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RTC TrailBlog

  • What the Marvin M. Brandt Case Means for America’s Rail-Trails

    On March 10, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States. The issue in this case was whether the federal government retains an interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the federal General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of railroad activity on the corridor.

    The Brandt property lies along the corridor of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail in Wyoming, a former disused rail corridor inside Medicine Bow National Forest that was converted into a public trail.

    As the only national organization in America solely committed to defending the preservation of former railroad corridors for continued public use, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) filed an “amicus brief” in December 2013 supporting the established legal precedent that says the United States does retain an interest in the corridor.

    Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Marvin Brandt. While RTC is disappointed by the decision, after examining the details of its potential impact, we believe that the vast majority of rail-trails and rail-trail projects will not be directly affected. Existing rail-trails or trail projects are not affected by this decision if any of the following conditions are met:

    • The rail corridor is “railbanked.” (This is the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails.)
    • The rail corridor was originally acquired by the railroad by a federally granted right-of-way through federal lands before 1875.
    • The railroad originally acquired the corridor from a private land owner. 
    • The trail manager owns the land adjacent to the rail corridor.
    • The trail manager owns full title (fee simple) to the corridor.
    • The railroad corridor falls within the original 13 colonies.

    Click here for a downloadable infographic outlining the criteria above.

    The ruling only affects non-railbanked corridors that were created from federally granted rights-of-way through the 1875 Act. And we know that most railroad corridors created under this federal law are located west of the Mississippi River.

    Because there isn’t a federal database on federally granted rights-of-way, it isn’t possible to answer exactly how many miles of corridor this applies to. What we can say is that, unfortunately, the ruling will likely increase future litigation over these corridors. We anticipate more cases in the future in which the federal government will be forced to compensate adjoining landowners in order to maintain public access to some well-loved trails.

    This can be a significant challenge for the trail community. We need to ensure that fear of lawsuits does not deter people from moving forward with trails that communities need and have a right to build.

    The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the 10th Circuit Court, where RTC’s legal team will work to narrow the ultimate impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

    Since 1986, RTC's legal program has fought to preserve rail corridors as public recreation and transportation assets at the local, national and federal levels in more than 50 cases, as well as before Congress and administrative agencies. RTC is the foremost, and often the only, legal advocate for rail-trails in the United States, work that is fully funded by RTC members.

  • Supreme Court Hands Down Disappointing Decision for Trails in U.S.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Official Statement on March 2014 Supreme Court Ruling

    Today’s Supreme Court ruling is disappointing news for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, rail-trail advocates and trail users around the country. The full opinion, which reverses and remands a lower court ruling, can be read at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1173_nlio.pdf

    At issue in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States was whether the federal government retains a reversionary interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of railroad activity on the corridor. In today’s 8-to-1 decision, the justices ruled in favor of Marvin Brandt, the Wyoming landowner whose property is crossed by one of these former rail corridors that is part of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail.  

    It is our belief that the original intent of the 1875 legislation was that these linear public spaces should remain of, and for, the people. Just like our national parks, these former rail corridors are public assets in which we all share and benefit. These federally granted rights-of-way have played a key role in the nation's rail-trail movement, which has built thousands of miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, skiing and snowmobile pathways across America over the past 25 years.

    There are hundreds of federally granted rights-of-way corridors across the country, many of which have been converted into publicly accessible trails. This erosion of protections for these public lands in the Supreme Court not only may block the completion of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail through the former rail corridor, but also threatens existing rail-trails, mainly in the West, that utilize federally granted rights-of-way and are not railbanked. 

    Our legal team is taking a closer look at the decision—and its implications for other rail-trails—to determine next steps. This decision is likely to result in more litigation over rail-trails in federally granted rights of way. Those rail-trails that have been built on railbanked corridors or fee simple land purchases will remain safe. Railbanked corridors are preserved for future rail use by being converted to a trail in the interim.

    The fight for these rail corridors is not over yet. The case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States will be sent back to a lower court where we hope to have another opportunity to clarify and limit the scope of this Supreme Court ruling. More information in the coming days can be found on our website at http://www.railstotrails.org/SupremeCourt

    Please contact Amy Kapp at amy@railstotrails.org if you would like more information about the Supreme Court ruling. 


    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.


  • The Supreme Court Decision: How Does It Affect Rail-Trails?

    On March 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case involving a rail corridor formerly on federal land that is now privately owned (Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States).

