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RTC TrailBlog

  • Tornado Levels Trestle on Virginia Creeper Trail

    In the violent storm system that tore through the Southeast a few weeks ago, one of the many tornadoes it spawned completely destroyed a trestle on the 34-mile Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail.

    The rail-trail runs from Abingdon to Whitetop in the far southwest corner of Virginia. It passes through rolling foothills and farm country and provides a huge economic boost to communities along its route. Local outfitters offer shuttle service for visitors who want to pedal the trail in one direction (and with a slight downhill grade), and community businesses, including bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants, advertise the Virginia Creeper as a valuable recreation option. 

    Hitting at the end of April, the tornado scattered trestle # 7, located about six miles from the Abingdon trailhead, like a pile of matchsticks. John Mongle, who lives next to the trail, took a few photos of the damage in the days after the storm. Mongle says he spoke with Kevin Worley, director of parks and recreation for Abingdon, and Town Manager Greg Kelly about plans to rebuild the structure. The trestle is insured, and planners are meeting with property owners along the damaged section--between mile posts 6 and 7--to create an alternate route so they can re-open the segment as quickly as possible. The town of Abingdon oversees this section, and managers ask that trail users reaching this break respect private property owners and not trespass on adjacent land. 

    If you are planning a trip to the Virginia Creeper, contact the town of Abingdon parks and recreation department at 276.623.5279 for up-to-date information on repairs and when this trail section will be open to users again.

    Photos by John Mongle.

  • Check out AAA Mid-Atlantic’s backyard, TE-funded trail

    In August, AAA Mid-Atlantic called for the elimination of critical, established programs that fund trails, walking and bicycling from our nation's transportation trust fund. De-funded programs would include Transportation Enhancements (TE), the largest funding source for trails and active transportation infrastructure.

    AAA says it supports all types of transportation, but that doesn't square with the above position, which would divert crucial money away from walking and bicycling and toward the highway system.

    Imagine our surprise when we learned that AAA Mid-Atlantic has a trail right outside their building that their employees get to enjoy every day... funded by TE! So we decided to go see it for ourselves.

    Ask AAA to be a part of America's transportation future - sign the petition now!

  • Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure

    By Carol Waaser and Karin Fantus


    Karin and I had started planning more than a month in advance. It would be a six-day, self-contained, inn-to-inn tour during the Labor Day weekend, leaving New York City on September 1 and returning September 6. Who knew the Northeast would be slammed by Hurricane Irene on August 28? 

    Our planned route was up to Pawling, N.Y., then across western Connecticut and north through western Massachusetts, finally crossing just into New Hampshire. We would return through the Berkshires and ultimately take the train back to the city from Wassaic.

    As the storm mop-up began on August 29, we watched all the flood warnings and road closure updates we could find. There were several places, particularly in Connecticut, where roads on our route were closed as of Monday, but we couldn't get any further updates as to whether they would be open by Thursday. And we had planned to take the South and North County trailways the first day, which we feared might not be cleared as quickly as the commuter roads. So on Tuesday, August 30, I scouted the southern section of the South County Trailway. Although it was still strewn with leaf and twig debris in many places, crews had already been out clearing the downed trees. We were confident it would be completely passable by Thursday...and it was! Luck stayed with us throughout the trip and we never encountered a closed road or bridge.

    Embarking on the journey as scheduled on September 1, we took the subway from Columbus Circle up to 238th Street in the Bronx, there being elevators at both those stations, allowing us to get our lightly loaded bikes down to the platform and then to the street easily. Thus we skipped the "junk" miles and started our tour close to the first entrance to the rail-trail. Starting with a trail was a good way to ease into a multi-day tour, putting us immediately into a touring frame of mind--an easy, relaxed pace, a chance to chat as we rode side by side, remembering to look at the scenery and maybe even stop for a photo. On a weekday morning, there were few other trail users.

    We were never without a little adventure, from missed turns that added eight miles to each of the first two days, to a hill that was 18- to 20-percent incline for about half a mile (yes, we walked), to on-the-fly route changes, to a power outage the third night that meant a bath in the swimming pool instead of the shower. On the fifth day, as we cycled over the mountains from Northampton to Great Barrington, we had torrential rain storms. The worst came as we started across Route 23 from Otis to Great Barrington. We didn't know there was road construction on the route, and some sections were now unpaved. At 3 in the afternoon, it might as well have been dusk, cycling in the pouring rain, unable to see more than a few yards ahead, on unpaved stretches with loose stones, ruts and mud, and a little lightning and thunder just to keep us alert! But we made it to our next inn, had a good dinner in town and spent the evening drying things out.

