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RTC TrailBlog

  • Building Trails, Building Lives: Kids Are Connecting in Sheboygan, Wis.

    The Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) was created in 2005 under the federal transportation act, SAFETEA-LU. This program allocated $25 million each to four communities across the U.S. for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and programs. Between 2009 and 2013 alone, the program was responsible for averting 85.1 million vehicle miles traveled and 34,629 tons of CO2 emissions. Each week during the month of August, we will highlight one of these communities, focusing on the lives that were positively impacted by NTPP. Check out the previous installments, including our look at SPOKES in Minneapolis and the Cal Park Hill Tunnel in Marin County.


    For school kids in Sheboygan, Wis., trails are about connections. And thanks to the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, a nearby trail, completed in the fall of 2013, provides connections of all kinds.

    Once a vacant field, the new trail allows students and their families a much more direct and safe route to and from the elementary school—as well as a vehicle to encourage and embrace long-term healthy, active lifestyles.

    Connecting with Nature

    Around 700 students, grades K-4, attend Sheboygan Falls Elementary School, and for many of those students, the trail is somewhat of an outdoor classroom.

    Principal Lynn Bub says bringing kids closer with nature is the greatest benefit the trail provides the school, helping teachers redefine what nature is. She states, “It’s not somewhere you go—somewhere you have to make a trip to visit. Instead, we are trying to teach our students that nature is everywhere around us.” 

    According to Bub, exposure to the outdoors—regularly provided by teachers—allows the elementary school kids to see that time immersed in nature can be included in their daily lives. 

    “The trails helps us change the way students perceive and interact with nature,” Bub states. 

    Connecting to Health

    A morning walking program, hosted by a handful of Physical Education teachers, encourages students to take a stroll before the school day begins. The walking program is voluntary, but the teachers have set up a ticket program to reward participation and occasionally hold a raffle for the student walkers, as well. Bub says the program allows kids to move their bodies, use their energy and get their blood pumping before being asked to concentrate on school work. Additionally, the trail provides leaders and participants a safe, separated path on which to run their morning program.

    Connections to the Community

    Kindergarteners, in particular, use the trail to walk to a senior center near the school to engage in activities with older residents. Forging these connections with the community is important for the leaders at Sheboygan Falls Elementary School, and the trail has opened up more of these opportunities. 

    “This wouldn’t have been possible without the trail,” Bub states. “We would have had to bus the kids over there, but now they can walk, they can be outside, and they can get some exercise.” 

    Some argue that children today are less active and less connected with nature. But it is places like Sheboygan that prove there is an antidote to sedentary, disconnected ways of life, and trails and other types of infrastructure that support walking and biking are integral parts of that equation. 

    Photo header courtesy of Gottfried not Bouillon via Flickr

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    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.

  • Here Comes the Tweetsie Trail! Local Tenacity Built Tennessee’s Newest Rail-Trail

    Be the first to set foot on the trail at the grand opening Tweetsie Trail Trek on Aug. 30! Can’t make the event? Plan your visit to the trail via Traillink.com

     

    A brief history of the Tweetsie…

    The 10-mile stretch of corridor between Johnson City and Elizabethton—located on the historic East Tennessee & Western North Carolina (ET & WNC) line—had not had any rail traffic since 2003. The line was no longer profitable, and its owner, Genesee & Wyoming, Inc., began to weigh its options.  

    Local hikers, bikers and outdoor enthusiasts were among the first to imagine something great when they saw the unused railway. By the fall of 2006, Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden had initiated negotiations with the railroad owner to obtain the corridor. Local trail advocates had long been fans of the famed Virginia Creeper Trail, a rail-trail that meanders through Grayson and Washington counties in Virginia, and thought that Johnson City should have a rail-trail too. Led by trail development consultant Dan Reese, Friends of the Tweetsie Trail was organized in 2007. The group encouraged people in the region to write letters and send emails to local government officials in favor of a trail. Ultimately, the group submitted a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to Mayor Darden and city commissioners  of Johnson City, Tenn. “This is an opportunity that could be one of the best things to happen for Johnson City, Elizabethton, Carter County and the region,” Reese is quoted as saying in a 2007 Johnson City Press article.

    In 2009, when the ET & WNC informed the Surface Transportation Board of the railroad’s intent to abandon the corridor, RTC—through its Early Warning System—quickly notified dozens of local officials and trail advocates in Tennessee.  Mayor Darden and Johnson City commissioners were in an ongoing dialogue with the railroad and well poised to begin the railbanking process (which allows for trail development in out-of-service rail corridors until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service). Soon, they submitted a bid for the rail property, cooperated with its owners, the Genesee and Wyoming Railway, and successfully railbanked the corridor in April 2011. 

