Looking out at an excited crowd of more than 300 cyclists and pedestrians, Deb Hubsmith, advocacy director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, couldn’t have smiled any wider. “This is one of the happiest days of my life,” she said, as video cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped.
The happy and high-profile occasion was the December opening of the $27-million Cal Park Hill Tunnel, a world-class facility that will connect Larkspur and San Rafael, California, reducing the travel time for as many as 800,000 bike commuters every year.
The big-ticket project has been a major campaign for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition since its inception in 1998. But the vision for a bike-ped pathway through the former rail corridor far pre-dates the MCBC. According to the Coalition: “The Cal Park Tunnel was originally constructed in 1884 with significant renovations taking place in the mid-portion of last century. Originally designed to haul lumber and freight, and then later passengers, the tunnel was sealed in 1978 after a series of fires and structural collapses made it unsafe.”
When the tunnel was closed, local resident Jean Starkweather initiated the bold proposal to repurpose the facility for bicycle and pedestrian access — and kept the idea alive for more than two decades. In the late 90s, she handed off the torch to Hubsmith, who, in her own words, doesn’t take no for an answer. “A lot of agencies came together and there were some fights along the way,” Hubsmith told a reporter from Streetfilms. “We had to stop a parking lot from being built at one side of the tunnel.”
But, Kim Baenisch, MCBC’s executive director, explained that the result was well worth the marathon effort. “We’ve been working on this for 12 years now, so it’s amazing to see it finally come,” she told Streetfilms. “It’s 1.2 miles tip to tip of paved path, including the stretch of tunnel, which is 1,100 feet long. This is a state-of-the-art facility with lighting and cell phone access and security cameras and beautiful smooth pavement and a ventilation system. I mean, what else could you ask for? And it’s for bikes and peds!”
It wasn’t just local residents celebrating, either. Tim Blumenthal, executive director of the Bikes Belong Coalition, was there for the ribbon cutting, too. His organization gave MCBC a $10,000 grant to work on the project back in 2002. Blumenthal called the tunnel’s completion a major development. “This is a classic example of a tunnel replacing a round-about way,” Blumenthal said. “When you make bicycling faster than any other way to travel from Point A to Point B, you really win.”