    The U.S. Supreme Court decision was undoubtedly disappointing for supporters of rail-trails. But after examining the Court’s decision, it is clear that its reach is much narrower than has been reported in the press. 

    The main questions on your mind may be: Does this decision mean that my rail-trail or trail project will go away? What effect will this decision have on the broader rail-trail movement? 

    To answer the first question, the vast majority of current and planned rail-trails will not be affected. 

    The ruling does not affect trails that have been “railbanked” (the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails in the interim). Potentially affected corridors are predominantly west of the Mississippi and were originally acquired by railroads after 1875 through federal land to aid in westward expansion. 

    Existing rail-trails or trail projects ARE NOT affected by this decision if ANY of the following conditions are met:

    1. The rail corridor is “railbanked.” 
    2. The rail corridor was originally acquired by the railroad by a federally granted right-of-way (FGROW) through federal lands before 1875. 
    3. The railroad originally acquired the corridor from a private land owner. 
    4. The trail manager owns the land adjacent to the rail corridor.
    5. The trail manager owns full title (fee simple) to the corridor.
    6. The railroad corridor falls within the original 13 colonies. 

    If your rail-trail or trail project meets any of the conditions above, it is NOT affected by the U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

    If you have questions about a specific trail, please contact the manager of that trail, or contact us at railtrails@railstotrails.org.

    Despite the decision, the rail-trail movement remains strong. But the ruling will likely invite more litigation directed at rail-trails that consist of or include federally granted rights of way.

    As this case moves back to the lower courts, RTC is exploring opportunities to ensure the scope of the ruling is as narrow as possible. 


    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

  • Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to defend rail-trails in the Supreme Court: Wyoming landowner threatens public ownership of rail corridors

    A case scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court over the next few months could threaten America's ability to convert disused rail corridors into public multi-use trails.

    At issue in Marvin S. Brandt Revocable Trust et al., v. United States is whether the American people retain a reversionary interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after railroad activity has ceased on the corridor. It is only the second time that a rail-trail case has been heard by the nation's highest court.

    The corridor in this case passes through a segment of land surrounded by Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming that the U.S. Forest Service patented to the Brandt family in 1976. Bisecting that parcel is a 200-foot wide corridor of federally-owned land that had been granted to the Laramie, Hahn's Peak and Pacific Railway company in 1908, for the purpose of constructing a railroad.

    These federally-granted rights-of-way have played a key role in the nation's rail-trail movement, which has built thousands of miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, skiing and ATV pathways across America over the past 25 years.

    Recognizing the great importance of providing public access to the nation's public lands, in 2007 the U.S. Forest Service and local groups converted most of that disused corridor into the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, which has become one of the most popular rail-trails in America.

    This spectacular 21-mile rail-trail, which has provided a significant boost to the state's trails tourism economy, has but one disconnection point - the Brandt property. The Mountain States Legal Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Pacific Legal Foundation are behind the Brandt's effort to sue the United States to bring the public corridor into private ownership and prevent its reuse as a publicly accessible rail-trail.

    The U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming and, later, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, found that the United States did have a reversionary interest in the corridor, that this federally-held right-of-way could be made available as rail-trail, and rejected the Brandt's claim of ownership. However, unsatisfied with these rulings, and supported by well-financed interests, the Brandts continue to appeal.

    As the only organization in America committed to defending the preservation of former railroad corridors for continued public use, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court this month defending the grand vision of our forefathers that explicitly held that these linear public spaces should remain of, and for, the people. 

    The case affects more than a century of federal laws and policies protecting the public's interest in railroad corridors created through public lands - and could have lasting impacts on the future of rail-trails across the country. Just like our national parks and treasured lands to which they connect, these rail corridors are protected assets in which the public has a unique interest.

    A loss before the Supreme Court would not only potentially block the public rail-trail providing access to Medicine Bow National Forest, but would also threaten rail-trails across America that utilize federally-granted rights-of-way.

    Oral argument in the case is expected in January, with a decision expected later in 2014.

    Learn more about our previous court win in this case ⇒

    For the latest on the case and to get the up-to-date news on trails from across the country, sign up to be a part of our online community.

    Photo of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail courtesy Cycle Wyoming


  • You'll Be Seeing Bike Racks on Amtrak Very Soon!

    Some very exciting news for bicyclists!

    Check it: Amtrak recently announced that it is installing new baggage cars with bike racks to all its long-distance trains by the end of the year. This includes the Amtrak Capitol Limited train that runs between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, Pa.—creating a new connection for cyclists between the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the C & O Canal, and ultimately changing the way people tour, vacation and get around in the U.S. Awesome.

