Sabrina Brennan founded the Coastside Bicycle Coalition. A commuter trail extending from Montara to Half Moon Bay and safe pedestrian and bicycle crossings along Highway 1 are top priorities for the new group.
The trailblazer of the group?
Moss Beach resident Sabrina Brennan, who recently founded Trails and Transportation to better represent the voice of the Coast when it comes to “providing safe trails and better access to get to school, commute and safely cross Highway One,” she said.
Brennan’s public service experience includes completing a term on the Midcoast Community Council, an elected advisory council to the Board of Supervisors; she currently serves as director of Midcoast Park Lands, volunteers on the Midcoast Parks and Recreation Committee, ran for Harbor Commissioner
in the November 2010 election, and founded AREA29.
Still, her focus these days, when not also running a digital printing and event graphics company, is spearheading the Trails and Transportation group, which had their first meeting last month with members of the Sierra Club, Surfrider, Midcoast Community Council, Midcoast Park Lands and the public.
“Sabrina has have been a tireless advocate for the community on many issues, raising everyone's awareness level on project that will affect their daily lives,” said vice chair Bill Kehoe of the Midcoast Community Council. “She is a one-person ‘watch dog’ committee trying to keep the planning process on the Coastside both open and inclusive for all the community.”
Brennan’s top priorities with Trails and Transportation include completing the Midcoast segment of what the group calls the Parallel Trail, which would “provide safe access on the east side of Highway One for people commuting for work, shopping and children going to and from school from Montara to Half Moon Bay,” she said. They are also focused on making Highway One pedestrian crossings safer, especially at Devil’s Slide.
“We set our own agenda and as our own group have the freedom to express what the community wants. Sometimes what the County wants is not representative of the Coast,” said Brennan.
The overall mission of Trails and Transportation is to increase transportation options and reduce auto travel, offer opportunities to enjoy, observe, learn about and care for the environment, offer economic benefits such as increased tourism and increased property values, and provide opportunities for solitude, passive and active recreation, including promoting fitness through healthy exercise.
“Trails provide demonstrated benefits to individuals and communities, health and fitness, active transportation, economic development and environmental stewardship,” said Brennan, who comes to heading up the initiative with a passion for safety and transportation and a lot of personal experience advocating for trails for a number of years now, working on trying to designate segments of the coastal trail.
A childhood accident also fuels Brennan’s passion for transportation safety.
“In 2nd grade I was hit by a car while crossing the street on my way home from school,” Brennan said. “When I flipped into the air, I hit the hood on my back and was saved by my Holly Hobby lunch box in my backpack. I survived without serious injury, however, my lunchbox was smashed. I would like to see safer options for people to get around by foot and bicycle.”
When it comes to safe crossings, the group’s first priority is sorting out the problems with “two at-grade crossings Caltrans plans to build on Highway One at Devil’s Slide,” she said. “After that we can move on to deal with the need for safe crossings in Moss Beach and Montara. Surfer’s Beach is also a parking and crossing problem, however, El Granada has two stoplights with crosswalks. In addition, the Parallel Trail would make it much easier for people to use the crosswalks.”
Brennan is not alone in her concerns with the Devil’s Slide crossings. She has found that many in the community agree that the at-grade crossing at the south portal of the tunnel is an accident waiting to happen.
“We have seen many accidents, some tragic, all long Highway One in the unincorporated communities of the Midcoast from pedestrian and bicycle traffic trying to cross the highway where one would expect that kind of crossing,” said Kehoe. “A crossing within 500 feet of a tunnel portal is unheard of in California and will definitely be unexpected by most drivers who are new to the area and even risky for local drivers who will fall into normal commute patterns and be lulled into that automatic drive home mode.
Proposed mitigations include reducing speed to 45 mph and flashing lights.
Still, “we all know that these things rarely guarantee the safety of the pedestrian in a crosswalk,” said Kehoe. “And I would like to add, that with the proposed trail crossings, visitor parking, left hand turns across the south portal crossing and the expected rise in usage the risk of a fatality will rise dramatically. A much safer option would be an above-grade crossing to protect both the drivers and pedestrians who will be using the new open space.”
Now because of letters Brennan penned to Supervisor Don Horsley and Assemblywoman Jackie Spier about these very issues concerning Devil’s Slide crossings, elected representatives called a meeting a couple of weeks ago with director level officials at Caltrans to address the impending problem.
“I’m simply a member of the community who is allowed to attend the meeting because I wrote the initial letter getting this on the elected reps minds,” said Brennan. “It was forwarded onto others so it got to them eventually. I’ve been raising this issue for the last three years and finally now we’re making some headway.”
A meeting at Senator Yee’s office was followed by a Caltrans meeting, which included Jackie Spier and Jerry Hill’s aids at the Oakland Caltrans office. Another meeting with Caltrans is currently being arranged, and Brennan is hopeful all parties, from elected representatives and Caltrans to Speier, Hill and Yee, will all be in attendance.
“We are doing this because our elected reps are concerned about the safety factors at these crossings,” Brennan explained.
Funding and support for projects like this and the Parallel Trail are the group’s main objective.
For example, with the Parallel Trail, Brennan identifies Measure A as a possible funding source, where a total of $3.9 million could be available for fiscal year 2012 and 2013 projects.
“This is a very important opportunity to fund the Midcoast segment of the Parallel Trail,” said Brennan. “The Midcoast Trails and Transportation group is working on understanding the process for filling out the application and preparing the supporting documents. It would a shame to not have that money going to providing a safe trail for residents to get to school and commute to Half Moon Bay.”
What the group recently learned, though, is that the county missed the application deadline to secure the Measure A funding and will now need to find funding to prepare plans for the next application deadline, which could take a couple of years.
“The county must turn in the application to secure funding for the Midcoast segment now. But they have to get their planning together and work within the California Environmental Quality Act and this process costs money, too. The county is bogged down and may not be able to cut through bureaucracy as quickly as we’d like. There’s a lot of angst about how the county uses mitigation money here on the coast, but if there’s enough push back from the community perhaps a trail for bicycles and pedestrians would be a natural thing that mitigation fees could be used for,” she said.
Yet exploring grant money and using mitigation fees, as a last resort, is something that Brennan is sensitive to.
At future Midcoast Trails and Transportation meetings Brennan would like to meet with a representative from the county who can explain the process for moving forward with the Measure A application and discuss the project funding timeline.
“We would also like to know what county department will be charged with designing the trail and moving it through the approval process,” she said.
Brennan’s tactic with Trails and Transportation’s agenda has been very inclusive up to this point, working with the Midcoast Community Council, an elected Municipal Advisory Council and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, Kehoe said.
“I think the more people get involved in the process of community planning the better it will be for all,” he said, “as long as it is done in an open and public process that is inclusive of all the many divergent views … so that we can ensure the ideas and plans from the community have been devised and vetted by the community at large and not just a few individuals.”