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RTC TrailBlog

  • Chicago Mayor Announces Funding in Place to Begin Building the Bloomingdale Trail

    Though often prefixed by the words "long-awaited," and "delayed," the Bloomingdale Trail project to convert an elevated rail line in Chicago into a multi-use recreational space is moving ahead pretty quickly these days.

    The development of a 3-mile rail-trail along Bloomingdale Avenue to the northwest of the city has been seriously discussed since about 2004. And though eight years is certainly not a long time in the world of rail-trail development, the tremendous potential of the disused elevated structure, coupled with the great success of New York's High Line, has made many Chicagoans impatient for progress.

    Today, Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce the city has raised the final $9 million needed to begin construction of phase 1 of the project, which will involve creating the basic trail system along the elevated tracks and establishing access points so it can be opened to the public. Construction is expected to begin next year and be completed by 2014.

    The remaining $37 million has already been secured, courtesy of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program, a federal funding program which facilitates transportation projects aimed at reducing vehicle congestion. 

    Emanuel and the city were able to gain the support of a number of large companies. Exelon will donate $5 million, while Boeing Co. and CNA are contributing $1 million apiece. The remaining $2 million will come from Chicago Park District funds.

    The Mayor's announcement follows last week's release of the official framework plan for the rail-trail. At an open house-style meeting at Yates Elementary School, one of four schools along the corridor, a large group of locals got the first look at the product of months of community input and design suggestions.

    And the immediate reaction to what is being called the Framework Plan is positive, with most residents and proponents agreeing the preliminary plan accurately reflects the hopes and concerns of the community.

    The major takeaways from new plan include the eight proposed access points from ground level to the trail, about 15 feet above the street. The access points would be at parks next to the trail as well as existing gathering points.

    The designers have been conscious of the mixed-use nature of the Bloomingdale Trail, as both nonmotorized transportation pathway and park space. The trail's multiuse path would be used designed primarily for bikes, but with an emphasis on controlling speed and reducing conflict with pedestrians and people using the space next to the trail.

    The path would be at least 10 feet wide, with two feet of clearance on each side for a total of 14 feet. About one and a half miles of the trial would have a separate pedestrian path that would run parallel to the multiuse path.

    Ben Helphand, President of Friends of Bloomingdale Trail, says the framework plan represents "an incredible balancing act," referencing the corridor's role as both trail and park, and the need to be conscious of the privacy of nearby landowners in what will be a very public space.

    "They've been able to do this with some very smart landscaping, and path alignment," Helphand says, adding that "although privacy concerns were brought up, they weren't overwhelming."

    Helphand stresses this is not the final plan, and there will be continual feedback and response between designers and the community in coming months.

    "This has been very much a conversation," he says. "There's been genuine back and forth, and thanks to that we are approaching a good solution. Right from the start this has been a very fun, and civil, process. That has a lot to do with how the city and the nonprofit partners, the Trust for Public Land and Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, have approached it."

    The Trust for Public Land will continue to seek private and corporate donations toward the $36 million needed to construct trailside amenities and gathering spaces.

    Keep updated on the Bloomingdale Trail at: www.bloomingdaletrail.org

    Photo of the disused Bloomingdale Line courtesy of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail
    Framework Plan designs courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates


  • Your Voices Help Sway Senate on Transportation Bill!

    Remember all those email actions you took, urging your senators and congressional representatives to retain funding for biking and walking in the transportation bill? Remember all the social media campaigns, phone-ins, letter-writing and calls-to-action many of you participated in to defend Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School?

    We sure do! You rose to the occasion when we asked you to speak up for efforts in the U.S. Senate that would restore integral functions of trails, walking and bicycling programs that would have been lost under the bill.

    And now, congratulations are in order! We are thrilled to report that the concept behind a bipartisan amendment, introduced by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), to improve local access to TE and SRTS--better assuring that the most beneficial projects will get a fair shot at approval--has now been integrated into the transportation bill (S. 1813) that went to the Senate floor on Thursday, March 8. This is a huge step forward for trails and active transportation.

    In the House of Representatives, deeply flawed legislation (H.R. 7) imploded due to a lack of support, forcing leaders to rethink their approach. We do not yet know whether the House will improve its bill in an effort to win broader support, or whether they will succeed in approving a bill at all.

    Things certainly look a lot better than they did a few months ago, and this is in large part because of the willingness of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's friends and supporters to speak up for the transportation future they believe in. Thank you.

    Stay tuned--we will keep you apprised of developments in the passage of this crucial legislation, and of continuing opportunities to help. We have seen how powerful your voices can be, and we are likely to need your support again soon before the current transportation bill expires on March 31! 

    Photo of the Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts, which was made possible by a Transportation Enhancements grant, courtesy of www.enhancements.org.


