Following decades of public requests for improved recreational access to historic Niles Canyon in southern Alameda County, Alameda County leaders have agreed to close Niles Canyon Road to automobiles Sunday to allow hikers and bikers to travel the roadway to examine a proposal to build a new public trail through the canyon.
To make way for "The Niles Canyon Stroll and Roll," automobiles will be barred from a 6.4-mile stretch of Niles Canyon Road between Old Canyon Road in Fremont and Main Street in Sunol from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
During the closure, technical experts will be available at both ends of the roadway to answer questions and take public input on the trail proposal from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The day-long closure coincides with the completion of a feasibility study examining options for a paved, 10-foot-wide trail for pedestrians, bicyclists and possibly equestrians through canyon between Fremont and Sunol.
The study lays out three possible trail alignments, each with its own set of advantages and technical challenges. Agencies involved include Alameda County staff, the Alameda County Transportation Commission, the East Bay Regional Park District, Caltrans and local water districts.
While funding has not been secured for the project, it is hoped that the trail could be supported by state and federal funds and Alameda County's Measure BB transportation sales tax.
Proposals for a public trail through Niles Canyon date back to the 1970s, driven by the fact that it is accessible only on Niles Canyon Road, a winding two-lane portion of State Highway 84.
Bicyclists have repeatedly called for a trail due to safety concerns related to sharing the narrow roadway with automobiles. Recreation enthusiasts point out that hiking access to the canyon is limited, and that a trail would provide a vital link between trail networks in the Tri-Valley and Alameda County's Bay-front corridor.
Alameda County Supervisors Richard Valle and Scott Haggerty, who represent communities at both ends of Niles Canyon Road, have led an effort over the past year to push the project forward as increasing vehicle and bicycle traffic has served to exacerbate safety concerns.
Valle said safety issues and limited public access to the scenic canyon go hand-in-hand in making the trail project a priority for his district.
"Tri-City residents have known for a long time that Niles Canyon contains some of the East Bay's most stunning scenery and is ripe for exploration," Valle said. "Today, more people than ever recognize the beauty of the canyon and the increasing numbers of hikers and bicyclists who go there make this trail project more important than ever.
Haggerty said a Niles Canyon trail would be a big step toward completing an interconnected network of trails throughout Alameda County and the entire East Bay.
"Opportunities for recreation and alternative transportation are at the top of the list in terms of what our residents want," Haggerty said. "This project provides us with a rare opportunity to respond to the community's wishes in multiple ways."
For more information, sign on to Supervisor Valle's website at www.acgov.org/board/district2/