    Johnson City invested $600,000 to acquire the trail, having followed federal railbanking procedures. In 2013, the city formed the Tweetsie Trail Task Force—headed by Dr. Dan Schumaier—and sought donations and in-kind services from local municipalities, businesses, families and trail advocates from across the region to fund the construction of the trail.  

    Alongside officials from Carter County, Johnson City and Elizabethton, as well as local trail supporters, the Task Force eventually raised $475,000 for the construction of the first 4.5 miles of the trail!

    Cut to present day…

    The first of three segments (with seven overpasses safely boarded and provided with railings!) is complete and ready for its first visitors.  On Aug. 28, the ribbon will be formally cut, and on Aug. 30, the surrounding communities will celebrate with a Tweetsie Trail Trek. This family-friendly event will have live music, food vendors and a bike give-away. A 4.3-mile run/walk/bike ride on the new trail—beginning at Lions Field in Elizabethton and ending at Memorial Park Community Center in Johnson City, where all the festivities are planned—will serve as the marquee activity. Bicyclists will begin their nearly 10-mile out-and-back ride at noon.  All proceeds will go toward the maintenance and development of the new trail. 

    The Tweetsie Trail Trek will culminate years of hard work by a visionary and persistent cross-section of supporters, including local elected officials and community advocates; the entire region is abuzz about the event!

    Looking to the future…

    According to Dr. Schumaier, the final two segments of the Tweetsie Trail could be completed in 2015-16. When all 10 miles of the trail are constructed, it will run from Stateline Road in Elizabethton to Alabama Street in Johnson City, and connect with Johnson City’s greenway to East Tennessee State University. This will make it the longest rail-trail in Tennessee and push the state’s total rail-trail mileage past the 100-mile mark.

    Welcome, Tweetsie Trail!

    All photos courtesy Tweetsie Trail

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    Kristen Martin is a student at Metropolitan State University of Denver and a former intern for RTC. She is currently studying land use with a concentration in urban planning.  

  • An Engineering Wonder, a Bike Commuter’s Dream: The Cal Park Hill Tunnel

    The Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) was created in 2005 under the federal transportation act, SAFETEA-LU. This program allocated $25 million each to four communities across the U.S. for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and programs. Between 2009 and 2013 alone, the program was responsible for averting 85.1 million vehicle miles traveled and 34,629 tons of CO2 emissions. Each week during the month of August, we will highlight one of these communities, focusing on the lives that were positively impacted by NTPP. Check out last week’s post on Minneapolis, here.

     

    Christina Toms’ commute is the definition of multi-modal. From her front door in Fairfax, Calif., she hops on her bike and cruises down to the Larkspur ferry terminal. From there, she catches the ferry that brings her across the bay to the city of San Francisco. 

    That commute is possible in large part to the Cal Park Hill Tunnel, an engineering triumph that makes the vital connection between San Rafael and Larkspur in Marin County, Calif. 

    According to Toms, the Cal Park Hill Tunnel is connecting communities in ways that were never possible before. “The tunnel has made it so much more feasible to ride,” affirms Toms. “It’s far more direct, and it’s so much safer than before.” 

    The Cal Park Hill Tunnel opened in 2010, but its story began more than a century earlier. Built in 1884 and widened in 1924, the structure helped the railroads move freight along the 300-mile-long corridor between Tiburon to the south and Eureka to the north. During the lumber boom in Northern California, the railroad, and the tunnel that brought goods to its southern terminus, was used heavily. While lumber was certainly a large part of the railway’s load, trains carried a variety of freight over the years, but the railroad ended all service in 1985, and the tunnel sat empty. In the late 1980s, a partial collapse at the south end signaled the tunnel’s disintegration, and after a fire in 1990, approximately 20 percent of the tunnel was collapsed, with the remainder in various states of disrepair. It was time for the tunnel’s renaissance

    A pivotal point in the structure’s recovery came in 2001, when bike and pedestrian advocates, led by the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC), fought off a proposed parking lot for the Golden Gate Bridge to be constructed in front of the sealed tunnel entrance. This was a major victory, because it validated the efforts that had been undertaken up to that point. The vision of resurrecting the Cal Park Hill Tunnel was strong, and nine years and a tremendous amount of work later, on a foggy day in December 2010, the tunnel was reopened. The excitement was palpable as the dream was finally realized.

    “It is amazing that we were able to retro fit and reuse this piece of infrastructure,” Toms says. As an engineer, Toms has an appreciation for the tunnel retrofit, particularly because of California’s geotechnical conditions. It is a huge undertaking to rehabilitate a partially collapsed tunnel; it is an additional challenge to make it seismically safe in a state known for ground-rattling earthquakes. 