    Currently, only a small amount of Amtrak routes allow assembled bikes—and in limited amounts. But, as RTC covered in a blog last fall, Amtrak tested a brief pilot run of roll-on bike service with six vertically mounted bicycle restraints installed in a lower-level baggage area of a Superliner coach (departing from Pittsburgh). This breakthrough came after years of advocacy from local business people and bicyclists, who were frustrated by the lack of “roll-on” bike carriage service on Amtrak. Participants indicated that the tests were successful. 

    Amtrak had also been testing these bike racks in Michigan, New York and Vermont, but this was the first time they did so for a two-level Superliner.

    "After this test run of roll-on bike service, it's clear to me that carrying an unboxed bike on a train can work in the U.S., just as it does across Europe. My only concern is that on routes like the Capitol Limited, which serve bike-friendly cities and hugely popular corridors like the GAPCO and U.S. Bike Route 50, there won't be enough racks on each train to adequately meet demand,” said Champe Burnley of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, a long-time advocate for this issue.

    The new baggage cars to be installed this year—which are currently being tested in Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and the Northeast Corridor, according to an Amtrak blog post—will be used on all 15 of Amtrak’s long-distance routes, for the first time allowing the bicycling masses to transport their bikes without having to disassemble and pack them away during the train journey.  Nice—eh?

    For more information, check out this article by Jon Schmitz of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    “It’s great to have Amtrak understanding how important the bike tourism industry is,” Linda Boxx is quoted as saying. A former president and current member of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, Boxx has worked for years to persuade Amtrak to provide better accommodations for bikes.

    And check out this post that recently ran in Streetsblog.

    RTC acknowledges the incredible efforts of Boxx and Burnley in making this historic development possible!  And a special shout out to Amtrak for recognizing how important it is to create connections for people who are embracing active transportation and trail tourism—things that are helping communities thrive along the GAP, the C & O and all across America.

    Top photo courtesy Orin Zebest via Flickr.

    Right photo (October bike rack pilot test run) courtesy of the Virginia Bicycling Federation.


    Amy Kapp is RTC's content strategy manager and editor-in-chief of Rails to Trails magazine. Kapp frequently publishes articles and blog posts about topics related to parks and trails, the outdoors and community development.


  • The 2014 Inductee to the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame Is…

    What do you think makes a great rail-trail? 

    We feel it’s much more than just the trail itself. For most people, the scenery is the big draw. Rail-trails can transport us to some of America’s most beautiful places—along rivers, through forests and mountain ranges and far from the maddening crowd.

    But what about the wonderful trailside communities, shops, B&Bs and restaurants? And compelling information about the rail corridor’s history? Or the enormous utility of the trail because it connects to schools and parks and work places? Or the passionate and generous volunteer group that keeps the trail maintained?

    It’s these extra details—the tales beyond the trail—that separate a great trail from a trail worthy of induction into Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

    Which brings us to some good news. RTC is very pleased to announce that the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail is to be the latest inductee.

    The Virginia Creeper, which runs 34 miles through Grayson and Washington counties in Virginia’s southwest, is one of the region’s most prominent recreational draws, and is credited for the economic rejuvenation of a number of local communities that were suffering from the decline of some industries that had supported the region.

    And the success of the Virginia Creeper is now inspiring the creation of new rail-trail plans throughout the region as business leaders and advocates see concrete proof that not only are destination trails loved and appreciated by local residents, they are also valuable economic assets whose benefits spread throughout the community.

    RTC’s own president, Keith Laughlin, rode the Virginia Creeper a little while back—and to this day still raves about the experience. “It’s a truly beautiful part of the world,” he remembers. “In addition to the remarkable scenery, those mountains of southern Appalachia are rich with a fascinating railroad history that adds an extra dimension to rail-trails like the Creeper. And towns like Damascus and Abingdon have done a wonderful job of welcoming visitors and making the trail an integral part of their communities.”

    RTC began formally recognizing exemplary rail-trails around the country in 2007. The first Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductees were the Great Allegheny Passage (Pa./Md.), the Katy Trail State Park (Mo.) and the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail (Fla.). The most recent addition was the Greenbrier River Trail in West Virginia. 

    Deservedly, the Virginia Creeper finds itself in good company as the 27th inductee into the Hall of Fame.

