Amazing ocean views once difficult to capture from a car seat can now be enjoyed by anyone who makes a short trip to Pacifica’s Devil’s Slide Trail. After nearly 20 years, a project to redirect traffic through mountain tunnels and convert this former portion of Highway 1 to a non-motorized multi-use coastal trail is finally complete. The trail opened to public on March 27 and welcomes hikers, cyclists, horse riders and leashed dogs 24 hours a day, all year around. With its similarities to erosion-damaged sections of the Great Highway, Devil's Slide offers a model for implementing some of the recommendations in SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan.
Devil’s Slide History
The rugged headland midway between Montara and the Linda Mar District of Pacifica, with its steep unstable coastal cliffs, bears the distinct name “Devil’s Slide.” The terrain’s propensity for landslides and erosion did not hinder the construction of Highway 1 back in 1937. Only three years after the highway’s opening, the first major landslide caused extensive damages to the road. In the following years, periods of destruction and rebuilding alternated, with the winters of 1983 and 1995 marking remarkably lengthy closures, leading decisionmakers to plan for alternatives.
The initial Caltrans proposal to construct a four-to-six-lane freeway bypass was opposed by grassroots environmental organizations who favored the construction of two 30-foot wide tunnels instead. This safer and more environmentally sensiitive approach, which also allowed for a separate coastal recreational trail, found considerable support with local governments and was approved in 1996 by San Mateo County voters. Multiple agencies including San Mateo County, the City of Pacifica, Caltrans, the California Coastal Commission and the National Park Service partnered to bring the plan to fruition. The Tom Lantos Tunnels — officially named after the congressman who played a major role in securing funding for the project and also known as "the people’s tunnels” after the novel grassroots victory — opened to traffic in March 2013, a year before the trail’s opening.
Devil’s Slide Coastal Trail
The 1.3 mile, 24-feet wide repaved trail provides separated pedestrian walkways and bike lanes featuring painted signage to avoid the extensive use of sign posts. Accessibility improvements and protective rail installments increase safety, while educational graphic panels about the area’s geology, environment and history provide information to visitors. Three overlook areas with benches and observation telescopes offer spectacular scenic vistas, showcasing the coast’s natural beauty. The trail’s critical proximity to bird nesting locations requires special protection measures to decrease visitors’ visibility and ensure habitat protection. Devil’s Slide becomes part of the California Coastal Trail connecting Mori Point to Pillar Point, and emerges as a regional destination, expected to attract 80,000 visitors annually.
Car access to the trailheads is granted through two small parking areas at the trail’s ends, although emphasis is put on public transportation, carpooling and biking. SamTrans bus stops at the south end of the tunnel and free Pacifica city shuttles during weekends serve the visitors who choose transit to reach the trail. Negotiations with private owners are in progress to ensure long-term pedestrian access from Pacifica to the trail.
Ocean Beach Master Plan
The Devil’s Slide project has significant similarities to SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan. First, it addresses the impacts of coastal erosion on California’s coast in a comprehensive manner, and second, it does so by fostering partnerships among a number of different public agencies. Because the Great Highway has its own history of lengthy closures under extreme weather and erosion, the Ocean Beach Master Plan recommends the closure of the south reach of the Great Highway between Sloat and Skyline boulevards. Under the plan, the abandoned lanes will be transformed into a multi-use path that celebrates open space and ecological restoration through managed retreat. The coastal trail along Ocean Beach will provide critical connections to the surrounding recreational resources of the area, creating a continuous promenade from Fort Funston up to Lands End. The project combines coastal adaptation management while giving San Franciscans and visitors a unique resource of immense environmental and recreational value. Changes on the Great Highway will be implemented incrementally according to the timeframes set by the Ocean Beach Master Plan implementation studies. Check SPUR's Ocean Beach Master Plan page for updates.