  • Paul Turaew: The Latest Ingredient in RTC's Recipe for Success

    There are probably many creative cooking analogies that aptly describe what Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is, and who the people are that make it tick... Phrases about a cornucopia of freshness, a wide array of ingredients making a fun and healthy dish, and a flavor for every palate! Rail-trails, and the people behind them, are as diverse and colorful as the produce section at your finest food market!

    These analogies are not something I had thought much about until I heard our new development coordinator, Paul Turaew, explaining the career progression that bought him to RTC this January. Working toward a graduate degree in law, the New York native spent his formative professional years working with government agencies and nonprofit organizations.  

    "After law school, I began to see the value in a career that would promote a more balanced life--something to give my right brain a little more exercise," he told me from his new office in the RTC headquarters in Washington, D.C. "I knew I wanted to work with passionate individuals, people who were connected to the work they were doing. I enjoyed spending time outdoors and recognized a deep appreciation for a healthy environment and way of life. So, like the magical flavor created by rolling together the ingredients of a good burrito, I combined these interests and found the perfect role here at RTC."

    You've got to love a burrito analogy! Bravo!

    Paul's new role in our development department will utilize his advocacy skills and love of the outdoors to add a significant boost to our fundraising efforts. Specifically, he'll be managing the planned giving and major gifts programs.

    A technophile, wannabe surfer and (clearly) a cooking enthusiast, Paul has been accused of not coming in out of the rain, and of spending too much time in his local Williams-Sonoma store.

    "I happily plead guilty to all charges," he says.

    Here's a photo of Paul hiking in Hawaii recently. Now that you know what he looks like, don't be a stranger. You're sure to see Paul at an upcoming RTC event soon. (By the sounds of it, he's definitely your go-to guy for cooking tips.)

  • Grassroots Go-Ahead: Massachusetts Communities Take On Their Rail-Trail Ambitions

    Undeterred by all the debate about trail funding at the federal level, local communities continue to let their trail-building actions do the talking.

    Flicking through local newspapers out of Massachusetts during the past week, it is great to see local agencies and community groups rolling the sleeves up to advance their rail-trail ambitions. This grassroots energy speaks volumes about the demand across America for trail networks and bike and pedestrian infrastructure that better serve residents and local businesses.

    In the state's northeast, the Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee has launched a mile-marker sponsorship program to fund the maintenance and improvement of the Danvers Rail Trail. The advisory committee is a town-appointed group that has directed development of the 4.3-mile rail-trail since the town of Danvers leased the corridor from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in 2008.

    Aware of the trail's tremendous recreational importance to the town, the citizens of Danvers have responded enthusiastically. A wide variety of locally owned businesses--everything from a hardware store and a beer company to a fish market, a photography business, even a dental-care practice--have paid $150 for a 4-inch by 4-inch marker along the trail, or $500 for a 4-inch by 8-inch marker in prime locations. Each blue-and-white decal (above) bears the sponsor's name, logo and dedication message. Local families have made generous contributions, too.

    The homegrown energy behind the trail extends even further; the markers were prepared and installed by volunteers, and the initial cost of the posts and mileage decals was paid for by a local advocacy group, the Danvers Bi-Peds. 

    The new fundraising effort has so far generated about $4,100 to help realize the town's immediate plans for the trail, which include improving the trail surface in some sections with a compacted top coat of crushed-stone dust, and improving a boggy section north of Wenham Street.

    About 30 miles to the west, in the town of Concord, town officials are discussing how to bring the growing Bruce Freeman Rail Trail into their community.

    Following the 25-mile route of the former New Haven Railroad's Framingham and Lowell line, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail currently encompasses Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford. Having observed the popularity of the trail in those communities, the residents of Concord, and nearby Acton, voted to approve plans to extend the trail. Sudbury and Framingham, farther to the southwest, are also eager to develop the rail corridor into a connecting trail in their townships.

    And today, the city of Newburyport is celebrating the beginning of a much sought-after project to connect the Old Eastern Marsh Trail and the Clipper City Rail Trail (above).

    For proof that this project that will greatly please local residents and businesses, look no further than the list of guests of honor at the launch-- Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Richard A. Davey, state Rep. Michael Costello, and state Sen. Steven Baddour.

    With Newburyport's and Salisbury's rail-trails booming in popularity, a safety issue emerged for those wanting to cross Route 1 at the northern end of the Gillis Bridge, to pass from one rail-trail to the other. Work on the connection, which will unlock a great expansion in the region's trail network, is expected to start in mid-March.

    Photo of the Danvers Rail Trail sponsored mile-marker courtesy of the Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee.
    Photo of the Clipper City Rail Trail courtesy of Geordie Vining/TrailLink.com.



  • Subterranean Dreams: Exploring a New Frontier in Rail-Trails

    What does the typical rail-trail look like? Well, really, there's no such thing.

    We've seen them long and straight through farmland, steep and winding through mountain ranges, hugging a handsome coastline and cutting across a wintery plain. They're in cities, in national parks, in country towns and in the untamed wilderness. They're long, short, smooth, rough, high above cities, underground...

    Wait. Underground?