    Before the tunnel was accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists, Marin County resident Carlos Rico says he traveled to work on segments of road on which he felt unsafe. “The traffic is pretty scary on those stretches, even for an experienced rider,” explains Rico. But with the tunnel in action, he can avoid those dangerous segments. “Yes, the tunnel saves me time, but far more importantly, it is a much safer route,” he says.

    It is undeniably an asset to bike commuters, but according to Toms, the Cal Park Hill Tunnel serves more subsets of the community than just those who ride to work. “Every day, I see the whole range of people using the tunnel,” she reports. From speedy commuters in spandex on carbon fiber bikes, to folks in jeans and sneakers on their way to work, to people who use the path for fitness, Tom says more people discover and use the connector each day. “I see lots of pedestrians, strollers and families on the way to the movies or the farmers’ market,” adds Toms.

    Andi Peri, advocacy director at MCBC, explains that the diversity of users is not limited to their mode of travel. Many people of Mexican and Central American descent use the structure daily to get to work, exercise, or spend time with their families. Rico echoes this sentiment. “The tunnel is used by a diverse and wide variety of people, for both work and play,” he says.

    A safe, multi-modal commute for many Marin County residents is now a possibility, but the structure is unique in the other mode it will accept—that of light rail. The tunnel was specifically constructed in anticipation of the inclusion of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART). While the walkers, bikers and other non-motorized users will share the same structure with SMART, the tunnel separates the user groups completely, a “tunnel within a tunnel,” of sorts.

    While SMART is not yet ready to bring service through the corridor, the planning has been done and the capacity is in place. It is just one segment of Marin County’s multi-modal vision, but to users like Toms and hundreds of others, it makes all the difference.   

    Top photo courtesy of Streetsblog USA; right photo of Christina Toms on the San Francisco Bay Ferry courtesy Christina Toms; left photo courtesy MCBC. All photos used by permission.

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    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.

  • Goat Maintenance: The Kids Are Hungry in Red Mountain Park

    Acres and acres of overgrown thickets of invasive plants: It is a land manager’s worst nightmare, but a goat’s ultimate dream. It’s time these two were introduced.

    Ian Hazelhoff, natural resource specialist at Red Mountain Park, is overseeing a goat-browsing project to evaluate the effectiveness of goats on invasive species removal. Fifty goats are feasting on foliage at the park outside of Birmingham, Ala., this week.

    What do these goats eat? According to Hazelhoff, everything, so he does recommend caution when one is considering making use of the enthusiastic eaters.

    “In an area where you have both native and invasive plants, goats might not be an ideal management tool, because they’ll eat just about anything,” he explains. Hazelhoff adds, however, that in the 3.5 acres in Red Mountain Park where goat maintenance is currently taking place, the two main culprits, kudzu and Chinese privet, have outcompeted nearly all other plants—"requiring a heavy hand from a management perspective." For this particular plot of land, the goats fit the bill.

    If the goats weren’t munching away, what would be the solution for removing these invasive species? 

    “Most of the time for this part of a restoration project, we have to use heavy machinery. We can clear roughly the same plot of land in about a day’s work, but it has some negative aspects,” explains Hazelhoff, adding that the machinery requires diesel fuel and leaves biomass such as sticks, leaves and seeds that can propagate and allow the invasive plants to return, despite all of their work. “With the goats, there is no problem of leftover biomass; they don’t leave anything in their wake. Goats eat all of that, and there is much less site preparation as the restoration moves forward,” says Hazelhoff.

    Creating innovative solutions and sustainable management practices are important goals for the folks at Red Mountain Park, and the goat-browsing project satisfies both objectives. Hazelhoff cheerfully reports on the goats’ progress after a few days of their buffet: “I’m quite pleased with the volume and speed at which they’re clearing the plot!”

    Red Mountain Park isn’t alone in their goat-grazing ways; land managers in Bozeman, Mont., have used goats at a local trailhead to deal with invasive plants. Weiser River Trail in Idaho has integrated goat grazing into their noxious plant management plan. But it’s not just trails and rural areas that are benefiting from goats’ appetites. Even Boston, Mass., is jumping on the goat bandwagon! And the city of Wilsonville, Ore., uses goats to control the English Ivy in a municipal park.  

    Invasive species removal is a major task for many trails and conservation areas around the county, and solutions like Red Mountain Park’s goat grazing pilot project will inform other land managers for future projects. But for now, graze on, goats, graze on!

    Want to learn more about other management techniques used on trails across the country? Check out our management and maintenance toolbox pages for a bevy of helpful resources!

    Photos courtesy Solomon Crenshaw Jr. from AL.com. Used by permission.

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    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.

  • 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

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    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.

