A San Jose walking and cycling trail decades in the making is one step closer to finally happening with the City Council set to vote Tuesday on securing the project’s final chunk of land — all at a bargain price.
The long-sought Five Wounds Trail — running north to south on the eastern side of downtown — will allow residents to easily access the coming BART extension in the Little Portugal neighborhood and a smattering of other walkable paths that branch out across the city.
When completed, the paved 2.17-mile route would start at the intersection of Story and Senter roads near the Coyote Creek Trail to the south and end at the Lower Silver Creek Trail to the north. The hope is to have the project completed by 2031.
“I think this is a very notable, positive and substantial investment in the east side,” said Nanci Klein, director of economic development at the city. “It contributes to great places to be in these neighborhoods, which haven’t gotten a lot of trees or recreational amenities.”
Railroad tracks looking north along South 28th Street near the intersection of 28th Street and East Santa Street in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. The Five Wounds Portuguese National Church can be seen at right. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
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The trail also will offer increased accessibility to sites like the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, San Jose State University’s campus and the Japanese Friendship Garden. It may include amenities along the way like basketball courts and exercise equipment, according to Klein.
On Tuesday, councilmembers will decide whether to acquire the northern portion of the proposed trail from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which is giving up the land for free after an initial asking price was knocked down from $1.5 million. The city owns the rest of the land on the pathway to the south.
But the city will still have to pay over $5 million in environmental clean-up efforts on part of the trail that will utilize a railroad track constructed in the early 20th century. The old tracks, according to two separate studies over the past decade, have contaminated the nearby soil with arsenic and lead.
In years past, the tracks have been used as an informal walkway for some nearby residents, said Joan Rivas-Cosby, who is chair of the Friends of Five Wounds Trail and lives a few blocks away from the planned path.
“This would benefit people who don’t even live in the area,” she said. “There are people who are avid bicyclists who are taking transportation. It would definitely be good for people who want to take BART but don’t want to necessarily park a car (at the station).”
There are no estimates for how much the entire trail project will cost when completed. It is named after the century-old Five Wounds Portuguese National Church that will be visible along the trail and serves as a major architectural landmark in the neighborhood. The term “Five Wounds” comes from the five injuries that were found on Jesus’ body when he was crucified.
“It really has a regional impact,” said Terry Christensen, a political science professor emeritus at San Jose State University who has been a leading advocate for the trail, about the proposal. “People have been talking about it for a long time.”
Efforts to get a path in place began in the early 2000s when neighborhood advocates started calling for improvements to the area, which Christensen described as historically low-income. One of the top priorities that surfaced was a trail, pushing residents to form an advocacy group focused solely on its construction. In 2013, city councilmembers gave a thumbs up to an early proposal for the path.
“In the immediate neighborhood, there’s a need for more open space and parkland,” said Christensen. “The trail provides that.”
The latest hurdle, he said, involved convincing VTA that their agency would stand to benefit from the trail because of its vicinity to the future Little Portugal BART station. The transit hub is set to be completed sometime in the next decade but has faced delays and scrutiny over its timeline and budget projections. In 2022, federal officials determined that it could take as long as June 2034 for the BART extension to be finished and cost close to $10 billion.