    That's right. In a number of big cities across America, several underground transit stations--the long-dormant enclaves of intrepid urban explorers--are being reimagined as creative gathering places, retail hubs, galleries and performance venues. These projects represent some of the most innovative rail-trail plans we have seen in many years.

    Just up the street from our Washington, D.C., headquarters, a nonprofit group called the Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (ACDU) has taken on the ambitious task of making a viable development opportunity out of 75,000 square feet of abandoned space beneath Dupont Circle (above). This coalition of artists, designers, businesspeople and community leaders sees enormous potential in reclaiming this ideally sited piece of subterranean infrastructure, which served as a station during D.C.'s trolley network heyday following the Second World War.

    In the decades since the last trolley passed under Dupont Circle in the 1960s, the underground space was padlocked and largely forgotten. While an attempt to turn the space into a thriving food court fizzled in the 1990s, the effort did ensure the unique space was part of the consciousness of the D.C. urban design community.

    In July 2010, ACDU was charged by D.C.'s office of planning and economic development with coming up with an innovative, and commercially sustainable, use for the historical location. In the past year or so, they have opened the Dupont Underground up for regular public tours and are building relationships with developers, entrepreneurs, event planners and community groups, including Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, in an attempt to come up with a proposal that satisfies the commercial requirements of operating the space while also retaining free and accessible community uses.

    In an interview with Salon last year, ACDU Managing Director Braulio Agnese said there was a feeling that circumstances for urban development were very different now compared with those of the failed venture in the 1990s. He pointed to downtown D.C.'s improved crime and safety environment, but also a "renewed interest in reclaiming underused urban spaces."

    This renewed interest is also building behind a similar underground trolley station renewal project in New York. Nicknamed "The Low Line," a nod to the popular High Line which proponents list as a direct inspiration, the Delancey Underground project (above) aims to convert an unused trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street into a subterranean public park.

    The former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal closed in 1948 when streetcar service was discontinued and has not been used ever since. But despite six decades of neglect, the space retains the remnant cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks and vaulted ceilings that highlight the space's tremendous potential, aesthetically and architecturally, but also as an innovative means of forging public spaces in an area straining under private development pressures.

    A feature of the Delancy Underground blueprint is its use of solar technology. Innovative fiber optics would reflect light underground, saving electricity and reducing carbon emissions, and generating the capacity for plants, trees and grasses to thrive indoors.

    In Philadelphia, the VIADUCTgreene project is seeking to restore activity to both above- and below-ground sections of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. The disused and neglected corridor runs high above Callowhill Street befor dropping below ground at Broad Street. This remarkable urban space passes into the ground floor of the landmark Inquirer Building, emerging beneath 16th Street in an open subway just north of the Barnes Museum site and adjoining the Rodin Museum.

    Like their colleagues in New York, the team behind VIADUCTgreene is, in a very positive sense, letting their imaginations run away with them, conscious that this new generation of rail-trail projects represents a unique opportunity to blaze fresh territory.

    Photo of Dupont Underground trolley tunnel courtesy of Mika Altskan.
    Concept drawing of Delancy Underground courtesy of Delancy Underground



  • The Cowback Century: 100 Miles Through Georgia and Alabama

    For her 70th birthday nearly four years ago, Dr. Katherine Jeter decided to mark the occasion with an extraordinary physical and philanthropic feat: cycle 70 miles in one day on the Little Miami Scenic Trail in Ohio, and raise $70,000 for charity. We ran a story on her challenge in Rails to Trails magazine, and Jeter ended up surpassing her fundraising goal. And even though she'd only picked up cycling in her late 60s, she'd found her pedaling stride.

    "This whole bicycling addiction really took," she says. 

    So naturally, she didn't stop there. After all, Jeter isn't exactly the idle type. She's an avid swimmer and skier, and her husband says she's known as the "Silver Tornado" for her snow-white hair, physical drive and risk-taking nature. So three years later, she decided to up the ante and complete a century for her 73rd birthday.

    This time, she gathered four companions, including two of her children and two friends, to pedal 100 miles on the combined Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trails, which meet at the state line to form a continuous paved corridor connecting Atlanta, Ga., to Anniston, Ala.

    The logistics were simple enough. Jeter lives in Spartanburg, S.C., an easy trip to their starting point on the Silver Comet just outside of Atlanta. With her husband driving the SAG (support and gear) vehicle, Jeter's crew planned to pedal one way from the start of the Silver Comet to the end of the Chief Ladiga.

    They were gifted on the day of the ride--October 22, 2011--with a "cold, crisp, colorful fall day," says Jeter. "That trail, there's just nothing like it. Laundry blowing on the line, the cows, the people."

    In fact, those cow pastures ended up inspiring the name for the ride, the "Cowback Century." Every time Jeter and company would pass a herd, they'd yell, "Cow back!"