  • In Minneapolis, You're Never Too Old to Learn to Ride

    The Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) was created in 2005 under the federal transportation act, SAFETEA-LU. This program allocated $25 million each to four communities across the U.S. for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and programs. Between 2009 and 2013 alone, the program was responsible for averting 85.1 million vehicle miles traveled and 34,629 tons of CO2 emissions. Each week during the month of August, we will highlight one of these communities, focusing on the lives that were positively impacted by NTPP. 

     

    You’re a grown adult, but you’ve never learned how to ride a bike. Where do you even start? If you’re in Minneapolis, Minn., SPOKES Bike Walk Connect can help.

    Born from the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), SPOKES is a community nonprofit of the Seward Neighborhood Group, with the mission of “creating a more informed and diverse biking and walking community." To achieve this mission, SPOKES aims to remove barriers that make it difficult for people to travel on bike or foot.

    “The participation has been unbelievable,” says SPOKES director Sheldon Mains. “We had over 700 visits to the shop last year. And it wouldn’t have been possible without NTPP.” 

    According to Mains, NTPP funds amounted to 60 percent of SPOKES’ funding in the first three years of its existence. These funds helped support the hiring of a community organizer, Abdi Hirsi, who Mains credits with making incredible connections—critical to the program’s success—in Minneapolis’ East African Community (more than half of SPOKES’ participants come from this community.)

    “It is the one-on-one communication and connections that he [established] that made all the difference for us when we were getting started. It’s that personal invitation that gets people there,” affirms Mains.

    One of the many programs that SPOKES offers is Learn-to-Ride, a series of classes that aims to teach adults bicycle riding and safety skills. So far, 90 adults have participated in the program, and for some, this was an eye-opening lesson on what they were truly capable of. 

    “Before I was involved with SPOKES, I would see bicycle commuters or people just riding for fun, and I was really impressed by them,” says SPOKES student-turned-bike advocate Hayat Ahmed. “Once I got my own bike, I thought, ‘Oh! That could be me!’” 

    But it wasn’t just learning to ride that brought Ahmed confidence, it was also learning the mechanics of a bike. “Now, if I’m out on a ride, I know what to do when something goes wrong. It is very powerful to know how to fix something,” Ahmed states.

    Creating a safe community space is a priority of the program, and participants value the inclusiveness of SPOKES. “It had always been a goal of mine to ride a bike,” recounts Maria Padilla, who joined the Learn-to-Ride class on a friend’s recommendation. “I was kind of embarrassed when I signed up for the Learn-to-Ride class, because I was an adult, but everyone else in the program was an adult too, so that made me feel much more comfortable,” she said.  

    Mains says that in an effort to make the community center more welcoming to program participants, the walls of the center were painted with incredibly bright colors. “We would propose a shade of paint, but [people kept saying] ‘No, brighter! No, brighter!’ We now have a very bright center, and everyone loves it,” he adds. 

    It is the welcoming community and safe space that inspires Padilla. “There is always someone there to help you, and anyone is welcome at SPOKES. The staff is so involved and respectful, and you feel secure,” she says.

    The community program is also changing perceptions about cycling. For some participants, riding in traditional and religious dress is often a perceived barrier, but SPOKES creates a community where riding a bike is a normal activity, regardless of your culture, religion or ethnicity.

    “Like me, most Muslim women cover their hair and dress modestly by covering our body except for our face and hands. So we stand out when riding a bike because of what we’re wearing; the community is learning to get used to seeing women on bikes  who are dressed similar to me, but it’s just not that common yet,” explains Ahmed.

    She continues, “Those of us who started biking through SPOKES are starting a new trend. The more you see it, the more normal it becomes! If I can show that I can wear what I wear and ride a bike, it normalizes it for others.”

    SPOKES’ focus is bicycles, but its reach into the community is much deeper than may appear on the surface. For participants like Maria Padilla, it has brought a new confidence and freedom into their lives.

    Padilla affirms, “This program has helped me, has guided me, and has given me confidence in how to learn.”

    Photos courtesy SPOKES

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    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.

  • By Rail and Trail: SunRail Service Opens a Whole New World on Florida's East Coast

    2014 has already been a huge year for trails in Florida, with funding secured for the Coast-to-Coast Connector project, the All Aboard Florida rail-with-trail proposal building steam and locals beating back a number of political threats to active transportation.

    While all this was happening, the maiden voyage in May of the SunRail commuter train from Orlando to communities north crept a little under the radar of most trail users, with the excellent news that SunRail trains would carry bikes for free.

    Combine that with the fact that the 17 weekday SunRail trains each day connect one of Florida's biggest cities to one of its best trail systems, and you have a remarkable new opportunity and asset for recreation and tourism.

    That trail system is the still-developing St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, which, when complete, will connect 250 miles of trail, much of it rail-trail, along Florida's east coast between Jacksonville and Titusville.