    Hall of Fame inductees are selected on merits such as scenic value, high use, trail and trailside amenities, historical significance, excellence in management and maintenance of facility, community connections and geographic distribution. The Virginia Creeper is a model in each of these areas.

    To learn more about this wonderful rail-trail, check out our own Laura Stark’s great Trail of the Month feature on the Virginia Creeper. And for those in the area, stay tuned; we’ll be hosting an RTC Hall of Fame celebration and induction ceremony along the Virginia Creeper later this year.

    Photos by Jason Barnette – Southeastern Traveler/Courtesy Abingdon Convention and Visitors Bureau


    Jake Lynch is RTC’s marketing and media relations specialist. Born and raised in the wilds of rural Australia, Jake now helps tell the story of America’s rail-trails, from big cities to one-horse towns and everywhere in between. 

  • D & L Trail Worth $19 Million a Year to Eastern Pennsylvania

    The D & L Trail, a 165-mile rail-trail through eastern Pennsylvania, generates an annual economic impact of more than $19 million in the communities it passes through. That is the finding of our recently published D & L Trail user survey and economic impact analysis.

    The D & L Trail is the backbone of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (DLNHC), a five county region of Pennsylvania that traverses the historic Delaware and Lehigh Canals that was designated a National Heritage Area by Congress in 1988. The area is managed by the nonprofit DLNHC organization, a joint effort of private groups, citizens, county and municipal governments, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the federal government. 

    This latest survey is the seventh in a series of RTC reports documenting the economic impact of rail-trails in the Northeast. That work began in 2006 when my colleague here at RTC, Carl Knoch, developed a methodology for collecting data from trail users and extrapolating a statement of estimated annual impact.

    Since then, RTC has been able to apply the methodology to individual trails and develop individualized reports for the trail managers in the area. These reports become very succinct tools for trail managers, to solicit continued support for the trail from community leadership. Of course, each trail is unique; some bring in dollars on a daily basis while others may realize a seasonal impact. Regardless, every trail surveyed can document a positive economic impact, with trail users spending money in the communities that they are visiting.

    The D & L Trail surveys calculated an estimated 282,796 annual user visits to the trail, resulting in a total economic impact in 2012 of $19,075,921. Of this, $16,358,201 is estimated to have been directly injected into the local economy. The complete D & L study, which can be read and downloaded here, also recorded visitation and spending data in the trail's various regions, and gathered trail user comments on why they were visiting the trail and aspects for possible improvement.



  • The CYCLE Continues - William Penn Supports RTC's Work in Camden

    The ongoing transformation of Camden, New Jersey, is a terrific case study of what Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is about. From our core mission of recycling disused rail corridors into public pathways, in recent years RTC has expanded that work to building broader, more connected urban trail networks and encouraging new generations of Americans to walk and bike for daily transportation.

    In Camden, there is an urgent need for this kind of transformation. Disconnected from the vibrant economic and social activity occurring just across the Delaware River in Philadelphia, for the last few decades Camden has suffered a lack of shops and businesses and insufficient investment in its public spaces. As a result, incomes and property levels are low, obesity and poor nutrition are problems, especially among young people. These experiences are common to underserved and at-risk populations across the country.

    Enter RTC. Since 2006, our Northeast Regional Office has been working with local partners in Camden, notably the Campbell Soup Foundation, to create an improved bicycle and pedestrian network throughout Camden and beyond, and attracting the funding and support necessary for its construction. In a community where 40 percent of residents don't own a car, RTC knew that cheaper, easier options for getting from A to B had the potential to make real and significant improvements to the lives of Camden's citizens, every day.

    And thanks to the William Penn Foundation, we can continue with this excellent work. The Philadelphia-based organization today announced it would provide $110,000 to continue our CYCLE program -- which enables young Camden residents to be bike-mobile and helps them explore their city. It's work we have been doing with the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties, and which over the past few years has grown from a few summer classes of about 20 students, to more than 300 kids, bike-repair workshops, destination rides and a growing awareness of how the people of Camden can get around on two wheels. This funding is complemented by funding from the Campbell Soup Foundation as well.

    Spearheading the CYCLE program is RTC's own Akram Abed, who grew up in Camden and knows firsthand what a bike and a safe pathway can mean to residents whose job and study options, as well as access to stores and opportunities for recreation, are often limited.

    "Affordable and convenient transportation is something we sometimes take for granted," Abed says. "It has been amazing to ride with these kids and see them exploring parts of their city they have never seen before. It is literally expanding their worlds -- what an awesome thing to be a part of."

