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RTC TrailBlog

  • DC Prep Brightens up the Met Branch Trail

    The opening of the Met Branch Trail in Washington, D.C., last year provided a great resource for commuters and nearby communities. One year later, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is working to help those who live, work and play near the trail make the most of this multi-faceted facility.

    On Friday, RTC staff members Kelly Pack, Stephen Miller and Lindsay Martin joined local artist Quest Skinner, fitness trainer Chikaro Martin and a group of D.C. Prep School 2nd and 3rd graders for a special work party on a section of the trail in Edgewood.

    Between their school building and the trail, the students already tend a vegetable and flower garden. Drawing inspiration from that garden on Friday, the students painted a mural with the bright and bold colors of tomatoes, grapes, apples and vines.

    Out on the adjacent trail, Martin gave the youngsters an energizing workout, with relay races and agility exercises, demonstrating how the trail is a great place for recreation and an asset for keeping our communities fit and healthy.

    The event was part of a growing partnership between RTC and DC Prep, whose staff and students use the trail regularly. Click on the photo at right for more pictures of all the fun!

    Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • Bikes Beat Cars, Train in Commute Race

    Cycling to work has a lot of advantages. It's fun, great for your health and relatively cheap over the long-term. But if you think your mornings are too rushed to make time for such luxuries, think again.

    In an unusual race staged last week in downtown San Jose, Calif., several bicyclists raced against a car and public transit to get to from an apartment building to a downtown office about 10 blocks* away. And guess who won, in part by using the local Guadalupe River Trail? The cyclists! 

    Read more about this great Clean Commute Challenge.

    *This blog post was edited from its original version, which incorrectly listed the distance as 10 miles instead of 10 blocks. 

  • Art or Graffiti? Richmond Greenway Controversy Highlights Important Issue

    By Ruby Brunk

    The city of Richmond, Calif., recently found itself in the center of an ongoing debate around the definition and role of public art after the city painted over a commissioned mural along the Richmond Greenway this October. Painted on a private building with the property owner's permission, the mural took two weeks and $1,000 for students from nearby Gompers High School to create.

    Teacher Gretchen Borg says she asked the city for a permit but was told that she only needed the building owner’s permission, which she had acquired. While the resulting mural didn’t contain any obscene words or pictures, some community members saw it as offensive, in part because of the graffiti-like style of the words and pictures. Officials received some complaints, declared the mural graffiti and asked Borg and the property owner to remove it. Borg’s students attempted to mitigate the graffiti style by painting over their signatures, which resembled often-illegal “tagging,” but the Richmond Graffiti Abatement Team showed up shortly after and painted over the mural. 

    The students who painted the mural were also planting trees and building a garden along a nearby portion of the Richmond Greenway. Funded through a partnership between youth investment program Opportunity West, the city of Richmond Recreation Department and Friends of the Richmond Greenway, the greenway projects were designed to improve the rail-trail while drawing youth out to play and exercise on it. Programs that encourage youth creativity and stewardship through commissioned graffiti art exist across the county and often coincide with a decrease in the occurrence of unauthorized graffiti. Nearby Livermore’s utility box painting program is a great example of how publicly generated art can successfully deter unauthorized graffiti and vandalism. 

    After the mural was painted over, Gompers students attended a city council meeting where they voiced concern over the city's decision to remove the mural without their consent. City officials apologized and admitted multi-agency miscommunication. Richmond’s ambiguous graffiti laws were also cited as a factor, since “unauthorized public marking” is illegal, yet there’s no process for gaining authorization or permits. The city has since authorized re-painting of the mural and agreed to cover the cost of materials. Richmond has also passed a temporary moratorium preventing the removal of murals when created on private property with the owner's permission. This city is also developing a new law that may require potential murals to undergo city review and a public hearing before obtaining a permit.

    Getting everyone on the same page about permitted uses is essential in preventing mistakes like this miscommunication in Richmond. And a public review of potential murals could encourage community engagement in the public art process. However, art is also a matter of taste. Because communities are made up of varying identity groups and populations, no single piece will be appropriate, engaging and relevant to everyone. The students from Gompers High School created a mural that was significant to their experience. In the process they spent time on the Richmond Greenway and became trail stewards. Although the style of their art may not be appreciated by everyone, their dedication to the greenway and their community should be respected both by city officials and other residents.