    Our route was specifically designed to accommodate visits with various friends and cousins in western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. In addition, we met other fun and interesting people and animals along the way. Three nights were spent at bed-and-breakfasts, one of which, the Sugar Maple Trailside Inn, sits immediately alongside the Northampton Bikeway, which is a westward extension of the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Massachusetts. The inn is run by Craig Della Penna, who has been a lobbyist and advocate of trails and alternative transportation for a number of years. Needless to say, that was an interesting evening. 

    We had planned to do a few sections on rail-trails and ended up doing about 75 miles (out of a total of 350-plus miles) on eight different trails and greenways, including the Putnam Trailway and Harlem Valley Rail Trail in New York, and the Still River Greenway and Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Connecticut. The trail systems in the Northeast continue to grow; we probably could have done more miles on trails had we done a little more research beforehand. Some trails we either came upon serendipitously or were told about along the way by local folks, and some of the roads we were on are now marked as bicycle routes. These trail and bike route systems are making multi-day touring safe and possible for even novice cyclists. 

    The innkeepers where we stayed, as well as local residents we encountered, see rail-trails as an asset and an economic boon to the community. Wherever we stopped to ask about trail facilities, local merchants and residents knew the information and were very helpful. Along the way, we encountered many smiling cyclists and other trail users who exhibited good trail etiquette. The whole experience came together so nicely.

    Light-loaded inn-to-inn touring is an easy way to take a short, inexpensive vacation. Karin used her road bike and a large Carradice bag that attaches firmly to the seatpost. I used my touring bike with a rack and Topeak MXP rack trunk with small drop-down panniers. Each of us carried between 10 and 15 pounds extra, including gear and tools, an extra cycling kit, a set of off-bike clothes and lightweight shoes, plus whatever toiletries and necessities we needed. Ziploc bags and dry bags protected most of our stuff, even in the downpour. With a spirit of adventure, you can handle anything that happens (especially when you're not camping). And when you're touring by bicycle, you can count on folks to help you out along the way. 

    There are plenty of interesting places you can see in a two- or three-day trip if you want to dip your toe in without making a big commitment. But we've also done 10-day trips covering 600 to 700 miles, still only lightly loaded. (For some of us, camping is not in the cards--we like our creature comforts!) This style is very different from doing club rides, but it is another gift your bicycle--and trails--can give you.

    Photos courtesy of Carol Waaser and Karin Fantus. 

  • Making Trails Truly Multi-Use: A Perspective From the N.Y. Equestrian Community


    On rail-trails throughout the country, local managers and planners make decisions about the types of users a pathway will support. Rail-trails generally allow for a wide spectrum of activities, from cycling and horseback riding to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, depending on the season and region. But these various user groups often require specific trail conditions and amenities, whether it's asphalt for skate wheels or space in parking lots for horse trailers. And even though these users all support a common cause--trails--tension over permissible uses can still occur on some pathways.

    In almost every case, though, improved communication and understanding among trail groups can prove the greatest asset in promoting shared uses on a trail--and making sure future trail projects are designed to allow as many user types as possible. Each group offers something valuable to the trail community, from economic impact and trail maintenance to vocal support at the legislative level. Learning about the roles these different users play is a central part of appreciating the shared nature of the rail-trail movement.

    In that spirit, we recently connected with Sharon Young Slate and Gary Slate of the New York State Horse Council, and we asked for their take on trail access and involvement with the New York equestrian community.

    From the Slates: The New York State Horse Council serves as an umbrella organization for the many diversified equine interests in the state. One purpose of the Horse Council, stated on our website, is to "facilitate grassroots efforts to educate N.Y. State Legislators regarding the tremendous economic impact ($4.8 billion dollars) provided by our horse industry and develop appropriate equine agricultural legislation." While some people see New York as pavement and skyscrapers, the top industry in the state remains agriculture--and horses are a valuable part of this industry, taking second place only to dairying. There are more than 200,000 horses in New York, representing everything from racing interests to a significant number of show horses, hunters and jumpers, draft horses and lesson animals, and a very large pleasure horse and trail riding horse population (in fact, 70 percent of New York's horses are involved in showing and recreational riding). The Horse Council works to create a "strong and unified voice for all those interests toward the preservation of a future for horses in New York State."

    Several trails open to horses do exist in the state, but the unrelenting push for more development in many areas--and the fact that many small farms have closed--often leaves riders without spaces and areas previously open to them. This shortage of publicly available land is likely true in many other states as well. The Horse Council has been a strong supporter of groups developing trails, and the large horse-owner population in New York has been diligent in working alongside other groups in maintaining these trails wherever possible.   