    After the ride, Jeter's daughter, Sally Jeter Hammond, put together a slideshow of the experience, titled "Rolling Inspiration." Sally, at age 52, had only picked up cycling a few months before the ride. Like her mother, she'd always been an athlete but had never spent much time on two wheels. Yet with only 12 weeks of training, Sally ended up dusting everyone else (it took her seven hours and 18 minutes).

    "She was at the end in Anniston about 45 minutes before the four of us arrived," says Jeter. "That was great, great fun."

    In her slideshow, Sally also talks about her motivation for training and getting back in shape for the ride. "Six years ago," she wrote, "my focus on fitness changed when I became a single parent and I put all of my energy into taking care of [my kids]. While they were and still are worth every bit of my attention, I inadvertently stopped taking care of me."

    Her mother's example also helped light a fire under her. "The dictionary defines inspiration in many ways," Sally wrote, "but this is my favorite descriptor: an influence that stimulates creative thought or action. It doesn't take much to stimulate my creativity, but it took my gray-haired mother's amazing influence to ignite action on my part. If you know my mother, you know she can ignite and excite most anybody! It's amazing where a little inspiration can take you."

    So what's next for Jeter? With the "Cowback" behind her, she's already scoping out her next challenge: looking for another big rail-trail to ride!

    Photos courtesy of Katherine Jeter.  

  • 'We The People' - Grassroots Energy Drives Bike/Ped Improvements in Florida

    Saturday's opening of the first section of the East Central Regional Rail Trail (ECRRT) in Volusia County, Fla., was a great opportunity to witness firsthand the growing enthusiasm for walking and biking in that state.

    Consistently ranked as the most dangerous state in America for pedestrians, a number of counties in Florida have recently begun concerted efforts to improve their bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, inspired by the example of municipalities across the nation that have shown such investment returns a marked improvement in lifestyle and business activity.

    Volusia County is a leader in this movement, and Saturday's ribbon-cutting was the result of a combined energy for trails, biking and walking in the county, from a proactive council, a business community focused on tourism and providing a favorable working environment, and local residents eager to bike and walk for recreation and commuting.

    Elsewhere in Florida, the grassroots nature of this demand is evident.

    In Orange City, a volunteer community organization installed a light tower along a key pedestrian route to enable students to walk safely to school.

    According to an article in the Daytona Beach News Journal, when students begin their trek to one of the three schools clustered on Orange City's west side each morning, they walk in darkness.

    "Because seven students from University High and River Springs Middle schools in Orange City have been among the 17 involved in crashes coming or going from school this year, the community has been looking for ways to make pedestrian and bicycle routes to school safer," the article states.

    So earlier this month, the Manatee Festival Committee installed a 30-foot light tower at one of the key intersections in the hope that it will improve safety conditions until a permanent solution could be found. The group is also looking into a way the city might provide a similar temporary light for another dark intersection nearby. 

    Photo of opening day on the East Central Regional Rail Trail courtesy of Volusia County.
    Photo of poor pedestrian conditions courtesy of Dan Burden.


  • Breaking News: Reid's Draft of Transportation Bill a Better Picture for Bike/Ped

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (right) yesterday filed a new version of the federal transportation reauthorization bill that is expected to secure enough votes to proceed to a floor debate.

    This new Senate bill includes a number of changes that are significant to supporters of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and our many partner organizations working to secure continued funding for walking and biking infrastructure.

    Most notably, the Reid draft includes the addition of a modified version of the bipartisan amendment cosponsored by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), to provide greater local access to Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School funds.

    This marks an interim victory for proponents of trails, bicycling and walking, as one of two amendments we have been seeking is now largely reflected in the bill advanced by Senate leaders of both parties.

    The amendment would make the following changes to Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School:

    • Decisions about how to allocate funds would be made by competitive grants focused on applications from local governments and other local entities responsible for eligible projects;
    • Metropolitan areas with more than 200,000 residents would select their own projects;
    • Transfer of funds out of the pot that supports these programs would be limited to about 10 percent of those funds. The committee bill passed in November would have allowed the entire pot to be transferred to other uses; and
    • Increase likelihood that dollars will be spent on eligible activities.

    "We are pleased that Senate leaders have decided to improve the process for awarding Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School funds," says Kevin Mills, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's vice president of policy and trail development. "By giving locals more control over funds and limiting transfers of dollars out of the 'additional activities' pot, there will be more opportunities to continue to build trail systems and other facilities that are needed to make it safe and convenient to walk and bicycle." 

    "We have made remarkable progress in digging out of a deep hole. This development, along with the implosion of the deeply flawed House bill a week ago, puts us in a much better position going forward."

    RTC continues to work in the Senate for the Klobuchar/Burr/Shaheen/Risch amendment to reinstate the Recreational Trails Program.

    Leaders in the House of Representatives conceded late last week that there was not sufficient support to advance their version of the transportation bill. Since then, they have been considering other options to gain majority support. "It appears House leaders could secure additional support by reinstating dedicated funding for transit and Transportation Enhancements, but it is not clear that leadership is willing to make those concessions," Mills says.

