In Good Hands

City’s river bike trail rolls toward reality

By R.E. Graswich
January 2024

Take comfort in watching the city’s levee bike path experts work a room. Assurance flows from their understated confidence, never brash, always sincere. To hear them speak is to realize the Sacramento River Parkway bike trail is on schedule to arrive in 2026.

Momentum is tangible.

City engineer Megan Johnson and engineering consultant Matt Salveson lead the bike trail team. They bring decades of professional experience. They understand the challenges and embrace the rewards.

Their calm, patient recitation of data, dates and facts soothes like therapy.

For contrast, listen to the handful of property owners near the levee who want to kill the bike trail.

Voices raised, words rushed, sentences jumbled in anger, they veer toward incoherence. They describe doomsday scenarios they claim will threaten the levee once it becomes a joyful place for cyclists and pedestrians.

They warn of lunatics and criminals stalking the parkway. They describe motorcycle gangs, rampaging youth, everything but wild horses. What they really mean is they are scared.

They fear an equity pathway that brings people from Meadowview and Pocket, Little Pocket and Land Park into their private riverfront world—a place that never truly existed outside their elitist fantasies.

Johnson and Salveson acknowledge the fear and have answers. The city is designing a safety plan to protect the levee trail, making it one of most secure places in town.

Cameras will cover parkway entrances. Access hours and parking restrictions near the levee will be enforced, enhanced by robust streetlights. A civilian bike patrol to supplement park rangers and police is anticipated.

As ironic expressions go, it’s tough to beat the safety concerns invented by property owners near the levee.

To secure themselves, the homesteaders decided to build fences decades ago. They sunk posts into the levee. Gates and fences caused erosion, captured debris and slowed responses by emergency and maintenance crews.

In other words, levee fences and the people who built them created serious safety threats to the flood control system. Today they complain about safety—not yours, but theirs. Their solution? More fences.

For reasons that aren’t clear, officials at the Central Valley Flood Protection Board suddenly became sympathetic to the claim that fences somehow serve the public. Former Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan leads the flood board. She’s never explained why she likes fences.

Last spring, flood board Executive Officer Chris Lief signed five authorizations for temporary fences to block the levee in Pocket. His authorizations were issued in secret. They apparently break state law. The authorizations fall far outside the flood board’s maintenance mission.

Those fences need to come down.

The bike trail will eliminate the danger caused by levee fences. The paved trail, running from Zacharias Park south to Garcia Bend Park, will give emergency and maintenance crews smooth levee access year around. No locks and gates. No mud.

Johnson and Salveson, lead engineers on the bike trail, articulate the challenges ahead. Environmental reports are wrapping up, along with preliminary engineering. Acquisition of final easements and permits starts this month.

Around 70 property owners near the levee will cause trouble. They can’t stop the bike trail. But they will try.

Watch them challenge the environmental clearances—a weary game played by NIMBY residents. Watch them force the city to secure easements through eminent domain. Watch them build more hostility between themselves and residents in Meadowview and Pocket.

Eventually, everything will be fine.

Salveson, who lectures Sacramento State engineering students and works for local engineering firm Wood Rodgers, says the biggest job involves permits. The city needs clearances from the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Water Resources and flood board.

The bike trail permit process will consume this year and part of 2025. It’s dense, technical work. Not long ago, flood board executive Lief told me his decision to authorize temporary levee fences wouldn’t impact the city’s levee bike trail.

I didn’t understand. I couldn’t imagine a bike trail with fences across it. Now I’m inspired by the city’s confidence. It’s time to show how cooperation serves everyone.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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