canyon) to Sunol. Bicyclists and anyone else can use it safely, since there is no high-speed traffic. I drove the road this morning, to see for myself. There were dozens of bicyclists riding the road, in both directions, including many gray-haired men and ladies and one guy on a recumbent bike. I attached a couple of photos. The cars and motorcycles were going from 10-20 MPH, due to the many curves. The scenery was just as lovely as Niles Canyon, including the huge Calaveras Reservoir, and because of everyone's slow speed, you could actually enjoy it. There are also two railroads that travel through the canyon – the Niles Canyon Railroad and the ACE train. And there are periodic holidays when highway 84 is closed and pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians can use the road. If such travel through the canyon is important, Caltrans should reduce the speed limit to 25 MPH, making it just as safe as any city street. Anyone wanting to go faster can use Highway 680. You can also drive route 84, and everyone but the driver can view the canyon. Or you can buy a self-driving car, and then everyone can view the canyon.

5. No one needs a paved "trail". Pavement is bad for horses and unpleasant for hikers. Horses and hikers could be accommodated by a 2'-3' wide unpaved trail, without wildlife-blocking fences. Stepping off the trail would allow anyone to pass. There is no good reason to allow bicycles on any unpaved trail. Any bicyclists who want to go there can, of course, walk - just like everyone else. Bicycles generate erosion and endanger hikers and equestrians. Mountain bikers love to claim that they are being "excluded" when bikes are prohibited, but it's an obvious lie.

6. The maps (deliberately?) don't show the location of the creek, but it appears that the road would be very close to the creek, destroying a 14' wide swath of priceless riparian habitat - the most valuable habitat that exists. Why would any organization that claims to support conservation make such a huge mistake - and lie about it?

7. There isn't high demand for travel through the canyon, or there would have been bus service through it long ago. Anyone who wants to travel to the "micro-town" of Sunol can drive, walk, or ride a horse through the canyon on a narrow trail, take Calaveras Road, or ride the Niles Canyon Railroad. (The demand for equestrian access is near zero. I don’t recall seeing any horses the last time highway 84 was closed for a day.)

 

8. The road would destroy critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake, per the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

9. We are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction crisis, which is being caused primarily by the loss of habitat. E. O. Wilson is calling for Half Earth: 50% of the Earth to be set aside for conserving our wildlife. That is already a compromise, since we all know that 50% is not enough to protect all species. Recently even that compromise was watered down, into the “30 by 30” (30% of the Earth protected by 2030) proposal, which President Biden is supporting. By supporting the Niles Canyon road, the Sierra Club is thumbing its nose at even the weakest of these proposals. [I joined the Sierra Club and became a Life Member because I thought that it was a conservation organization. If that’s no longer true, I would like my money back!]

 

10. Niles Canyon, with two railroads and a four-lane highway through the middle of it, is no place for recreation! The air isn’t safe to breathe! (The same goes for the Bay Trail next to I-80.) The only time for recreation is when Highway 84 is shut down for the Roll and Stroll, when the highway is open for hiking and bicycling and no additional road is needed.

 

11. Anyone who wants to hike, bike, or ride a horse in the area can use the two huge parks on either side of Niles Canyon: Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park and Vargas Plateau. Anyone who wants to see Alameda Creek up close can go to Sunol Regional Park. You can probably also see it from Vargas Plateau.

 

The Club should rescind its support for the Niles Canyon road! There is simply no good reason to build it, and many reasons not to.