  • Connection to Pittsburgh Airport Opens a World of Opportunity for Regional Trails

    It may be just six miles long, but the soon-to-be-unveiled Montour Trail connection to the Pittsburgh International Airport packs a lot of punch.

    Almost 12 years in the making, the airport link, which shoots off the Montour Trail near mile-marker eight, will boost the utility of the Montour trail enormously, expanding its reach as both a recreational outlet and an efficient pathway for commuters.

    The idea for a link between the popular Montour Trail, which creates a half-loop around the southwest side of Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh International Airport was first raised in 2000. There were a multitude of reasons the airport, trails advocates and planners sought a connector, not least of which was increasing shopper access to the airport mall, giving employees, travelers and hotel guests a place to recreate, and offering employees a safe and convenient commute option.

    Meetings were held and plans were moving forward. Then 9/11 happened.

    "Everything came to a screeching halt," remembers Tim Killmeyer, board member of the all-volunteer Montour Trail Council and project manager for the airport connector. "The airport people had much greater things to worry about than getting bicyclists to the airport mall, which was now closed to the non-boarding pass public, anyway."

    But airport officials had already been sold on the importance of a non-motorized connection to the airport. The trails community, too, understood this would be a critical link. The Allegheny Trail Alliance, which promotes the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, saw Pittsburgh as a crucial hub of a trails network expanding in all directions. The Montour Trail connects to the GAP, offering users an alternate route that circumvents a number of on-road sections through Pittsburgh. With this proposed connector, it would also connect the GAP to national and international air traffic.

    "Cyclists and hikers were inquiring about a connection to air transportation, so they could fly into Pittsburgh and experience the region's incredible trails network," Killmeyer says. "It became clear that something needed to be done."

    And so something was done. On Tuesday, March 20, Killmeyer will be front and center among a large group of regional trail advocates for the ribbon cutting of the Montour Trail/Airport connector. To celebrate what has truly been a collaborative effort, all residents and local businesspeople are encouraged to join the trail opening festivities, which will take place at 11 a.m. where the new asphalt trail crosses into the airport's Extended Parking Lot (Section 16D).

    Those wanting to ride bicycles to the event can use the well-marked connector, which begins at the five-way intersection near mile eight of the Montour Trail, just upstream of the Enlow Tunnel. The Pittsburgh Major Taylor Bicycle Club will lead riders to the event from the Enlow Ballfield, leaving there around 10 a.m. Attendees wishing to drive can park for free in the Extended Lot, Section 16D, which is located right next to the site of the event.

    "This new connection to the Montour Trail is a huge step toward making Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania accessible for bicycle touring," says Mary Shaw, a long-distance cyclist and rail-trail guidebook author who contributed financially to the new section of trail. "It opens Pittsburgh as an endpoint for bicycle touring of all kinds, and complements and extends other improvements to cycling facilities in Pittsburgh that led to our designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community in 2010. It just keeps getting better and better."

    For more information on the Montour Trail, or the March 20 opening, visit: montourtrail.org

    Photo, of Roy Weil and Mary Shaw installing signage on the new trail connector, and map, courtesy of Montour Trail Council.

  • Michigan Announces Funding for Two New Rail-Trail Projects

    The farsighted vision of Fred Meijer continues to reap dividends for the people of Michigan.

    When in 1994 Fred Meijer donated $265,000 to help purchase an out-of-service rail line in Greenville for what would one day become the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, few would have imagined the broad network of trails it would inspire.

    Since then, the Fred Meijer Trails Network has branched out from Michigan's lower peninsula to cover hundreds of miles and dozens of communities across the state. Their popularity as tourist attractions, recreational amenities and vital urban and rural connectors has been the catalyst for strong support for trails investment in the state, with residents, businesspeople and elected officials seeing firsthand the myriad benefits they bring. 

    That network looks set to expand further, with the great news earlier this month that the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund had awarded $300,000 to develop eight miles of paved rail-trail through the communities of Ovid, St. Johns, Fowler, Pewamo and Muir.

    These eight miles are the first stage in what will eventually be the 41.3-mile Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Trail (CIS). Such is the enthusiasm for trails in Michigan, plans are already afoot to link the CIS trail with the Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Trail, Fred Meijer Flat River Valley Trail and the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail to create a "super trail," allowing visitors to travel along three different rivers, through two state game areas, and through 16 towns and villages.

    There was more great news for the people of Michigan with the announcement that a seven-mile rail-trail project connecting Bear Creek Township to Alanson in northern Michigan is likely to begin construction in 2012, thanks to a $942,000 federal Transportation Enhancement (TE) grant awarded by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

    When complete, the 10-foot-wide asphalt trail will provide a crucial connection to the popular Little Traverse Wheelway, which runs between Harbor Springs and Charlevoix.

    One of the reasons Michigan has been able to build such a model trail network is MDOT's understanding of how TE represents terrific fiscal value for the state.