    Photo: Richmond Greenway, by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • Rep. Mica Follows AAA's Lead, Proposes to Eliminate Funding for Active Transportation

    With gas prices over $4 per gallon, the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives is proposing to eliminate the most cost-effective federal program to provide Americans alternatives to driving. According to a story in the Orlando Sentinel, Rep. John Mica (Fla.) wants to give state highway departments the authority to eliminate federal investment in trails, biking and walking so they can spend every dime of surface transportation funding on roads.

    This is the second salvo in a growing attack on active transportation. The first came last fall when AAA proposed to eliminate all federal support for active transportation from the federal transportation trust fund. In response, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy launched a national campaign that delivered more than 50,000 signatures to AAA national headquarters in Florida in December. And 33,000 of those signatures were AAA members!

    At a time of soaring gas prices and shrinking budgets, it’s simple common sense that we focus investment in transportation options that produce the biggest bang for the buck. For example, in December we held a press conference on a 14-mile trail--funded with federal transportation dollars--that ran right along the front yard of AAA headquarters in Florida. Parallel to the trail was a four-lane road. I asked our staff to compare the costs to build that trail and that road. What we found surprised even me. For the cost of that entire 14-mile trail, you could only build 250 yards of new four-lane road.

    So if federal funding is tight and gas prices are escalating, what would you rather have? A 14 mile trail that connects communities and provides a cost-effective corridor for commuting and recreation? Or 250 yards of new road that connects absolutely nothing and doesn’t help you avoid high gas prices?

    It’s time to get smarter about how we build our transportation infrastructure and move away from an outdated approach to transportation investment that can be best characterized as, "Drive, Baby, Drive!"

    With the continued support of our members and supporters, I assure you that Rails-to-Trails Conservancy will continue to lead the fight to protect funding that has permitted us to work with our local partners to build 20,000 miles of trail during the last 25 years. 

    Please stay tuned.

    PS – Click on the Orlando Sentinel story to vote "NO" on the poll on the left side of the page and leave a comment to show your support for trails, biking and walking.

  • Bike the Peaks!

    The second annual Bay Area Triple Threat bike challenge will be held on Saturday, June 18, 2011. Using only public transportation and their bicycles, riders will ride to the summits of the three major peaks in the Bay Area: Mount Hamilton, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais. All in one day! If not up to the task of three peaks, riders can opt for the Single Summit (Mount Diablo only) or the Double Dip (Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais).

    This ride is a celebration of the Bay Area and the vast, interconnected open spaces in the region. The Triple Threat is also helping to promote a more environmentally friendly way of getting out to the region's amazing trails, parks and open spaces. By using public transit and bicycles to access the trails, riders are reducing their impact with less carbon-intensive travel while supporting local public transportation. Transit & Trails helps people find, plan and share outdoor recreation on public transit through a website and mobile version.

    Transit & Trails is a project of the Bay Area Open Space Council, a collaborative of member organizations that work to create trails and protect open space in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more and sign up for the challenge today!

    Photo of Mount Hamilton courtesy of the Bay Area Open Space Council.

  • Philadelphia Duo Preps for Climate Ride

    Do you remember the Pedal Pushers, Steph Rio and Sara Lanious? The two Philadelphia friends have been preparing for the fast-approaching Climate Ride--a five-day, 300-mile bicycle trek from New York City to Washington, D.C., on May 13 to 17.

    When Rio and Lanious signed up to ride, they selected Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) as the beneficiary of their fundraising efforts. They had never attempted such a long ride before, and we asked for periodic updates about their training and progress.

    Now, Climate Ride is almost here, and the Pedal Pushers are gearing up for the final push!

    From the Pedal Pushers:

    We are just about one week away from our ride and so excited to get started! Both of us have been upping the mileage on our weekend rides and preparing with gear like padded shorts, which have been a real life saver. Yesterday, Sara participated in the Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City as part of her training, and she has a killer farmer's tan to prove it! 