    Although the completed system is still a few years away, already its components, including the East Central Regional Rail Trail, the Spring-to-Spring Trail and the Palatka to St. Augustine State Trail, are attracting trail users from across the country.

    And now, all these trails and more are accessible via a short and inexpensive train ride from Orlando. Way to go, SunRail.

    Aware of the importance of keeping the public and political momentum going to complete the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, our friends at the East Coast Greenway this week launched the first-ever Florida Rail to Trail Tour (the loop is an important part of the East Coast Greenway connection between Maine and the Florida Keys).

    Intrepid "tandemists" Mighk and Carol Wilson, Laura Hallam and Robert Seidler this week kicked off their trail-blazing journey around the loop with a SunRail ride from Orlando to the trail hub of DeBary. You can follow Mighk's blog about their adventures at commuteorlando.com/wordpress.

    Photo courtesy Mighk Wilson/Commute Orlando

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    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. 

     

     

     

  • Congress Passes Short-Term Fix for Transportation Funding; So What Will Happen to Trails, Walking and Biking?

    On July 31, the Senate agreed to pass H.R. 5021. This bill, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives the week before, will temporarily shore up the Highway Trust Fund and extend the current MAP-21 transportation funding bill, originally to fund transportation through Sept. 30, 2014, until May 2015.  

    The Highway Trust Fund has steadily been depleting, in part because the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been changed since 1993—the last year "Cheers" and "The Wonder Years" were aired on television—and thus has not kept pace with inflation or growing  infrastructure needs. The trust fund was expected to start running a shortfall on funds in the beginning of August, so Congress acted in the nick of time, just before going away for August recess.

    Adequate funding for transportation is vital to maintaining a strong economy and ensuring that workers can access jobs and schools. A balanced transportation system—not only roads and bridges, but also railways, public transit and places like trails for walking and biking—is necessary to provide the transportation options that Americans are looking for.

    Congress has decided to pay for the temporary “fix” it passed using a smattering of different revenue sources, some only short term.  As a result, Congress kicked the question of finding a permanent solution to the funding shortfall down the road to May 2015. 

    What’s more, there’s no guarantee that it will be resolved in May, either; Congress may then pass another short-term “fix” to avoid dealing with difficult political decisions. 

    The good news is that, at least for now, funding for trails, walking and biking, through programs like the Transportation Alternatives Program and the Recreational Trails Program, will continue at current levels.  RTC and our partners have been working hard to fend off a number of attacks against these programs in the past few months, and so far, none have succeeded.

    The bad news is that funding for trails, walking and biking will continue at current levels. Americans across the country are increasingly asking for a new vision of transportation. For some, like millennials burdened with expensive college debt or the working poor, a car is another expense they cannot afford but must still use to get to work, as they have no other options. For others, like some seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to drive a car, safe places to walk or bike provide a lifeline to community and friends, rather than leaving them isolated at home. 

    People of all ages and from all economic backgrounds want vibrant communities where they can choose to walk or bike to do their shopping, visit friends and family, and go to work. 

    For example, in Indianapolis, trails are connecting neighborhoods with downtown arts, cultural, sports and entertainment centers, creating a “culture of connectivity,” according to the mayor, “knitting neighborhoods and communities together, one by one.”

    At RTC, we will continue to advocate in Congress for more investment in trails, walking and biking as part of a smart, balanced transportation system with a variety of real options for Americans.  

    Photo courtesy rp_photo via Flickr

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    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.

  • Opportunity Knocks in Missouri: RTC Steps In to Save 145-Mile Connection to Katy Trail

    On July 28, the chance to save a 145-mile segment of inactive rail corridor dropped out of the sky. The opportunity to preserve an intact corridor of this length was more common 20 years ago, but rarely happens today.

    The corridor in question-which hasn't seen train traffic in about 30 years-is a segment of the old Rock Island Line that run from Windsor to Beaufort, Mo. What makes this doubly exciting is that this corridor intersects the 237-mile Katy Trail in Windsor. With the successful preservation of this corridor, it would not be hard to imagine a world-class trail system of more than 400 miles that would span the entire state of Missouri, connecting St. Louis and Kansas City.

    This corridor has long been on our radar. For almost two years, RTC staffer Eric Oberg has been providing technical assistance to local activists who are intent upon turning this unused rail line into a trail. While we were aware that Ameren, the electric utility company that owns the corridor, was soliciting bids for its purchase, we thought a local nonprofit organization would submit the bid.

    Help Make It Happen: Sign the Missouri Bike Federation's petition urging Governor Nixon and the owners of the corridor to allow the creation of a rail-trail.