    "This federal funding helps pay for improvements that make a real difference in economic development and quality of life," MDOT's state transportation director, Kirk T. Steudle, told the Petoskey News.

    "Transportation enhancements like these make Michigan communities even more attractive to residents, visitors and business investors."

    Photo of the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail courtesy of John Pearce/TrailLink.com.

  • RTC Releases Library of Resources for Urban Trail Builders

    Though everyone here at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is always pleased to see so much wonderful trail building activity across the country, there is something especially exciting about our Urban Pathways Initiative (UPI).

    The goal of UPI is simple: encourage trail use and stewardship in urban areas, creating safe and accessible spaces for physical activity. In particular, UPI focuses on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, where urban pathways can be a potent tool for addressing the health, social and economic disparities.

    Since we launched UPI in 2009, support from The Kresge Foundation has enabled us to work directly with dozens of neighborhood-based groups, from Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Calif., building a national resource of strategies for developing, promoting and programming urban pathways.

    Now, we're excited to share these resources with planners and advocates across America. It's a remarkable library of educational stories of challenges and successes, and critical lessons for urban trail builders elsewhere.

    "Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods: Promising Strategies for Encouraging Trail Use in Urban Communities" is a compilation of resources that includes:

    • A primer on urban pathways, including a synthesis of current research on factors that contribute to use of pathways, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color;
    • A series of issue summaries that explore important themes in developing, promoting and programming urban pathways: trailside gardens, safety, art, programs and connections;
    • Is It Safe? Crime and Perceptions of Safety on Urban Trails, a short video that addresses personal safety on trails by visiting three urban pathways that have dealt with these issues head-on and have succeeded in creating trails that are well-used community assets.

    You can browse and download these new resources online!

    For more information on UPI visit www.railstotrails.org/urbanpathways.

    Photo of local residents on the Met Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. courtesy of Richard Anderson



  • Join the Maiden Voyage! Volusia County to Celebrate Opening of Regional Rail-Trail

    Even with hundreds of communities across America striving to build and improve their trails, greenways and bike path systems, Volusia County in east-central Florida continues to distinguish itself in its commitment to non-motorized infrastructure.

    This coming Saturday, February 25, the residents of Volusia County will celebrate a significant milestone in their remarkable trail-building schedule with the opening of the first segment of the much-heralded East Central Regional Rail Trail.

    The Volusia County Council invites all residents to join them in celebrating a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first 5.7-mile trail segment of what will eventually be one of the longest rail-trails in the state, covering 50 miles between Enterprise to Edgewater, in addition to a 10-mile leg through Brevard County to Titusville.

    The ceremony is set for 10 a.m. at the trail entrance at the intersection of Perimeter Drive and Providence Boulevard, Deltona.

    The Volusia Transportation Planning Organization will give bicycle helmets to the first 100 people.

    Attendees are encouraged to bring their walking shoes, inline skates or bikes and take a 'maiden voyage' along the trail, which runs through wooded and rural areas to State Road 415 in Osteen. Parking will be available at Thornby Park and the Publix shopping plaza on the corner of DeBary Avenue and Providence Boulevard.

    The trail segment is 12-feet wide and is accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists, inline skaters and people with disabilities. Rest stops, with benches, are provided along the way.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) President Keith Laughlin and Florida State Director Ken Bryan will join a host of local elected officials at the ribbon cutting. RTC has enjoyed a close relationship with the trail proponents and planners of Volusia, and surrounding, counties, helping them realize their ambitions for an extensive trail system that is both an amenity for locals and a draw for visitors.

    "This beautiful trail will provide recreational amenities while promoting a healthy lifestyle for county residents, and the economic value to our nature-based tourism initiative is unmatched," says County Council Representative Patricia Northey, a long-time proponent of trails. "I could not be more pleased with our new trail, and I know the communities it travels through, Deltona and Enterprise, have embraced it as well."

    For more information about the East Central Regional Rail Trail, visit: volusia.org/trails/railtrail, or call the Volusia County Parks, Recreation and Culture Department at 386.736.5953.

    Map of the planned Volusia County Spring to Spring and East Central Regional Rail Trail system courtesy of Volusia County.

  • Determined Mississippi Communities Get Their Groundbreaking Moment

    The moment when a rail-trail vision moves from blueprint to actual construction is a celebration of the ability of America's citizens, communities and businesses to act on the hopes and desires for their community, and make them real.

    Last week it happened yet again, this time in northern Mississippi, where a sustained grassroots effort supported by a coalition of local municipalities won funding support for a 44-mile pathway for hikers, bikers and riders of all kinds along an former railway corridor.

    Thanks to a $9.6 million Transportation Enhancements (TE) grant administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, and a $100,000 Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, construction began recently on the first stage of what will be known as the Tanglefoot Trail.