    Each weekend, you can find both of us doing diligent loops from the city to East Falls and back on West River Drive when it closes to car traffic on the weekends. We are still fundraising to reach our goal of $2,400 each to donate to this great organization! Right now, we have $3,265 and need all the help from supporters like you to reach our goal and donate to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. We are trying to reach our target by the time the ride kicks off on May 13, so please consider supporting us in our efforts to raise awareness about this organization and donate today!

    Ride On!

    Steph and Sara

    Photos (left to right): Sara Lanious stretching before a ride; Steph Rio on the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia. Courtesy of the Pedal Pushers. 

  • The Blade Trail

    A few weeks ago, we received an e-mail from Sue Thomas of Daytona Beach, Fla. She and her family have sliced across the Southeast on inline skates, sometimes covering as much as 26 miles in a day (they've even used rail-trail mileage to satisfy part of their kids' physical education requirements!). The family's favorite rail-trail is the Silver Comet Trail outside of Atlanta, Ga., and they love exploring new pathways all the time.

    Thomas says these outings have made such an impression on their children that they regularly use rail-trail experiences as a catalyst for essays and poems at school. In fact, Thomas' youngest daughter, 9-year-old Augusta, recently wrote a poem and wanted to share it with the trail community. We were happy to oblige!

    "The Blade Trail"
    by Augusta P. Thomas 

    Through mountains, across rivers,

    My blades are a-flying

    Bike, walk, who would care,

    As I, Augusta, fly through the air?

    Black ice is a pleasure, sand is a scare,

    Worlds retreat to nothing but air!

    Double Push, Double Push, how I love thee,

    As you make me fly like I'm on a flying spree!

    A world with two borders, one on each side,

    Ground and sky meet, and the world seems to fly!

    Crying out loud, "Oh the blue sky will fly!"

    I roll through the woods, allies at my side.

    Photo: Augusta, at left, and her older sisters (her "allies") on the Silver Comet Trail, courtesy of Sue Thomas. 

  • New Orleans Embraces Lafitte Corridor

    The partnership between Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and Friends of the Lafitte Corridor (FOLC) in New Orleans bore some wonderful fruit earlier this month, with almost 400 people taking part in the annual Hike the Lafitte Corridor.

    Check out a photo slideshow of the event, courtesy of RTC and FOLC.

    The record number of participants notably included 300 first-timers, illustrating the great success RTC and FOLC have had engaging the broader community as “cheerleaders” and educators for the Lafitte Corridor, a 3.1-mile section of unused rail corridor and portage canal that supporters are planning to develop into a greenway and linear park. 

    Organizers were excited to see U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., and New Orleans City Council members Arnie Fielkow and Susan Guidry join the celebration on the corridor, demonstrating increased political support to move trail development forward. 

    “It was energizing to see hundreds of people walking along the corridor,” says Kelly Pack, manager of trail development for RTC. Pack, along with fellow RTC staffers Stephen Miller and Lindsay Martin, have been working closely with FOLC during the past few years to bring designs for the Lafitte Corridor to life. “The hike provided a wonderful opportunity for community members to learn more about the corridor and to envision how they will use the greenway once it’s built," says Pack. "We were thrilled to be a part of this event.”

    According to FOLC, the city of New Orleans has signed the contract with a local design firm and has issued a “notice to proceed” with trail- and recreation-orientated development of the Lafitte Corridor.

    “In other words, this is very real,” FOLC writes. Stay tuned.

  • On the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, Everyone Rides

    Merle FerberEach summer in Cheshire, Mass., the community hosts a unique triathlon to help raise money for equipment to help athletes with physical disabilities stay active. The annual event, known as Farnum's Challenge, features Run-Oar-Roll teams that include at least one contestant with a physical disability, and part of the race takes place on the 11-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. The first leg is a 2.6-mile run down to the trail, then a five-mile bicycle dash before handing off to a canoe team in Cheshire Reservoir for a 2.4-mile paddle.

    Now, using $10,000 raised from the annual triathlons, a partnership of local organizations and agencies is introducing a collaborative project to encourage healthy lifestyles and activity for athletes with disabilities. The new program, "Everyone Rides," is designed to outfit disabled users, for free, with adaptive cycling equipment to enjoy the rail-trail and surrounding areas.