    Trail users, whether hikers, cyclists, runners, inline skaters or horseback riders, have far more in common than many of us realize. The majority of horse owners we know are responsible trail users and are grateful for the opportunity to share these trails with other interests. While basic rules of trail etiquette must be established, and appropriate footing (surface) is necessary for horses, we have found that all users can coexist when we work together in planning and management.

    In some cases and when possible, a parallel trail to that used by pedestrians and cyclists works best for horses and keeps users simultaneously and safely on the corridor. In others, where trails have a solid base and are sufficiently wide to allow for quiet passing where and when necessary, the same trail can be used, providing the footing is appropriate for horses. An appropriate footing would be dirt, grass or a very fine gravel base, well packed and well settled ("stonedust," for instance). Any pavement such as blacktop or cement is dangerously slippery for horses, and gravel, especially if it is sharp or at all large, can pose real problems for hooves.

    To allow equestrian use, bridges should be sufficiently sturdy and wide and provided with safe railings. A metal deck should be avoided where horses will be involved. Parking areas need to be large enough to accommodate trucks and horse trailers, leaving ample room for riders to tie their animals to the trailer to tack up and prepare to ride.

    Not every trail can or should be a multi-use trail that is accessible for horses. However, where horses are welcome and appropriate, horse owners and supporters will gladly carry their share of the load. Horseback riders, like others who enjoy nature and the use of trails, are eager to share in the development or opening of these trails, would unite to stand against their closure, and would be willing to stand side by side with other users to help with maintenance.

    Trail horses can share an appropriate trail happily and comfortably with hikers, cyclists and other users. The continued development of rail-trails provides an expanding and exciting opportunity for those of us who enjoy the natural beauty of our nation--and who promote recreational facilities that many Americans can enjoy in their own way.

    Photos: Sharon and Gary Slate, by Ralph Goldstrom; riders on the Paulinskill Valley Trail in New Jersey, by Boyd Loving.

  • Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn

    For people who love trails, long rides, picturesque towns, farms, mountains and rivers, Pennsylvania is a great place to be. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has a long history of involvement in Pennsylvania, helping local trails groups, volunteers and agencies develop some of the best trails networks in the country. Our annual Greenway Sojourn has had a lot to do with that, highlighting opportunities for new trails and celebrating existing routes. 

    This year's Sojourn took us to an area that is fast developing a reputation as the new destination for trails enthusiasts: the northern Laurel Highlands, east of Pittsburgh.

    For the first three nights of the Sojourn, we set up camp in a great spot next to the Ghost Town Trail in the town of Ebensburg. About 100 riders chose to join us for an optional first day ride on Tuesday, down to the Path of the Flood Trail, through Franklin and into the historical city of Johnstown.

    While there were many highlights that day, such as passing through the oldest railroad tunnel in America, traveling up the world's steepest vehicular incline (the Johnstown Inclined Plane), and visiting the Path of the Flood Museum, the day was particularly significant for another reason. This ride was the first time a group had passed along the newly cleared route from the Staple Bend railroad tunnel, where the Path of the Flood Trail now ends, through to Franklin and Johnstown. As those of us who braved it know, much work remains to be done before it is rideable--most Sojourners had to walk their bikes through the thick brush. But by beating a path for the Sojourn, RTC and local trails volunteers have forced the issue of what remains to be done to complete this vital connection. 

    Talking with some riders later that night, I was told that one local cyclist, on seeing the Sojourners emerge from the wilderness on their way to Johnstown, expressed his great excitement that such a connection was in the works. Hopefully the energy of more locals like him will push the project forward!

    But our trails pioneering wasn't done yet. With the remainder of the 250 Sojourners joining us for the official kick-off the next day, we headed west along the ever-present Ghost Town Trail through the town of Nanty-Glo. There, RTC's Mr Sojourn, Tom Sexton, unveiled the brand-new Cambria and Indiana Trail (C&I). Named for the railroad company that operated the original line the trail follows, the C&I loops north off the Ghost Town and reconnects in the town of Vintondale. 

    There is no denying it, the C&I also needs some smoothing work; loose ballast and BMX-style humps were a bit much for some riders, and it will be a little while yet before this rail-trail can be opened to the public.

    But, like the path through the wilderness from the Staple Bend Tunnel, by bringing the Sojourn to this region RTC has taken some crucial first steps to develop all the trail assets and connectivity of the region. 

    There must be something about the Sojourn that brings the hot weather! As has been the case in previous years, this year's Sojourn coincided with a newsworthy heat wave, with temperatures about 15 degrees above the average. It occasionally made for tough riding, but everyone was careful to drink plenty of water and look after themselves.