    William Penn Foundation also provided $165,000 to support the development of The Circuit -- another local project RTC is involved in. The Circuit, otherwise known as Greater Philadelphia's Regional Trail Network, aims to build on RTC's bike and pedestrian improvements in Camden and connect people, businesses, neighborhoods and employers on both sides of the Delaware River.

    For more about CYCLE, check out their facebook page at www.facebook.com/CYCLECamden

    Photos of the CYCLE kids cruising around Camden by RTC



  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in White County, Indiana


    On or about Feb. 4, 2014, CSX Transportation filed for the abandonment of 9.67 miles of track between Monon and Monticello in White County, Ind. We are providing this information because it presents an opportunity to develop a real regional asset: a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.

    NEXT STEPS: If this corridor is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge local trail advocates, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. A “boiler plate” letter (found here) can be filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using STB docket number AB-55 (sub-no. 712x). Filing this letter does not commit its authors to acquire the corridor; it merely gives time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad. According to the information we have received, the deadline for filing this letter is March 6, 2014. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its website, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing, or view a clearer map of the approximate route here.

    The STB has imposed a $250 filing fee for all railbanking requests. Entities filing a railbanking request may request a fee waiver or reduction, and government agencies will receive an automatic fee waiver. Throughout the process, make sure local government officials and citizen activists are kept informed of the project’s progress. We also recommend contacting your state trails coordinator or your state bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

    Both of these individuals are knowledgeable about state laws and resources and may be able to assist your community with this rail-trail project. Also, you may want to contact the abandoning railroad to add your name to their service list.

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE: RTC’s website may provide valuable tools as you plan for a rail-trail, including how-to manuals, the Trail-Building Toolbox, our Publications Library and the Trails & Greenways Listserv for trail advocates and professionals. These resources can be found within the “Trail-Building” section of our website. If you take advantage of this information and other resources promptly, you will be well on your way to creating a successful rail-trail in your community. For more information, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org.

  • Train Trestle From Famous Film Soon to Welcome Hikers and Bikers

    For lovers of American cinema, the scene in the 1986 film Stand By Me where the young protagonists sprint madly across a towering rail trestle (right) to narrowly escape an approaching train is one of those classic moments.

    Now, Americans of all ages will be able to reenact that famous scene in a much more leisurely (and safe) fashion, with the announcement last week that an agreement has been struck to purchase the out-of-service section of rail corridor in northeast California and convert it into a rail-trail.

    The trail will be known as the Great Shasta Rail Trail (GSRT). The right-of-way along the 80-mile section of the McCloud Railway between McCloud, in Siskiyou County, and Burney, in Shasta County, was purchased from the property's owner, 4 Rails, Inc., by the Shasta Land Trust (SLT). Since 2009, SLT has been working with a coalition of local partners, Save Burley Falls, McCloud Local First Network, the Volcanic Legacy Community Partnership and the McCloud Trail Association, with the express intention of converting the corridor into a public recreation trail.

    This railroad right-of-way spans more than 80 miles through the forested mountains of northern California and is a significant property in the history of McCloud, Burney and the surrounding area.

    "It's not every day we get to announce the railbanking of 80 miles of corridor for a new rail-trail!" says a very excited Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development in Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office. "This trail will be a crown jewel across northeastern California."

    According to SLT Executive Director Ben Miles, 4 Rails, Inc. agreed on a purchase price well below its appraised fair market value, representing a considerable donation of value by the seller.

    The multiuse GSRT will benefit Siskiyou and Shasta counties and the rural communities of McCloud and Burney by stimulating tourism and recreation-related commerce, increasing neighboring property values, and attracting new businesses.

    The GSRT will connect with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, recreational facilities on adjacent national forest land, and will link to trails around the McCloud River Falls and McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. 

    SLT and its team of supporters is confident of raising the funds necessary to complete the purchase, and have secured a grant for more than half of the purchase price from the California Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program.

    For more information, or to find out how to contribute to the project, visit www.mccloudlocalfirst.org.

    Photo of the McCloud Railway trestle bridge over Lake Britton courtesy of Redbeard Math Pirate/Flickr


  • Elly Blue: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy

    Elly Blue knows a thing or two about bikes. In fact, she’s been riding, talking and writing about them for most of her adult life. Her most recent book, “Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save The Economy,” is a thoroughly researched, straightforward and skillfully written look into the role bicycles are playing within the economic state of affairs in America. 

