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The vision known as the Tidewater Bike Path system

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POSTED January 16, 2010 4:11 a.m.

Seventeen years ago, a blighted swath of weed infested wasteland that attracted debris, tumbleweeds and the homeless cut through the heart of Manteca.

A handful of people had a vision to change the remnants of the Tidewater Southern Railway from a growing cancerous blight into an urban oasis as a 3.4-mile linear park of nearly 35 acres complete with a paved bike path.

The transformation hasn’t been easy nor is it complete. Even so, with each passing year, more and more people use the Tidewater to jog, bicycle, skate, or simply walk. There are the regulars you can set your watch by depending upon the day of the week.

The skate park plopped down on the Center Street to Alameda Street leg attracts youngsters as well as those who were teens when roller skates complete with keys came up. They’re not there to skate, but to watch grandkids have the time of their lives or to catch a glimpse of youthful energy even though the setting is barren and stark.

Most users do not go the length. Instead they access the Tidewater at one point, travel along it for a bit and then go off to make a loop for their walk.

The Tidewater spurred a vision for a citywide bike path system. You can see segments in place already along Wellington Avenue north of Woodward Park, through Del Webb at Woodbridge, and along Spreckels Avenue.

The effectively landscaped Spreckels Avenue spur was put in place by AFK Development and is being maintained by the property owners of Spreckels Park such as Ford Motor Co., ADPS Packaging and Target.

It is here where the lessons of private-public partnership were examined closely and are being applied elsewhere in Manteca.

There are those who claim the lushness you will find in popular East Bay cities such as Pleasanton can’t be repeated here along the Tidewater or anywhere else due to climate and money.

They are right. It can’t be duplicated. It can be done better. A lot better. Find a stretch of bike path in the East Bay that matches the splendor of the Spreckels Avenue segment. You may try but, you won’t find it.

Manteca’s vision calls for a bike path system to loop the city via Airport Way, Atherton Drive, Austin Road and Lathrop Road.  The Tidewater would connect roughly midway between the north and south sections of the loop.

The general plan - the blueprint for Manteca growth - calls for the Tidewater to extend south into Ripon through a 300-foot wide greenbelt almond orchard along Highway 99. Once in Ripon, on-street routing would connect with the bike bridge crossing of the Stanislaus River.

The bike path system has separate crossing arms to cross the tracks that parallel Moffat to connect with a segment that ultimately ends up on Wellington and empties into Woodward Park. That leg will be extended westward to reach The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley.

On the northern end of the city, Pulte Homes dedicated 10.8 acres on the southern edge of the Del Webb Manteca community for a separated bike path that has extensive landscaping. This too is in a landscape maintenance district. In the adjoining Union Ranch East plans include a bike path that would head east to the old Tidewater right of way. From there, it will connect to the Tidewater where it now ends at Lathrop Road at the western edge of Del Webb at Woodbridge.

As it stands now, Manteca has one of the most unique bike paths around because it actually can be accessed by people going downtown, to special events, kids going to school or easily reached by people from their homes without having to drive.  You won’t find a path like it elsewhere in the Central Valley or the Bay Area.

True, there are impressive longer trails like the American River Bikeway and the East Bay Trail but they are purely recreational. The Tidewater actually gets you from point A to point B.

By the time the loop is finished, there is an excellent chance Manteca will be one of the friendliest cities for bicyclists and others using non-motorized transit from walking to skates to reach their destinations.

It is visionary thinking that allowed Manteca to grab a window of opportunity. It is fiscal conservatism that is allowing growth to contribute to the community. The burden of maintaining much of the system will fall on the newer neighborhoods. The benefit will be universal but arguably more for the newcomers who will be able to use segments of the path near their homes to reach parks, schools, shopping, jobs and even the ACE train station.

The Tidewater stands as what can be done when vision and not number crunching is the first step in a process.

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