    Still, in 90-plus degrees, the 52-mile ride along the Ghost Town and West Penn trails from Ebensburg to Saltsburg was hard on a lot of folks. When the riders finally pulled in to the sumptuous grounds of the Kiski School above Saltsburg, sweat, exhaustion and a sense of accomplishment mingled in equal parts. The indoor and outdoor pools were popular spots over the next few days, with the Pittsburgh kids putting on a spectacular display from the diving board. 

    After many hot miles on the bike, the canoe and kayak trip down the Conemaugh River on the third day was a welcome change and allowed us to experience a different kind of recreational pathway. Enjoying this perfect antidote to the heat, Sojourners spent as much time in the river as in their boats, drifting slowly down the river swollen by a specially timed release from the Conemaugh Dam upstream. 

    A small group of dedicated riders took up the invitation of some local cyclists to explore the myriad of trails around Saltsburg, including the Westmoreland Heritage Trail and the Roaring Run Trail.

    One of important requirements to keep energy levels up after a long ride or paddle is good food. We were fortunate this year to again have the services of Dave Rose and Galloping Gourmet catering, which consistently dished up delicious and nutritious meals, often sourced from local farms and producers. That baked chicken was especially tasty!

    Thankfully, things cooled off just a little for the final two days. On Saturday the Sojourn pulled up stakes at the Kiski School for the 32-mile ride to Indiana, following the West Penn Trail and the meandering Conemaugh River back east, before turning north through Black Lick on the Hoodlebug Trail.

    The Indiana University of Pennsylvania playing fields made a fine home for the Sojourn's last night of camping under the stars. As in Saltsburg and Ebensburg, we were a short walk from downtown, and a number of riders made the most of this vibrant college town.

    The reception at the Jimmy Stewart Museum was a definite highlight--thank you to our impersonator and interpreter Chris Collins, who provided a Jimmy Stewart experience few Sojourners will forget! 

    By Sunday, many of the Sojourners were ready to return to a few home comforts. As wonderful as the trails were, after six nights in a tent, a cozy mattress and a long bath starts to look pretty good.

    So the final day's ride back to Ebensburg was a nice time to reflect on the many miles we had traveled in the week behind us, the people we had met, and the summits we had bested, actual or otherwise. And for some it was one last chance for a refreshing soak in Blacklick Creek! 

    Many thanks to the volunteers and Sojourn supporters who do so much to make this ride possible every year. And thanks also to all those who took part, this year and in years past. Your passion for trails, and your support of RTC is enormously important, and much appreciated.

    We hope to see you sometime soon, out and about on the trails!

    Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy - click on any of the photos for a slideshow of images from the Sojourn.

  • Watch: D.C. Residents Meet the Met Branch Trail

    On June 5, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy celebrated National Trails Day by hosting an event with Kaiser Permanente on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The event, called Meet the Met: Party on the Met Branch Trail, introduced surrounding communities to a new pathway that had opened only one month before. While some area residents had been involved with the long history of getting the trail built, many in the surrounding neighborhoods didn't know that the trail existed. By working with our partners to host a celebration that included something for and from all parts of the community - free bike repairs and rentals, garden plantings and shows by cheerleaders from nearby Beacon House - we hoped to christen the trail and introduce it to all of Northeast D.C.

    Nearly 1,000 people turned out on a hot June day for the celebration, and of the over 200 we surveyed, nearly half had never been on the Metropolitan Branch Trail before. Photos and video (embedded above) can give you a flavor of the day's events, which included salutes to longtime trail advocates, a bike rodeo to teach kids safe riding skills, live music along the trail and a raffle of four bicycles donated by local shop Arrow Bicycle.

    Meet the Met is just the beginning. A new listserv connecting neighbors who care about the Met Branch Trail attracted more than 100 members in its first week and a meeting is being held on July 8 to move the conversation from the online world to the real world. Even with community support, this trail faces challenges, such as littering and public safety. But the Met Branch is not alone. As part of RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative, this trail is connected to dozens of others across the nation addressing similar issues, providing a support network to learn about best practices from other cities.

  • Join Us in West Virginia to Celebrate the Greenbrier River Trail

    Situated in some of West Virginia's most scenic countryside, the 77-mile Greenbrier River Trail in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties has fast become a favorite excursion for locals and visitors alike. Anyone who has visited it is immediately charmed by the peaceful surroundings, lush landscapes, historical tunnels and bridges, the West Virginia townships along the waym and of course the constant presence of the lovely Greenbrier River.

    Given that Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) D.C. headquarters, and our regional offices in Pennsylvania and Ohio, are all just a short drive away, many of us here at RTC have a real soft spot for the Greenbrier River Trail!

    So it is with great pleasure we announce that this wonderful rail-trail is to be inducted into our Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

    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./M.D.), the Katy Trail State Park (Mo.) and the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail (Fla.). The most recent addition was the High Line in Manhattan (N.Y.).