    In addition to writing, participating in the Portland Society (which she co-founded) and traveling for her Dinner & Bikes tour, Blue also runs the Wheelwomen Switchboard, an online community for women interested in bicycling. 

    Recently, I caught up with Blue to talk about her book, investments in bike infrastructure and equity within the bicycling world. 

    Q: You discuss equity and access for bicyclists quite a bit in your book. Why did you choose to dig into these topics?

    [In her book, Blue writes, “Bicycling didn’t cause the gap in equity in this country; rather, it reflects the problems of broader society. But bicycling does represent an opportunity for change. Today, there is a myth that people of color do not like bicycling and do not want the sort of infrastructure changes that make cycling more appealing. Despite a long history of discrimination and unequal access, this has never been widely true, and today the barriers are coming down rapidly, thanks in part to the growing inclusivity of traditional bicycle advocates, but in much larger part to the efforts and leadership of a growing number of grassroots social and advocacy groups.”]

    A: I’ve been writing about the economics of bicycling since 2010; I wasn’t the first to write about it, [however], I have helped make economics more of the standard frame for talking about bikes in our society. But I have some misgivings about how the economic frame works in reality. 

    Not only is equity really important, it’s the most important piece of all of this. We are trying to create a more equitable world, and I see bikes as a tool to help with that.


    Q: Why is it important for you to make the economic case for bikes in today’s society?

    Because the economy is terrible! In fact, the economic case has very little to do with bicycling. It has to do with our energy economy and how we have built our cities in the past century. Bikes are not the end all, be all, but they are a way that people are taking back public space, and it is a way to show how powerful we can be when we organize around bikes.


    Q: In your book, you also discuss the myth—believed by some Americans—that those who ride bikes are freeloaders; they benefit from the infrastructure but don’t pay for it. How has this myth become so pervasive, and why is it important to dispel it?

    A: It is an interesting historical question to see how the myth has become so pervasive. Rugged individualism has something to do with it, and the desire to own the status quo, to own what we have. But what we have is supremely broken. Our Highway Trust Fund is in rough shape. The gas tax has not been raised since 1993, our deficit is emense, people are driving less and yet we’re still building out a highway system that we won’t be able to afford. 

    It’s important to bust the myth [that bicyclists are freeloaders], because whenever you look at a budget that’s in trouble, you have to find the actual cause. 

    Bicycling is the only form of transportation that doesn’t just break even, but brings wealth into the community. Bike infrastructure was once seen as a boondoggle; now its absolutely necessary. 


    Q: Some people ask how the federal government could spend money on bike projects when the country is so strapped financially. But research has shown that the return on investment for bike and pedestrian infrastructure is incredible. How do you think it is possible to reconcile these two ways of thinking?

    A: By looking at the math. The mayor of Indianapolis [Greg Ballard] put it really well; he said that when governments are spending money on roads and cars, it is an expense, and it’s an expense that requires more spending in the future. But when you spend money on bicycle infrastructure, you are making an investment.

    The housing crisis at the personal level is a good analogy for the infrastructure crisis at the civic level. We are agreeing to make payments that are beyond our budgets, either for bigger houses on a personal level, or mega-highways on the civic level.

    In fact, if we took the advice of any personal finance blogger when it came to transportation funding, then every city could be as bike friendly as Portland. When people look at the actual numbers, it really is common sense, and the case for investing in bike infrastructure is clear.

    [This is the case for recreational trails as well. In her book, Blue uses Iowa as an example. “In the last two years, the state has spent less than $3 million a year on recreational bike trails and seen a $21 million-a-year increase in sales tax revenue along those trails...”]

    Q: Why is it important to get more women on bikes, and what is the best way to do that? 

    A: It’s not only about getting women to ride bikes. There is a gender gap in bicycling, and it all comes back to the equity discussion. What factors influence that gap? 

    In terms of advocacy, has the focus been too narrow? 

    Listening is the first step to closing the gap. Advocacy can be inclusive when the concerns and needs of everyone, not just the traditional groups, are part of the larger narrative. 

    Photos courtesy Elly Blue


    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

  • What Happens When a Member of Congress Attacks Trail Funding?

    Though it may not have made news headlines in your community, last Friday a significant battle was won in our never-ending defense of America's trails.

    Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, had proposed an amendment to the Preserving America's Transit and Highways Act to eliminate funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), by far the largest dedicated source of funding for trails and biking and walking infrastructure.

    The simple fact is that without TAP, America would not have many of the trails and pathways we use today, and sometimes take for granted.