    Partners in this innovative program include the Berkshire Bike Path Council, a nonprofit working to develop a 75-mile multi-use pathway from Vermont to Connecticut (the route includes the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail). Also, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has constructed a shed to house more than 30 pieces of adaptive equipment right along the trail. And United Cerebral Palsy of Berkshire County is providing a physical therapist to fit the equipment to each user's personal needs and coordinate requests to use the bikes. 

    "This collaboration will make it possible for us to ride alongside our friends at our convenience," says Merle Ferber of the Berkshire Bike Path Council. "Now the bike path is truly accessible."

    If you live in the area and want to check out the Everyone Rides program and trail yourself, stop by Farnum's Crossing in Cheshire at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 14, for the grand opening celebration.

    AdLib, Inc., a local nonprofit Independent Living Center, originally organized and sponsored the Farnum's Challenge triathlon for several years. although AdLib will no longer be the lead agency for the triathlon, United Cerebral Palsy and the Berkshire Bike Path Council have partnered to continue the race to raise money for new equipment and maintenance for Everyone Rides. This year, it will take place on July 24. 

    To learn more about the Everyone Rides opening celebration contact Dawn Matthews at 413.442.1562 (ext. 24) or e-mail dmatthews@ucpberkshire.org.

    Photos courtesy of the Berkshire Bike Path Council.

  • Going Dutch

    Story and photos by Sun Kim

    When I visited The Netherlands a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but notice that bicycles are a major part of the Dutch lifestyle. One of the first things I saw were rows and rows of bicycles parked in garages and racks next to every public transportation station, as well as near most businesses, schools and shopping areas. Some of the stairs at the train stations even have grooves along the sides so cyclists can roll their bikes up as they climb the stairs.

    Out on the streets I saw toddlers and retirees, and everyone in-between, all getting around town on their bicycles. They ride in wide bike lanes that have their own traffic lights. Some of these bike lanes are separated from the car lanes by a small median or a line of parked cars, giving bike riders an extra barrier from car traffic. I also saw that cars and pedestrians often yield to bike riders. I’m guessing that's because everyone who's driving remembers they'll be riding or walking at some other point during the day!

  • New Leash Ordinance and Improved Signage Create Safer Trails in San Jose

    by Yves Zsutty, City of San Jose, Calif., Trail Manager

    In San Jose, we’ve spent a lot of time over the year studying the issue of trail safety. Today’s economic struggles reaffirm the reality that we have to create safer trails through good design, amenities and operational practices instead of hoping for more police or rangers.

    Community outreach helped us define the major safety concerns on our trails. Dog leashes were of concern because their long length was a known tripping hazard. The existing city of San Jose rule for 20-foot retractable leashes was consistent with other parks and open space. However, after the tragic death of a pedestrian who became entangled in a dog leash, staff looked at sidewalk laws that would better reflect the conditions on 12-foot-wide trails. The city then altered its ordinance to permit 6-foot, fixed-length leashes on trails. The rule requires that the person, dog and leash all remain to the right of center line (marked or unmarked).

    New signage is also being deployed with positive messaging. Our Trail Rules sign now uses "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" icons to display key rules, and supplemental signs are being posted along the trails to remind trail users to pass to the left, slow for pedestrians and be aware of hazards or nearby destinations. The graphics-based signage aims to be more memorable than simple text. Mileage markers posted at quarter-mile increments create “addresses” known to our 911 Center so that we can obtain more rapid emergency response and record keeping.

    For more information about San Jose’s efforts, visit www.sjparks.org/trails. See “Reports” for signage guidelines and the ordinance.

    Image of Trail Rules sign courtesy of the city of San Jose. Click for larger version.

  • Watch: Do You Count? Our Webinar on Measuring Trail Use

    A few weeks back, we held a webinar with experts from around the country discussing various methods of measuring trail use.

    As the adage goes, "You can't manage what you don't measure." This rule is especially true for trails, which host a wide variety of transportation and recreation users. Learn how nonprofits, governments and the private sector are using trail counts to better understand bicycle and pedestrian behavior, and how these resources can assist your pathway. We discuss counter technology, volunteer management, using trail counts to conduct economic impact studies and the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project.


    • Jennifer Donlon, Alta Planning + Design 
    • Mel Huie, Oregon Metro Regional Government 
    • Eric Oberg, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy 
    • David Patton, Arlington County, Va.