    Deservedly, the Greenbrier River Trail finds itself in good company.

    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 Greenbrier River Trail is a model in each of these areas.

    To celebrate, we are hosting a community event in Marlinton, roughly at the halfway point of the trail, on National Trails Day, June 2. And we'd love for you to join us!

    In addition to the official Hall of Fame dedication and a free barbecue lunch in Marlinton's downtown park, a feature of the day will be a ride along the Greenbrier River Trail hosted by West Virginia State Parks District Administrator Robert Beanblossom. For those who prefer a more leisurely tour, there will be a guided walk on the trail hosted by a local naturalist.

    The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. at the Greenbrier River Trail trailhead at the intersection with Ninth Street, downtown Marlinton. All are welcome to attend.

    The free barbecue lunch, with live local music in the Marlinton Park Gazebo, will follow the ceremony at about 1:30 p.m. The guided ride and walk will leave the Marlinton trailhead at about 3 p.m. Remember, if you'd like to ride, it's B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bike). There will be limited bike rentals available in Marlinton.

    Even if you can't make it to our celebration in West Virginia, National Trails Day - hosted by the American Hiking Society - is a great excuse to show some love to your local rail-trail, whether it's with a clean-up event, fun run or walk, or simply by getting out and using the trail.

    To RSVP, or for more information on the event in Marlinton, contact RTC's Communications Manager Jake Lynch at 202 974 5107, or jake@railstotrails.org.

    Photos of the Greenbrier River Trail by RTC.

     

  • From the Ashes, Hopewell Junction Depot a Model of Community Effort

    It was great to see the Poughkeepsie Journal give such hearty props to the community volunteers responsible for the restoration of the Hopewell Depot train station in Hopewell Junction, New York.

    "Four cheers: To the remarkable hard work and perseverance it took on behalf of the Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation - all volunteers - that resulted in last Wednesday's grand opening of the restored train station," the Journal wrote April 29.

    The depot will now serve as a visitor center and gathering point at the eastern terminus of the popular Dutchess County Rail Trail.

    Built in 1873, the depot at Hopewell Junction was moved a number of times from its original home at the intersection of Bridge Street and Railroad Avenue, as lines expanded and changed route to make way for more freight service.

    However, the glory days of what was originally the Dutchess and Columbia line out of Fishkill Landing began to fade in the second half of the 20th century, and by the early 1980s the tracks passing through Hopewell Junction had been removed and the depot fell into neglect.

    But it was 10 years after arsonists set fire to the depot in 1986 that a concentrated effort to restore the depot was formed, under the leadership of a number of locals eager to see a key part of the area's history preserved. They formed the Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation in 1996, and so began a remarkable transformation.

    That transformation was completed last week, with the grand opening and dedication of the restored Hopewell Depot train station, April 25.

    Not only is the restoration itself an inspiration for other communities across the country considering a similar effort, the Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation, too, is a model of community organization. Their website is rich with history, photos, links to their sponsors, and just about every piece of information a visitor or interested local could want.

    For more information, visit hopewelldepot.org.

    Congratulations to the people of Hopewell for providing such a wonderful amenity for the Dutchess Rail Trail and for your community.

    Photos courtesy of Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation

     

     

  • LaHood Hails "Eye-Opening Report on the Value of Investing in Nonmotorized Transportation"

    Since the nation's first-ever experiment to gauge the impact of concentrated investment in biking and walking infrastructure in America was launched in 2007, lawmakers and transportation planners have been awaiting this moment - the publication of the project data evaluating the real impact of this infrastructure on communities.

    Now, the numbers are in-and data counts reveal a more positive impact than even the program's most ardent advocates anticipated.

    The U.S. Congress last week was handed the statistical analysis of the first three years of the groundbreaking Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), which dedicated $25 million to each of four communities across the country to accurately demonstrate whether such investments equate to significantly higher levels of walking and bicycling, and a reduction in vehicle miles traveled.

    Between 2007 and 2010, new multi-use paths, bike lanes, pedestrian routes and trails in the four pilot communities - Minneapolis, Minn., Sheboygan County, Wisc., Marin County, Calif., and Columbia, Mo. - resulted in an estimated 32 million driving miles being averted. Non-motorized transportation infrastructure enabled local residents to choose to walk or bike for local trips, reducing traffic congestion and pollution, improving physical activity rates and sharply cutting into time spent driving.

    Counts in the four pilot communities revealed an average increase of 49 percent more bicyclists and 22 percent more pedestrians between 2007 and 2010. The mode shift in these communities - how many people switched from cars to biking and walking for trips - also far outstripped the national average for the same period.