    And so Rails-to-Trails Conservancy realized the great threat that Toomey's amendment presented. We rallied our friends and partners around the country, and urged our individual supporters, people like you, to pressure Sen. Toomey to withdraw the amendment.

    What a response you gave. Our supporters sent more than 7,000 messages to Toomey and his peers in Congress voicing their enthusiastic support of TAP and urging elected officials to support programs that help build trails and active transportation facilities.

    In Pennsylvania, we quickly gathered a broad coalition of 85 groups representing trails, health, business, tourism and citizen groups to sign a letter to Sen. Toomey, and hand-delivered the letter to the Senator and all Pennsylvanian Congressional representatives, in person, at their offices.

    As they continued to apply pressure on Capitol Hill, late on Friday afternoon our policy and government relations staff received confirmation that Sen. Toomey had withdrawn the amendment.

    This victory is evidence of two things. The first is the great support in local communities for federal programs to support trails, biking and walking. Where the rubber meets the road, programs like TAP have real and positive impacts in neighborhoods and main streets nationwide. It gets projects built, and it changes lives.

    Secondly, it demonstrates the vital importance of RTC's work defending funding for trails. The behind-the-scenes work we do, utilizing relationships with trail building partners across the country, comes into play when we need to exert pressure on key decision makers to protect trails and active transportation.

    As a supporter of RTC, it is important that you see the results of your contribution, and enjoy the fruits of our combined labors! This victory - defeating Sen. Toomey's amendment - is a win for the millions of Americans like you who know that trails, biking and walking are key elements of America's future.

    Keep informed about RTC's work and trail building efforts in your state by signing up to our news feed: www.railstotrails.org/enews


    Patrick Wojahn recently joined RTC as the director of government relations. He focuses on national, state and local policy efforts to build broad support for trails across America.



  • Trail Towns Roll Out the Red Carpet: "Impressions" of a Greenway Sojourner

    My absolute favorite part of RTC’s 2014 Greenway Sojourn (June 22-27) was talking to many of my fellow 300 riders about their experiences as we made our way from just outside Wierton, W.V., to Cumberland, Md. Every evening, I would strike up a conversation with someone about the day’s ride; some exhausted after, say, their first 50-mile day, others eager to share their list of wildlife sightings, and all excited for what would come next.

    One topic that everyone wanted to talk about was the communities through which we passed. We let our hard-earned dinners settle in our bellies, and the stories of trail-town interactions carried the conversation.

    Confluence, Pa., where we spent our layover day (Day 4), truly rolled out the red carpet for us. Confluence is one of nine Trail Towns along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), which are dedicated to maximizing the economic potential of the trail for their communities.  

    We were greeted on the edge of town by Scout and Addie, two of Confluence’s local young ladies, who handed out information about the town and “Tourism Tokens” to redeem at the local bike shop, Confluence Cyclery. Balloons tied to “Welcome, Sojourn!” signs led riders from the trail to the town square and pavilion where Sherman’s Old Fashion Ice Cream Parlor was passing out free ice cream.

    Some riders opted for a break from sleeping in a tent each night and capitalized on the cozy bed and breakfasts of Confluence. Dinner was catered by a local restaurant on the first night and the local fire department on the second. This offered us the opportunity to taste the local fare and get to know our hosts, and infused a substantial chunk of change into the community! On the night before our departure, I followed the laughter and music over to the Lucky Dog Cafe and found the entire place packed with sojourn riders in vacation mode, more than willing to spend some cash on a beverage or two with new friends.

    It was clear that the whole town had mobilized for the event, and the effort did not go unnoticed. Sandy Younkin, president of the Confluence Tourism Association, explained that Confluence is serious about trail tourism, stating, “This whole town makes an effort to make this a welcoming place. We welcome [the sojourn riders] back at anytime!” 

    Younkin, owner of the bed and breakfast and catering company, Confluence House, explained that more than 70 percent of her business comes from the trail. In fact, six folks who rode last year’s sojourn came back two weeks before this year’s sojourn on their own private trip. They had such a great time on the GAP and in the towns along its route that they returned—and brought their friends.

    “We’re trying to make this a trail that you want to come back to!” Younkin said.

    The trail town model fits many of these small communities quite well, and we have heard from business owners in the past about how important the trail is to their success. Trails mean business, and this couldn’t be more true in Confluence. 

