If you’re lost on a trail at dusk, you might want to make sure that trail is in San Jose.

The capital of Silicon Valley has laced it up on an ambitious program to integrate its trail system and stripe its trail with a special formula reflective paint that shows the way for hikers and bikers in the dark – and shows the way with a spotlight shining down from a police helicopter, when necessary. You can see a video of it here.

“Our Public Works Department worked with local vendors to learn more about thermoplastic options and how to maximize reflectivity,” said Yves Zsutty, program manager for the trail network with San Jose’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services. “We developed a specification that yields a very thin but durable painted stripe and contains very small and polished glass beads.”

The thin layer is important to maintain smooth rolling for the roller bladers on the trails. The reflectance factor is important because various state and federal laws and policies discourage the use of lights in riparian corridors (many trails in San Jose and many other places follow the course of creeks) because of the effect on the migration of various creatures, Zsutty said.

San Jose has just finished painting stripes on the Los Alamitos Creek trail, and in the next couple of months will stripe the Guadalupe River trail. A survey has shown that more than half the users of the latter trail bicycle on it to commute to work, which means many trips in winter’s darkness. Those cyclists will cherish the reflective stripes, Zsutty said.

New trails will use the reflective paint formula. San Jose has grants that support an effort to restripe some older trails, Zsutty said. San Jose is developing a 100-mile network of trails as part of its Green Vision initiative.

The trails are also getting markers with quarter-mile numbers that will be coordinated with 911 dispatchers. If someone is injured on the trail, they will be able to call in the marker number to the dispatcher, who can cross-reference a map and locate the nearest street crossing, Zsutty said. This can save precious minutes in an emergency situation.

The reference points will also help in trail operations and maintenance. 

The markers will have animal icons for identification. Pictured is a duck icon from the Calero Creek trail, part of the Los Alamitos Creek system.

The trails need to be thoroughly cleaned before the paint is spread. Also, they need sweeping and vacuuming afterward to suck up the excess tiny, polished reflective beads in the paint – some will roll free after being spread, Zsutty said.

Staff from the state transit agency, Caltrans, have come by to take a look at San Jose’s striping formula and use.