    U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today described the release of NTPP data as an "eye-opening report on the value of investing in nonmotorized transportation."

    Established and funded by federal transportation legislation SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) in 2005 - and with management support from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) - NTPP set aside $100 million for biking and walking infrastructure in four communities of varying size across the country.

    "Anecdotally, we have already heard overwhelming evidence of how each community's investment in bike lanes, trails and sidewalks has returned myriad benefits," says Marianne Fowler, RTC's senior vice president of federal relations,. "Not just helping people get from A to B but also increasing physical activity levels and energizing downtown shopping districts. These effects have been hailed by everyone from business leaders and elected officials, to health workers and teachers, across the four pilot communities. It is great to see those outcomes reflected in hard data."

    Fowler says that with the evidence now in black and white before them, Congressional representatives across the nation must be compelled to recognize that continued investment in walking in biking represents terrific value for American taxpayers. Multiply the data from these four communities on a national scale, after all, and the results are simply astounding.

    The report on the impact of the NTPP comes at an opportune time, with the House and Senate still locked in debate over the passage of the next federal Transportation Bill. With opponents of walking and biking infrastructure claiming it is a frivolous use of transportation funding in these tough economic times, the testimony of state and local leaders, businesspeople, residents and health officials as to their cost-efficiency and effectiveness, and data supporting their improved functioning of transportation systems, will be welcome messages.

    "These are not all typical, bike-friendly cities," Fowler says. "These four communities represent a solid cross-section of America. Even in places like Sheboygan, which doesn't have urban density, has cold winters, and has had almost no experience with biking and walking initiatives in the past, locals have rapidly become champions because they have seen the real-time effects, the actual benefits to their community. The incongruous thing is that Congress, with a simple, low-cost solution to so many transportation problems right here in front of them, can't see the people for the cars."

    Kevin Mills, RTC's vice president of policy and trail development, says that even though the findings of this report are already compelling, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

    "Changes in behavior related to infrastructure take years to emerge, as bike paths and trails and sidewalks become familiar parts of people's daily lives," Mills says. "That we are already seeing such significant increases in biking and walking in these communities is encouraging. But it is just the beginning of the amazing shift in travel behavior that we expect to see."

    "By every measure, this program has been a raging success for these four communities," Mills says. "They prove that concentrated investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure produces a significant shift in the way people get around. These documented increases in trips taken on bike and by foot represent significant reductions in vehicle miles travelled, helping to cut congestion, pollution and health-care costs while increasing mobility for all citizens. These improvements represent a terrific return on investment. We hope that this compelling evidence will catch the eye of those lawmakers who are, as we speak, making decisions about America's transportation future."

    The report estimates that boosting the amount of pedestrian and bicycle activity in these communities reduced the economic cost of mortality by about $6.9 million. Doctors and the broader public health community have long been advocating increasing opportunities for biking and walking as a cost-effective strategy to reduce illness and wasteful spending on reactive health care.

    "From the public health perspective of reversing the intertwined trio of obesity, type II diabetes and physical inactivity, the NTPP represents a true front line intervention," says Kristina Jones, RTC's healthy communities manager. "In addition to the human burden, diabetes and prediabetes alone cost Americans $218 billion in 2007. We know that physical activity is crucial to prevention and control - prevention that in the coming years will save these communities many millions of dollars in unnecessary reactive health care."

    More data on the success of the NTPP will be made available in the coming months. Stay tuned. 

     

  • In New York, Completion of Dutchess Rail Trail Raises Prospect of Link Over The Hudson

    The development of the Dutchess Rail Trail in Dutchess County, N.Y., is one of the defining achievements in the 20- year tenure of County Executive William R. Steinhaus.

    And so it is fitting that one of his final tasks before leaving office for retirement last week was to approve plans for the final phase of the rail-trail, which will join two unconnected segments and provide a crucial step toward an extensive rail-trail network throughout the region.

    Stages one, two and three saw the construction of more than 10 miles of trail from Hopewell Junction to the outskirts of Fairview, east of Poughkeepsie and the Hudson River. But the trail was divided into two segments by an undeveloped section of a little more than one mile, through which passed the six busy lanes of State Route 55.

    Stage four, which Steinhaus signed off on last week, will see the construction of a 900-foot, five-span bridge for pedestrians and cyclists over SR 55 and Wappinger Creek, as well as the completion of the missing section of trail. Design work on the $4.3 million project is under way, and construction is expected to begin in May or June of this year.

    The completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail will no doubt draw attention to the exciting possibility of connecting the Dutchess to the remarkable Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, and on to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail on the opposite side of the Hudson River. The Dutchess Rail Trail and the Walkway Over the Hudson are separated by just one mile of unused rail corridor (see map, above). However, negotiations between Dutchess County and CSX Transportation Corp., the owners of the corridor, have not yet resulted in a sale or transfer of the property.