    Read biographies of the webinar presenters (PDF). For more information on RTC's trail user surveys, please visit the Trail-Building Toolbox. Special thanks to Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association for editing assistance.

    Did you watch the webinar? Let us know how we did by completing this survey. Thank you!

  • In Minnesota, Lessons for Managing Suburban Sprawl

    In a blog post originally published by the National Complete Streets Coalition at www.completestreets.org, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy intern Jason Frantz takes a look at the modern development of Red Wing, Minn., a town of 16,000 that recently launched an ambitious Complete Streets program to help mitigate the effects of urban sprawl.

  • Video: RTC Joins Tree Planting on the Met Branch Trail

    Last Thursday, April 21, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) joined Casey Trees out on the Met Branch Trail in Washington, D.C., for a tree planting. RTC and Casey Trees staff were joined by a great crowd of friends, supporters and volunteers to plant golden rain trees and sweet gum along a particularly exposed section of the trail just north of the New York Avenue Metro Station, as well as a strand of fruit trees in one location adjacent to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station. 

    "The idea is that we're going to line this section of the trail with trees so that we have a continuous tree canopy, so during the very hot summers in D.C. it will be much cooler, and much more pleasant on the trail," says Heather Deutsch, bicycle program specialist and trail planner with the District Department of Transportation. Deutsch lives right along the Met Branch Trail and is a regular user.  

    The goal of the fruit trees is to create a small orchard that will become a popular community gathering place, with trail users stopping to enjoy not only the shade of the trees but also the persimmons and apples they will bear in a few years.

    For RTC staff, it was a great to roll the sleeves up and work side-by-side with Casey Trees and all the volunteers who came out on a lovely spring day to improve the trail and celebrate Earth Day. A number of passers-by showed their appreciation of the new trees by stopping to say thank you.

    "We are building life with our hands," said Jeff Ciabotti, RTC's vice president of trail development. "What could be better than that?"

    The planting was made possible through RTC's Metropolitan Grants Program (funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation) and supported by D.C.-based BicycleSPACE.

    (Also, read more about RTC's partnership with Casey Trees in the 2011 Green Issue of Rails to Trails magazine!)

  • Detroit Trail Maintenance Project Celebrates Completion of Pilot, Looks to Future

    By Ruby Brunk

    In 2010, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, through its GreenWays Initiative, awarded a $147,433 grant to The Greening of Detroit for a pilot project focusing on the maintenance of local greenways. The resulting project not only kept targeted greenways maintained but also provided jobs and improved community trail usage and stewardship. 

    The Detroit Greenway Maintenance Pilot Project focused on Detroit’s Conner Creek, Southwest Detroit-Dearborn and Lyndon greenways. Before the season began, The Greening’s project manager met with partners from each site to go over specific maintenance details. The three greenways were split into manageable sections, and extensive maintenance surveys were conducted. The Greening developed work plans based on the surveys and kept careful records of all work performed. Four individuals were hired to make up the project’s maintenance crew. In addition to pre-season field orientations, the crew was given an overview on their work in the larger context of greenway development. Crew members also benefited from trainings on tool use, horticulture and landscaping throughout the season.  

    The regular presence of the crew, along with the work they accomplished, boosted morale on the greenway and increased community use and stewardship. Crewmembers reported on daily positive interactions, such as greenway users thanking them for their work or seeking them out to address additional maintenance issues. The community was further engaged by the project’s Growing Greener Detroit Series, which brought together Detroit residents, schools, churches and community organizations for events on the greenway. Partnerships with community centers and the dispersal of 3,000 promotional flyers were part of a concerted outreach effort, resulting in 316 youth and adults from 68 different organizations participating in day camps, tree walks, service days, horticulture workshops and other programming. 

    One of the goals of the Detroit Greenways Maintenance Pilot Project was to develop best practices for Detroit’s current and future greenways. On the Conner Creek, Southwest Detroit-Dearborn and Lyndon greenways, the success of the project is palpable. With the Detroit Greenways Coalition moving the city's trail network forward, this project should help inform the planning of other greenways in Detroit.

    Photo: Detroit's Dequindre Cut Greenway by Flickr user Rex Roof.

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