Unlocking the Ravenswood Preserve to EPA Residents

East Palo Alto's University Village residents are set to enjoy enhanced access to the Bay Trail this summer with the installation of a new pedestrian and cyclist gate at Rutgers Street. The project, a collaborative effort between the City of East Palo Alto and Midpeninsula Open Space, will provide a convenient entry point for the community to explore and enjoy the scenic waterfront path.

The new gate, funded equally by both organizations, is scheduled for completion by late summer 2024.

My involvement in the effort to open the gate began in 2021 when East Palo Alto resident Vignesh Swaminathan, a TikTok star known as "Mr Barricade," reached out to me about a concerning issue. He was alarmed by the design of a newly opened bike trail on the other side of town, which seemed to intentionally exclude residents of his neighborhood.

We walked over to the Ravenswood Preserve, an area I rarely frequented due to its dog restrictions, and I was shocked by what I saw. The bike trail was effectively cut off from the University Village community, forcing residents to take a lengthy detour of roughly 1.5 miles just to access a path that was mere steps from their homes.

Vignesh documented this injustice in a TikTok video that quickly gained traction:


♿🚴🏿‍♀️#adaaccessible #trailhead encourage #multimodal #transportation #bike #walking #epa #redlining #civilengineering #urbanplanning #streetparking

♬ original sound - MrBarricade

Why did multiple organizations, including the City of East Palo Alto, Midpeninsula Open Space, Facebook, SF PUC, and Menlo Park, collaborate on a seemingly beautiful bike trail project that ended up isolating residents of East Palo Alto's University Village neighborhood? This raises questions about the decision-making process and the prioritization of certain communities' access to public resources.

In October 2021, I reached out to all City Council Members and City Staff to bring attention to the issue of the inaccessible bike trail. In my naiveté, I assumed this would be a straightforward problem to solve, anticipating a resolution and an open gate within a matter of weeks, certainly no longer than three months. Little did I know how mistaken I was.

While it took longer than anyone hoped, there is positive news: MidPen has unanimously voted to open the gate. Although the San Francisco Public Utility Commission needs to approve the final design, an agreement has been reached to allow community access to the bike trail. I shared my perspective on this matter during the meeting:

My key takeaway from this experience is the crucial importance of active participation in community meetings and advocating for East Palo Alto. If we don't speak up for our needs, no one else will. It's disheartening that our city leadership initially accepted a plan that prioritized Facebook engineers' access to the bike trail while excluding EPA residents.

Fortunately, the new gate at Rutgers Street is expected to open in late summer 2024, providing a much-needed connection for the community. This will be a cause for celebration, marking the end of a long struggle to ensure equal access to this wonderful trail for all residents.

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