    On Monday afternoon, we found out that wasn't going to happen. If we didn't quickly step in to submit an offer to purchase, the corridor would likely be lost for both trail development and the possible future reactivation of the line for rail service. Long story short-we kicked into high gear and submitted a bid just before the deadline on Thursday.

    I will admit some trepidation when I signed an eight-figure offer to purchase a piece of real estate, particularly when such an action wasn't even remotely contemplated when I arrived at work on Monday morning. (It is important to note that RTC is not shouldering the financial burden of the purchase alone; our pockets aren't that deep. Rather, the deal is structured so that RTC will be working with two private sector partners to secure the purchase the corridor.)

    It's impossible to know if our bid will be accepted. But if all goes as planned, a multi-step transaction will unfold over several months. The critical step in that process will be ensuring that the corridor has been "railbanked" to preserve it intact as a transportation asset for the American people. With that step completed, the sale would finalize, and at the moment that we own the property we would donate it to Missouri State Parks for development as a trail. And it could be spectacular!

    I am proud of the role that RTC has played in this effort, particularly Andrea Ferster, our general counsel, who is among a handful of national experts on the arcane details of railroad real estate law.

    But if the future includes a ribbon cutting on a fantastic new trail, the bulk of the credit will go to those local activists who envisioned all the many benefits that such a trail would bring to their communities. So it is with gratitude that we look forward to a long partnership with Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT), the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation and Missouri State Parks to make the vision of such a trail a tangible reality.

    Help Support this Great Effort
    Sign our petition urging the owners of the corridor to allow the creation of a rail-trail. Sign Now >>

    Keith Laughlin is the President of RTC. Prior to joining the organization in 2001, he was the associate director for sustainable development on the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, the continuation of a career focused on environmental conservation and livable communities. In recent years, Keith has guided RTC's effort to become a national leader in the trails and greenways movement.

  • Jay Walljasper: Why Trails Are America's New Town Squares

    Special thank you to guest contributor Jay Walljasper, editor of On the Commons, for this great post on how trails are becoming the new town squares for people around the country. In today’s uber-busy society, many of us are seeking out the urban commons, a place to connect with our neighbors, understand our surroundings and gain a sense of place. And with a desire to keep our bodies active and our minds engaged, trails offer the best of all worlds.

    Americans are people on the go! The urge to move has been part of our national character since the beginning of the Republic and greatly influences how we spend our leisure time. 

    In the 19th century, Sunday drives in carriages (and later cars) became a favorite pastime. Urban planners responded by laying out lovely green ribbons of parkways—which remain beloved places to this day in many communities.

    But for harried 21st Century commuters, who spend long hours in cars or buses each week, driving seems too reminiscent of work. On evenings and weekends, they want to take off on bikes, skates, longboards or their own two feet. That’s why communities are now busy creating new trails and greenways across America and throughout the world.

    Trails are becoming the new town squares where people bump into their neighbors, sparking conversations and friendships. When speaking to audiences around the country, I often begin by asking people to name a favorite commons in their lives. More often than not, one of the first few mentioned is a local rail-trail or parkway.

    Let me map out some of my favorite pastimes here in Minneapolis. I bike a dozen blocks south from my house to Minnehaha Creek Trail, a green oasis lining a rushing stream that was protected from development in the 1880s. I follow its winding, wooded path through city neighborhoods to Minnehaha Falls, highlighted in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha.” Watching the water tumble over a 50-foot wall of rock endlessly fascinates and relaxes me. Then I amble over to Sea Salt, a café in an historic park building that serves topnotch fried fish, best enjoyed on the outdoor patio. Sipping a beer while waiting for my fried clams to arrive, I plot the rest of my journey. 

    From here, one trail leads along the Mississippi River to Fort Snelling, the first European settlement in Minnesota, built at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Or, I could follow a trail north along the river gorge and past St. Anthony Falls to downtown Minneapolis. Or south around the bend and through the woods to downtown St. Paul. Or I could turn back the way I came to explore Minneapolis’ fabled chain of lakes, six of which lie next to the trail in rapid succession. 

    Any route I choose will lead to more trails stretching miles in all directions throughout the region.

    The Minneapolis-St. Paul region is blessed with a superb network of trails—made possible by visionaries of the 19th century who fought to ensure public access to local lakeshores, riverbanks and creeksides for public use, and they have been impressively expanded in recent years thanks to the work of a new generation of visionaries. 