    But Steinhaus is optimistic about a future connection between the two trails.

    "I believe there will be a meeting of the minds sometime next year that will finally allow for the acquisition of that final piece of property and the linkage between the [Dutchess Rail Trail] and the Walkway to become a reality," Steinhaus told the Poughkeepsie Journal.

    Elsewhere in New York, there was great news for the people of Columbia County, with the Copake Hillsdale Rail Trail Alliance announcing it was a step closer to extending the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.

    The group announced it had raised the matching funds required by a $121,965 New York State grant to create a conceptual design and final construction drawings, as well as necessary supporting studies, for the five-mile extension.

    The new section will run north from Copake Falls through the hamlet of Hillsdale, near the state's border with Massachusetts. The expanded trail will link the two communities to the new Roe Jan Community Library and Roe Jan Park with a safe, off-road path for bikers, walkers, runners and cross-country skiers.

    Officials of Hillsdale and Copake view the trail extension as vital to bringing more tourists to their communities and attracting new stores, restaurants and other services.

    The extension is being coordinated by the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association, a nonprofit group that oversees the existing trail, and Columbia Land Conservancy, which has been instrumental in working to extend the trail to its ultimate destination in Chatham, N.Y.

    Map image and photo of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail courtesy of www.TrailLink.com.

  • Delaware Affirms Commitment to Active Transportation

    The vision and leadership of Delaware Governor Jack Markell and the state's senior transportation officials continues to pay off for the citizens of their state.

    In a speech to mark National Bike to Work Day last year, acting secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), Cleon Cauley, Sr., went on record as saying biking and walking were a growing part of the state's transportation needs, and "to ignore this trend is to do a great disservice to the people of Delaware."

    A little more than a year later, Delaware's transportation advocates are celebrating the opening of the long-anticipated Pomeroy and Newark Rail Trail in the city of Newark. The two-mile walking and biking trail, which was funded in part by the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program and partly through a federal earmark, passes through downtown Newark, connecting transit hubs, a university campus and shopping areas with parks and recreation spots.

    Gov. Markell, U.S. Senator Tom Carper and Newark Mayor Vance A. Funk III are all planning to attend Monday's grand-opening celebration of a transportation and recreation facility that was the city's most-demanded project.

    "The goal is to encourage people to get out of their automobiles and either walk or ride their bikes to destinations where they might normally drive," Newark Parks and Recreation Director Charles Emerson told the Newark Post.

     

     

  • Court Win Preserves Medicine Bow Rail Corridor in Wyoming

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) this week earned a significant win against ongoing litigation threats to preserving America's inactive rail corridors for public use.

    RTC General Counsel Andrea Ferster, assisted by pro bono counsel (and former RTC board member) Charles Montange, filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief in a case in which private landowners were attempting to challenge the United States' ownership of the corridor, which was originally acquired by the railroad through federal land grants. 

    The rail line in question is on the same corridor as the popular Medicine Bow Rail-Trail, one of Wyoming's most successful trails, which was built by the U.S. Forest Service and spurred by the enthusiasm and monetary support of the citizens of Wyoming and nearby Colorado (right). The disputed section is approximately 30 miles east of the developed Medicine Bow Rail-Trail and represents a terrific opportunity to extend the Medicine Bow and transform a day-ride into an overnight destination trail and tourism asset .

    A small group of neighboring landowners, however, have challenged the right of the United States to preserve the corridor intact and for the public benefit, a right established under federal law, including Section 9(c) of the National Trails System Act.

    On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit rejected the appeal of the landowners, reaffirming the government's right under these federal statutes to secure the corridor for future conversion into a rail-trail. In doing so, the Court declined to follow a number of recent decisions from other circuits, which refused to recognize that the United States retains an ownership interest in all federally granted rights-of-way under federal law.

    Though it doesn't receive the public profile of many of our trail-building and advocacy efforts, the work of RTC's legal program, and our General Counsel Andrea Ferster, involves perhaps our most critical challenge: preserving the corridors. Each time these public assets are transferred into private hands and fragmented, America loses not only the opportunity to build a public pathway, a tourism asset, or a community connector, it also loses a piece of its railroading and pioneering history.

    For more about RTC's legal work to rail-trail future, visit www.railstotrails.org/ourWork.

  • With Highway Project Opposed, Trail Becomes Transportation Solution in Connecticut

    The proposed Norwalk River Valley Trail in southwest Connecticut continues from great idea toward reality, with the completion of a design for a 27-mile, mixed use trail, utilizing both active and disused rail corridors, between Norwalk and Danbury.

