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Vine Trail’s St. Helena route generates lively debate

Oak Avenue or Church Street; when it comes to routing the Napa Valley Vine Trail through downtown St. Helena, that is the question.

St. Helena’s Active Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ATSC) weighed in Nov. 17 on the best way to get the ambitious Calistoga-to-Vallejo bike/pedestrian trail through an area containing a bustling downtown, schools, and heavy demand for parking spaces.

The biggest unresolved question is whether the trail should use Oak Avenue west of Main Street, which would eliminate dozens of parking spaces but serve students at nearby schools, or Church Street east of Main Street, which would eliminate fewer parking spaces but be less useful to students.

The routes in and out of St. Helena are straightforward. The southern Segment 1 from Grayson to Mitchell is proposed to run parallel with Highway 29. The northern Segment 3 goes starts at Main/Pratt and runs down Pratt to the Wine Train tracks, and then follows the train right-of-way to the corner of Adams/Railroad.

The question is how to get from Main/Mitchell to Adams/Railroad.

Alternate 1 would run along Mitchell, and then turn right on Oak and right on Adams. It would eliminate about 50 parking spaces.

The similar Alternate 2 would use Spring instead of Mitchell, then turn right on Oak and right on Adams. It would eliminate about 40 parking spaces.

Alternate 3 would go down Pope to Church, either converting Church to a one-way street or eliminating about 20 on-street parking spaces. The trail would run down Church to Hunt/Railroad, where it would link up with the Wine Train right-of-way all the way to Adams Street and beyond.

Chuck McMinn, founder and board president of the Vine Trail, said any of the three options would work, although he would prefer Alternates 1 and 2 because they would run nearest the schools.

Loss of parking

Having consulting with downtown businesses, he said it’s going to come down to how many parking spaces people are willing to lose.

Vine Trail Executive Director Philip Sales said the Vine Trail is looking at ways to mitigate the loss of parking by opening up four spaces at the AT&T property, 22 spaces at the former St. Helena Catholic School, and creating 38 parking spaces at St. Helena Elementary School by reconfiguring the bus drop-off/pickup zone and creating on-site faculty parking.

Sales stressed that the conversations about those new parking sites are still at the very preliminary stages, and the school board hasn’t vetted the proposal involving the elementary school.

Landlord Annette Smith asked decision-makers to “seriously consider the impacts on our businesses – the merchants here in town who are already struggling between the fires and COVID and the lack of parking that we have already.”

Leslie Stanton, chair of the ATSC, said she’s “a little hesitant about Oak Avenue.”

“We have such a parking problem in St. Helena that it’s hard to think about taking parking spaces away,” Stanton said. “And we need to hear from (the school district) about mitigating measures.”

Committee Member Jeff Farmer favored the Church Street route. He said he’d like the Trail to follow the train tracks as much as possible, and wondered if it could stay along the tracks as far south as Charter Oak or Grayson.

A few committee members asked why the Trail couldn’t stay alongside the trail tracks between Pope and Hunt instead of using Church Street. McMinn said that area is used by employees and delivery truck drivers who already encroach into the Wine Train right-of-way to access businesses fronting Main Street.

Committee Member John Zimmerman questioned whether a significant number of kids would use the west side route. Like Stanton, he was most interested in the Church Street option because it would preserve the most parking.

“To put the kids in here confuses what we’re trying to accomplish,” Zimmerman said.

Serving students

Sales said 70% of the people who use the Vine Trail segment between Napa and Yountville are locals and 30% are tourists. Yountville doesn’t have a school anymore, but students do use the Napa segment of the Trail, he said.

“There is a lot of (student) use when it’s built in an urban area where there are schools,” he said.

Sales said the Church Street option poses a challenge on Pope between Main and Church, where a hump over the railroad tracks “is not particularly attractive for cyclists” and creates a short line of sight that could cause collisions.

“It’s not insurmountable,” McMinn said. “I’m sure the engineers can figure out a way to mitigate it with some mirrors or something else.”

Some members of the ATSC preferred the Oak route.

“That’s my preferred option for safety, for children, for going to school,” said Committee Member Madelyn Chandler, an member of the committee. “We should not prioritize vehicle parking.”

Alternate Committee Member Katie McDonnell said she prefers Alternate 2 (Spring/Oak/Adams) for the sake of students, but she was concerned that the loss of parking on Adams would “really damage” businesses.

Carlotta Sainato, program manager for the Napa County Bicycle Coalition, said the coalition strongly supports an Oak Avenue route that would serve students. The challenge of crossing Highway 29 “is one of the biggest barriers to kids walking and biking to school,” she said.

“Staff and students at St. Helena High School specifically requested … a bike route that serves the schools, and they specifically wanted to see that on Oak Avenue,” Sainato said. “There are parents who are not letting their students walk or bike to the elementary school because they don’t feel it’s safe.”

“This is prioritizing the safety of kids walking and biking to school over parking convenience,” she added.

The City Council is scheduled to review potential routes on Dec. 14.

“Whatever we decide, this is going to be with us for generations,” Farmer said. “We really have to do this right.”

The original version of this article described two of the committee members incorrectly. Madelyn Chandler is a member and Katie McDonnell is an alternate member.

As long as you know what parts to upgrade, you can make any bike no matter how old, feel brand new again. Plus, you can do so without breaking the bank. Buzz60’s Johana Restrepo has more.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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