    Many communities large and small across the U.S. are now installing impressive trail systems and linear parks. Indianapolis’ new Cultural Trail, for instance, strikes a bold note by fashioning a new passageway separated from street traffic right through the heart of a built-up city. Detroit sports the impressive Dequindre Cut rail-trail, which connects the lively Riverwalk to the bustling Eastern Market. (Who says no one walks or bikes in the Motor City?) Even densely packed Manhattan is thrilled about the High Line, an elevated freight train track now reclaimed as parkland. With help from the Trust for Public Land, Chicago is at work on the 606, a 2.7-mile linear park and trail on an elevated freight line. Many suburbs now boast trails that don’t simply loop around a pond, but carry people to schools, libraries, farmers’ markets, restaurants or shopping districts. 

    Americans are not content to simply pedal or stroll along a trail; they want places to go and things to do.

    On a recent Sunday, I headed to the Midtown Greenway, a rail-trail a dozen blocks north of my house, and followed it more than 20 miles west through the suburbs to Carver Regional Park—a glorious expanse of woods and prairie dotted by lakes and more bike trails. I stopped for lunch at a deli in Victoria, a small town right on the trail. Eating some German sausage at a sidewalk table, I remembered how I felt moving to Minneapolis from Iowa many years ago. I immediately took to big city life—except for one thing. I dearly missed being able to bike all the way out into the countryside. The roads were too inhospitable in Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs. 

    But now, thanks to citizen advocates and park officials here who have built a stellar trail system throughout the metropolitan area, biking out to the country is now available to anyone in moderately good shape with a few hours to spare.  

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    Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults about how to make our communities better. He is the author of the "Great Neighborhood Book." His website is JayWalljasper.com.

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Montgomery County, Ala.

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about July 15, 2014, Central of Georgia Railroad Company filed for the abandonment of 2.12 miles of track within Montgomery in Montgomery County, Ala. 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-290 (sub-no. 278x). 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 Aug. 14, 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 Eli Griffen.

  • Miami the Latest to Say: All Aboard Florida Must Include Trail

    On Thursday, the commissioners of the City of Miami passed a resolution supporting a biking and walking trail component to the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail line plan.

    Miami now joins a groundswell of communities standing up and saying loudly that the rail project has the potential to transform Florida's transportation system for the betterbut only if it includes a parallel rail-with-trail pathway for biking and walking.

    (MIAMI RESIDENTS: If you haven't already, be sure to take this quick action to tell Mayor Tomás Regalado to sign the commission's resolution!)

    In recent months, the Miami Downtown Development Authority, Village of El Portal and Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee have all taken formal steps to secure the biking and walking plans in place for their communities, and to make sure All Aboard Florida maximizes its potential by including a rail-with-trail. Additional resolutions from other local governments are expected to be passed soon.

    "Trails and active-transportation facilities provide a choice of transportation modes while reducing demand and maintenance on the state's highways and local road systems," the City of Miami resolution reads. We agree.

    Pathways alongside active rail lines have been proven to not only give people mobility options but also to improve the capacity and functioning of the rail service itself. A rail-with-trail incorporated into All Aboard Florida will cut down on traffic by getting people to and from stations without having to drive, boost property values in nearby communities and offset a number of environmental and social impacts.

    Rails-with-trails are safer than riding next to a roadway and are proven community improvements. These days, modern and efficient rail transit projects are being built intentionally with bike and pedestrian access in mind, and rails-with-trails of this kind are becoming popular solutions to reducing congestion and improving safety for people moving across and along the corridor.

    Why this issue is especially pressing for a number of communities is that they've already made plans for biking and walking trails along the All Aboard Florida corridor.

    If All Aboard Florida doesn't allow for an adjacent rail-with-trail, it will be trampling over the local ambitions these places have been working toward for a number of years.

    The high-speed rail plan must recognize the importance of a balance of modes. Complementing the train service with an active-transportation pathway is an efficient and effective use of the corridor, and will serve a massive cross section of the community.

    Over the coming months, RTC is making sure the people of southeast Florida have a voice in this important discussion. The Florida Campaign is sending messages of encouragement to decision makers to include a rail-with-trail in the plan. Add your name to the list to make sure you have your say in decisions that could change the landscape of Florida for generations to come.

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    Ken Bryan is the Florida field office director for RTC. He frequently writes about pedestrian and bike-related infrastructure issues in the Sunshine State. 

     

     

  • Don't Take the Road Toward Health This Summer. Take the Trail!

    “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir

    Walking is a great (and free!) way to get outdoors and get some exercise! 

    Walking is associated with reductions in risk of dementia, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer (breast and colon in particular) and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, being outdoors and around greenery can help with concentration and stress recovery, and sunlight on the skin leads to vitamin D production, which helps fight off cancer, osteoporosis and heart attacks (scientists have even developed a calculator to help determine how much sunlight your body needs, and don’t forget that sunscreen!).