    According to newstimes.com of Danbury, the concept of a Norwalk River Valley Trail was launched years ago when the Connecticut Department of Transportation admitted it would never build a proposed limited-access four-lane highway between the two communities - a project opposed by locals for its nine-figure price tag. When the question arose of what might be done with the right-of-way the DOT acquired to build the road, the idea of a greenway, rather than a highway, got started.

    Two short sections of the trail have already been completed in Norwalk and Wilton. Locals hope that major portions of the trail can be completed over the next five years.

    In addition to providing a critical active transportation link between schools, offices and homes in this growing region, the Norwalk River Valley Trail would also connect to a number commuter train stations.

    Now the hard task of funding and constructing the trail begins. The good news, however, is that the communities involved understand the trail would be much more than a pleasant place of recreation.

    "You could take a train to work, then use a bike to get home," local trail planner Pat Sesto told newstimes.com. "We're quite serious about this."

    Photos courtesy Norwalk River Valley Trail

     

     

  • RTC Study of California DOT Reveals Need to Improve Bike/Ped Culture

    Growing support for active transportation has been manifesting itself into calls for more and safer opportunities for bicycling and walking all across the country. In some instances, this booming trend is the catalyst that pushes municipal planners to provide more bike paths, trails and pathways--a response to the demands of the population.

    But how prepared are the planners, designers, engineers and work crews of our state departments of transportation to deliver this active transportation infrastructure? Aware of the critical role of these staff in facilitating walking and biking, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) recently led a study of the California Department of Transportation's (Caltrans) bicycle- and pedestrian-related technical training for its staff.

    While California has made significant gains in its policies and procedures to improve its statewide active transportation system, the study reveals that there is still room for improvement.

    For example, during a series of interviews with Caltrans staff, it was found that fewer than 60 percent of planners, and fewer than 50 percent of traffic operations staff, were "moderately familiar or very familiar" with California Complete Streets policies, including Caltrans' own directive that all of its projects accommodate all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users.

    Similarly, a majority of respondents (51.4 percent) felt that Caltrans did not do an effective job of advertising bicycle/pedestrian training for staff being offered by other districts or divisions.

    While bicycle and pedestrian facilities are often thought of as the province of local streets, and, therefore, local government, bicyclists and pedestrians have legal access on all conventional highways and State Highway System expressways, and about 25 percent of California's freeways. Of particular importance, state highways function as the main street for hundreds of communities throughout the state, especially in rural areas. This means that Caltrans' ability and willingness to prioritize walking and biking has a huge impact on access, safety and mobility in local communities.

    Among the recommendations of the study, which was led by RTC's Western Region Director Laura Cohen, and co-authored by California Walks, California Active Communities, and the California Department of Public Health, was that Caltrans needs to better integrate bicycle and pedestrian considerations early in the planning process.

    More difficult, but equally as important, Caltrans also needs to foster an organizational culture that treats bicycle and pedestrian transportation on par with other modes.

    Data for the report was gathered through personal interviews with more than two dozen Caltrans managers that play a role in bicycle and pedestrian projects, an online survey emailed to more than 1,000 Caltrans staff, and a review of current training offerings.

    The report, "Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Training for Caltrans Staff," is now available in RTC's Trail-Building Toolbox at www.railstotrails.org.

     

  • What Sequestration May Mean for Trails, Biking and Walking

    There has been a lot of news coverage and analysis recently of a federal government sequestration and its potential impacts. At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, our experienced policy and research staff have been mining their sources and sorting through all available information to estimate what impact sequestration could have on our movement for better trails, biking and walking.

    The US Department of Transportation has determined that monies in the Highway Trust Fund are protected from sequestration. However, we can expect some cuts to transportation funds that do not come from gas taxes, which could marginally reduce road investments and multi-modal programs such as TIGER.

    In addition, programs administered by other federal agencies that promote healthy, safe transportation and trails may also be cut. These programs include the Community Development Block Grants, CDC Community Transformation Grants, Department of Interior funds for trails, and other programs.

    Here are some actions you can take to mitigate program losses due to sequestration.

    1. Push project sponsors and state agencies to obligate funds as early as possible. As time goes on there will be less money available for unobligated projects.

    2. Propose projects with higher than required local matches. Reducing the federal share will help the money go further.

    3. Encourage state DOTs to use money from their safety programs for projects that benefit trails, biking and walking. Safety programs aren't being subject to the same cuts and thus have more money available. These funds can be used for education initiatives, encouragement campaigns and safety improvements to roadways.

    Please take a moment to pass on this informational post to friends and colleagues in the trails and active transportation movement who might be interested. We will keep you updated as we learn more.

     

     

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