    Other towns along the 191-mile sojourn route held our hearts in their own ways; I heard from my fellow riders about the welcoming interactions in the bike shop in Connellsville, the pub in West Newton, the coffee shop in Frostburg. A young girl showed me a pair of earrings that her mom bought her in Ohiopyle, I shared laughs over ice cream (my favorite treat on a bike trip) with a ride volunteer in Rockwood, and I heard tales of great beer and dancing in Myersdale. And the list goes on.

    The trail is a central part of these communities—geographically in some cases, but more importantly, in terms of their economic value to the towns themselves. From earrings to ice cream to bike parts, the towns along the trail are providing what visitors need, and small town charm keeps visitors coming back to these charismatic communities, year after year.


    Header photo - a pitstop along the GAP, top right - a concert in Confluence, left - a bike shop along the GAP (photos by Katie Harris); bottom right - Sojourner Bill Trainer enjoying an ice cream break (photo courtesy Bill Trainer)


    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.
  • Attention West Virginia: Input Needed on Regional Bike Plans

    Great news for the residents and businesses of West Virginia, with the Department of Transportation (WVDOT) announcing last week it will be gathering public input for a series of regional bicycle plans in population centers across the state.

    The study is being funded by a federal Transportation and Community System Preservation Grant, and will identify opportunities to improve interstate and regional connectivity for bicycles.

    All interested parties are encouraged to attend the meeting in their area, or submit written comments. The public meeting will focus on the geographic region where the meeting will be held, but will also present and receive comments on the other regions of the state.

    All meetings will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be brief presentations at 4, 5 and 6 p.m., followed by an opportunity to give comments in a workshop style setting.

    Public meetings will be held at the following locations:

    May 3, 2012
    Ranson City Hall
    Council Chambers
    312 South Mildred Street
    Ranson, WV 25438

    May 7, 2012
    City Service Center
    915 Quarrier Street
    Charleston, WV 25301

    May 8, 2012
    Tri-State Transit Authority
    1251 4th Avenue
    Huntington, WV 25701

    May 10, 2012
    Municipal Building
    2nd Floor Executive Conference Room
    1 Government Square
    Parkersburg, WV 26101

    May 14, 2012
    West Virginia Independence Hall
    1528 Market Street
    Wheeling, WV 26003

    May 15, 2012
    City Building
    Council Chambers
    389 Spruce Street
    Morgantown, WV 26505

    May 21, 2012
    City Hall
    Council Chambers
    942 Washington Street, West
    Lewisburg, WV 24901

    May 22, 2012
    City Building
    Council Chambers
    401 Davis Avenue
    Elkins, WV 26241

    Written comments can be dropped in a comment box at the workshop, or mailed to:

    Robert Pennington, P.E., Director, Program Planning and Administration Division
    West Virginia Department of Transportation
    Capital Complex Building Five, 8th Floor
    1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
    Charleston, West Virginia 25305-0430

    Photos courtesy of Studio Gelardi (top), and EcoVelo.info


  • Breaking News: Senate Rejects Amendment to Cut Funding for Trails, Biking and Walking

    Bipartisan support of funding for trails, walking and bicycling continues to grow in response to repeated legislative attacks on the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program.

    Today, by a vote of 60 to 38, the U.S. Senate rejected an amendment by U.S. Senator Rand Paul (Ky.) that would have shifted dedicated funding for walking and biking infrastructure to bridge repair, thus eliminating a hugely popular program that has been shown to improve safety, create jobs and efficient transportation choices for millions of Americans for the past 20 years.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and our partners argued the amendment posed a false choice between TE and bridge safety, and we helped organize a national sign-on letter to senators encouraging them to vote against Paul’s Senate Amendment 821. (Read the original action alert and watch a video for more background on the issue.)

    “In truth, most states already have funds that they could use for bridge repair, but that instead go for new roadways,” says RTC’s Director of Policy Outreach Kartik Sribarra. “Further, last year, states sent back $530 million in unspent bridge funds. It’s shameful and disingenuous to claim to be promoting safety by pushing to cut funds for trails, walking and bicycling. 47,000 cyclists and pedestrians have died during the past decade, often because we lack the necessary infrastructure for them to be safe.”

    TE funds have substantially decreased these risks, using less than 2 percent of surface transportation funding.

    “An honest prescription for accelerating bridge repair would need to address either the overall level of investment in transportation infrastructure, or the tendency to prioritize new road capacity over maintenance of existing assets, or both,” Sribarra says.

    Thank you to everyone who contacted your senators! It seems like we face a new legislative attack on TE each week, but with your voices and backing, we’re able to defend this tremendous program, the largest source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling.

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