    The 10-foot-wide paved path for walkers, bicyclists and horseback riders will pass through three counties in rural northeastern Mississippi, and connect a number of towns between New Albany and Houston. The trail, through scenic woodlands and fields, and featuring access to historical sites, is scheduled for completion in early 2013.

    The Tanglefoot Trail will run along the former Mississippi-Tennessee Railroad, built by William Faulkner's great-grandfather, Colonel William C. Faulkner, in 1872. The name Tanglefoot comes from the narrow gauge engine of the same name used during construction of the railroad.

    The first section will be built in the city of New Albany and will progress southward to completion in Houston. Trail advocates and planners in Mississippi are eager to replicate the success of the Longleaf Trace to the south, which, since it opened in 2000, has become a hugely popular regional asset.

    The second phase of the project will consist of the design, development and construction of gateway buildings in New Albany, Pontotoc and Houston. These facilities will serve as trail welcome centers. 'Whistle Stops,' or rest area facilities, will be located in the Ingomar, Ecru, Algoma and New Houlka communities. Already, local entrepreneurs are being asked to consider ways to capitalize on trail traffic through restaurants, cafes, bike shops, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds and retail opportunities close to the trail.

    Aware of the need to coordinate their individual energy for the project, in 2006 the various municipalities along the trail's route--Chickasaw County, Pontotoc County, Union County, town of Algoma, town of Ecru, city of Houston, city of New Albany, town of New Houlka and the city of Pontotoc--came together to form a Rails to Trails Recreational District. The result was an impressive study in cooperation that ultimately impressed transportation officials of the broad regional demand for the trail.

    According to Kelly Pack, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's director of trail development, the announcement of funding for the Tanglefoot Trail is particularly timely, as the U.S. Congress considers a transportation reauthorization bill that could potentially eliminate or severely hobble TE and RTP. 

    "As we see here, these grant programs enable local entities to build the assets they know their communities need," she says. "They are powerful programs. They are an incredibly efficient use of transportation spending, but it's more than that. They reward this grassroots cooperation--and allow cities and municipalities and residents and local businesses to make good on their visions for where they live."

    Photo of the Tanglefoot Corridor courtesy of Michael Jones.

  • Caring For a Common Space: Research Connects Urban Greening With Safer Neighborhoods

    One of the most stubborn obstacles to building new trails, particularly in big cities where crime and public safety are often dominating concerns, is the perception that such pathways encourage or increase incidents of vandalism, assault, vagrancy and theft in nearby neighborhoods.

    From our many years facilitating both urban and rural trails in communities of all shapes and sizes, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) staff understand that, in fact, the opposite is true. Time and time again we see new multi-use trails bring human activity and a level of ownership and care to areas once abandoned and neglected. It's the basic premise of all "neighborhood watch" programs: the constant surveillance of residents and businesses is often the most efficient deterrent to antisocial behavior.

    While RTC has compiled substantial evidence of experience regarding crime and urban trails, which has been documented and presented through our Urban Pathways Initiative (UPI), until now we have lacked hard scientific data to support that anecdotal library.

    Which is why a groundbreaking study on the effects of urban greening in Philadelphia, recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, has drawn so much attention from urban planners, community groups and sociologists alike.

    The study puts solid data behind what we have long known: that bringing human traffic, community activity and opportunities for recreation to once neglected, defaced areas brightens unlit spaces, making them safer and increasing their 'value' - whether measured in terms of real estate indices or appeal to the community.

    The authors of the study conducted a decade-long comparative analysis of the impact of Community LandCare, a vacant lot greening program in Philadelphia. In the treated lots, local resident volunteers and neighborhood groups improved abandoned lots with topsoil, trees and fencing, and conducted regular maintenance. The treated lots were compared with vacant lots that were eligible for greening but did not receive treatment.

    The results demonstrated that vacant lot greening was associated with consistent reductions in gun assaults across all four sections of the city, and consistent reductions in vandalism in one section of the city. There were also a number of stress and wellness benefits for local residents associated with transforming the neglected sections.

    "Economic downturns, deindustrialization, and population outmigration have made the abandonment of land a challenge for many US cities," the authors write in the introduction to the study, A Difference-in-Differences Analysis of Health, Safety, and Greening Vacant Urban Space. "These vacant lot treatments often produce immediately noticeable, visually dramatic results; are straightforward to implement; cost little, relative to other urban health and safety programs; and are responsive to community concerns."

    "With respect to safety, the 'broken windows' theory suggests that vacant lots offer refuge to criminal and other illegal activity and visibly symbolize that a neighborhood has deteriorated, that no one is in control, and that unsafe or criminal behavior is welcome to proceed with little if any supervision. A related theory, the 'incivilities' theory, suggests that physical incivilities, such as abandoned vacant lots, promote weak social ties among residents and encourage crimes, ranging from harassment to homicide. Central to both theories is that criminals are thought to feel emboldened in areas with greater physical disorder while, at the same time, residents are driven toward greater anonymity and are less willing or able to step in and prevent crime. We can speculate that violent crime may have simply been discouraged in the presence of greened and tended vacant lots which signaled that someone in the community cared and was potentially watching over the space in question."