    In cities across the U.S., public leaders are emerging as real champions for the walking movement. For example, Nashville, Tenn., has invested more than $130 million in public infrastructure to support healthy, active lifestyles, including the building of new sidewalks and bikeways, as well as parks and multi-modal streets. And, Mayor Karl Dean recognizes that building infrastructure isn’t enough; residents need to be educated and encouraged to get outside and walk. 

    Currently, nearly 24.7 percent of Nashville’s population of adults and 29 percent of children are obese, and the city also grapples with higher than average pollution levels. To help address these issues, Mayor Dean has launched a citywide campaign called NashVitality, which focuses on making both the city and its residents healthy and active. 

    NashVitality is primarily funded through an HHS Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant, which is intended to address obesity, one of the leading preventable causes of premature death and disability.

    The NashVitality website features a number of programs and resources to foster community engagement and healthy, active living. This year, Mayor Dean has also brought back the highly-popular Walk 100 Miles challenge for a third time, inviting all Nashvillians to join him in walking 100 miles during the summer of 2014. To meet the 100-mile goal, you can walk on your own, walk with a group or walk with the Mayor himself on weekly “Walk with the Mayor” group walks. We applaud Mayor Dean and Nashville’s commitment to walking and health!

    And if you’re not in the Nashville area, you need not be left out. Other cities have similar walking challenges of their own. Check out these great examples in San Franciso, Calif., Lake Oswego, Ore., and San Antonio, Texas.

    So let’s all take a page out of Nashville’s book, or these other great cities. No matter where you live in America, why not complete your own 100-mile challenge this summer on your local trail? Summer is only nearing its halfway point, so there’s still time!

    You’ll walk your way toward a healthier life, and have tons of fun.  

    Photo courtesy Five Rivers MetroParks via Flickr

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    Elissa Southward is RTC's healthy communities manager. Southward recently earned a Ph.D. in Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Bristol in England.

  • Tunnel Vision: New Mural on the Burke-Gilman Trail Gives Tunnel a Facelift

    Here’s a nice article from our friend Gene Bisbee, avid cyclist, author and man behind Washington State’s Biking Bis blog.  

    In his post, “Colorful mural replaces drab walls of bike trail tunnel,” Bisbee gives an update on the Wayne Tunnel on the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, Wash. Named to RTC’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, the Burke-Gilman is a cherished trail by Seattle residents and visitors alike, and this mural is a beautiful addition!

    Bisbee writes:

    "Art is in the eyes of the bicyclists as they pass a brightly painted mural taking shape inside the Burke-Gilman Trail tunnel in Bothell, WA.

    I pedaled up there on Tuesday and saw a dozen volunteers enjoying their task of filling in the lines drawn by local artist Kristen Ramirez. It looks like they’re just about done with the project that started in early July."

    Click here to read the full story.

    Photos courtesy King County Parks - Eli Brownell

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    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.

  • The Florida Campaign Rolls On – Are You Aboard?

    Our promise to Florida was to take on the big battles and win.

    For any Floridian who loves trails, biking and walking, 2014 is a year of massive significance. 

    Over the next nine months, a small handful of key votes, projects and funding battles will shape the landscape of Florida for decades to come. So RTC is making sure that everyone who uses and loves trails in the Sunshine State is heard during these vital decisions.

    This effort is called The Florida Campaign. The invitation to all Floridians is to help push the needle toward support for trails, biking and walking in your state.

    So far, The Florida Campaign is 2 for 2.

    In May, more than 1,000 Florida Campaign supporters voiced their passionate opposition to Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal to gut funding for trails. As it stands today, Rubio has not pursued the amendment any further. 

    Our next Florida Campaign call generated massive backing of the 2014/2015 Florida state budget, which contained important funding sources for trail building in Florida, including the first phase of work on the Coast-to-Coast Connector.

    Fully aware of the booming support for biking and walking projects among his constituents, Gov. Rick Scott signed the budget into law and left the trail funding pieces intact.

    Next up: We’re building support for a rail-with-trail component for the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail project. And we’ll be keeping all our Florida Campaigners up to date on the schedule of All Aboard Florida public meetings, so you can advocate for trails directly to your local decision makers.

    If you use and appreciate trails in Florida, the only way to be a part of this grassroots initiative to build the Florida you want to see is get involved in The Florida Campaign.

    The actions are fast, free and simple, but your voice is important.

    Will Florida continue with the plans and policies that have made it the most dangerous state for walking and biking for much of the past decade? Or will it support the innovative trail projects that boost Florida’s tourism base and attract new businesses and residents?

    You can help make that decision. Add your name to the groundswell of support for biking and walking in your state.

    In 20 years time, when your children and grandchildren enjoy a healthy, safe and happy Florida, you can say you helped make it happen.

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    Ken Bryan is the Florida field office director for RTC. He frequently writes about pedestrian and bike-related infrastructure issues in the Sunshine State. 

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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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