    The Department of Health and Human Services will host a free webinar this week to discuss the release of the report and its impact on violence and injury prevention.

    Urban trails generate precisely the same community activity and ownership, making the study an important resource for trail proponents. The results have particular bearing on RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative. Though most municipalities have long come to accept that creating commuter and recreational pathways is good for the neighborhoods they pass through, from time to time fears of increasing crime and vandalism are raised to oppose the development of a new trail. Unfortunately, these fears, though countered by years of evidence, are sometimes still enough to derail a project.

    At a recent meeting of the Woodside Civic Association in Silver Spring, Md., residents opposed plans to extend the Capital Crescent Trail, asserting that it would bring crime to the neighborhood. Despite hearing the testimony of Darien Manley, chief of Montgomery County Park Police, who stated that trails do not bring crime to neighborhoods, the fear of increased crime and vandalism is still the basis of opposition to extending this enormously popular used commuter and recreation trail.

    According to local blog, Silver Spring Trails, Chief Manley stated that some crime does occur everywhere, and there will be some crime on trails, but typically there is less crime on a trail than in the neighborhood that the trail passes through. Manley stated that studies by the National Park Service and others show that the nationwide experience is similar to what he has experienced in Montgomery County: that crime is generally low on trails.

    Chief Manley told the gathering that criminals like secluded areas where with generally fewer potential witnesses. Trails, especially busy trails like the Capital Crescent Trail, bring in people who are using the area lawfully, and these lawful users put eyes on the trail that drive crime away.

    Similar fears recently impeded construction of a missing section of the Old Plank Road Trail through Chicago Heights, Ill., and continue to threaten widely supported plans for an elevated greenway through Queens, N.Y.

    This month, RTC unveiled a short documentary, Is It Safe? Crime and Perceptions of Safety on Urban Pathways, which related the experience of communities in Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Ohio, and Richmond, Calif., before and after trails were opened in their neighborhoods. Murals replaced graffiti, and kept it away; trailside gardens and parks replaced smashed windows and broken fencing; and local children walk and bike to school where before they had feared to tread.

    Despite some remnants of opposition, more and more homeowners and local officials are experiencing firsthand the transformative effect that urban trails have on neighborhoods. Not only have they become much sought-after transportation amenities that have a measurable effect on home values and health indicators, they are rallying points for the community, the catalyst in many instances for a renewed sense of caring for a common space.

    Photos, from top:
    Martin Luther King, Jr. Day volunteer cleanup on the Richmond Greenway, Calif., by RTC.
    Community garden beside the Midtown Greenway, Minn., courtesy of Payton Chung.
    Local residents promote a 5k event on the Compton Creek Bike Path, Calif., courtesy of Hub City Teen
    DC Prep students take activities on the Met Branch Trail, DC, by RTC


  • A True Story of Liberty and Transportation in Vermont

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) new report on walking and biking in small town and rural America, Active Transportation Beyond Urban Centers, has really struck a chord with members across the country, and transformed the political debate about where the demand really is for walking and biking infrastructure. 

    After learning of the report from our eNewsletter, which went out yesterday, Rosina Perthel sent RTC an email to tell us of her recent experience of active transportation in America's smaller communities. As much as surveys and figures can paint a picture for us of what is happening out there, stories like this give the picture an extra dimension, of the people are impacted by access to, or a lack of access to, these transportation and recreation options.

    "I live in Montgomery County, Md., but have vacationed in Vermont my entire life," Rosina writes. "A couple of years ago my family visited the Delaware and Hudson Rail-Trail in West Pawlet, Vt. We walked, biked and had a picnic. West Pawlet is a very small community with few services. I am not sure they even have a general store, the ubiquitous gathering spot in almost every Vermont community. Most families are poor. If the parents work, they drive long distances and are away from home for many hours each day. There are two roads going into and out of town, neither of which is a safe bicycling road for adolescents. So, kids are stuck at home with not much to do.

    "During our picnic in West Pawlet, I noticed three local adolescent boys riding their bikes north on the rail-trail. After our picnic, we drove in to Granville, N.Y., which is the regional shopping location, to do our grocery shopping. At the strip mall, which is adjacent to the Delaware and Hudson Rail-Trail, I noticed these same three boys. They had beaten us to town!

    "The rail-trail has truly opened up a new world of opportunity for these boys. Their parents would not dream of allowing them to ride their bikes on the country roads, but did allow them to ride the five miles into town to visit friends, go to the library or just hang out. They will attend high school in Granville, so in the future they could even ride their bikes to school."

    Many thanks, Rosina, for relating to us your experience of the transformative impact of trails in American life.

    It is great hearing stories like this--keep them coming! You can email them to me anytime. at jake@railstotrails.org

    Photo of the Delaware and Hudson Rail-Trail courtesy of TrailLink.com.


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