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March 2010 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Groundbreaking ACTion on Active Transportation in Congress

    New Legislation Will Build Healthy, Clean, Cost-Effective Transportation Options

    Washington, D.C., March 2, 2010 — Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Campaign for Active Transportation celebrated a milestone today with the release of Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-Ore.) Active Community Transportation (ACT) Act of 2010 [H.R. 4722].

    This landmark legislation promises to launch a new era of investment in building complete systems of facilities that make it safe and convenient for Americans to choose to walk or bicycle instead of drive for routine, short trips. The ACT Act creates a competitive fund to which communities can apply and receive funding to build these active transportation systems. In the process, tens of thousands of jobs in construction and small businesses will be created, invigorating local economies, while also saving Americans money at the pump.

    “This is possibly the most important legislation to come down in the last 20 years for those who value trails, walking and biking, and we applaud the visionary leadership Representative Blumenauer and his colleagues have shown through the creation of this bill,” says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) President Keith Laughlin. “In 2007, when we launched our Campaign for Active Transportation at RTC’s Portland conference, we knew it would take a focused, smart investment plan to make active transportation systems commonplace. The ACT Act is that plan, and we’ve never been more ready.”

    ACT Act Findings
    Americans are hungry for safe and convenient opportunities to walk or bicycle to work, school, shops, transit and other daily destinations. Respondents in a national poll said they would spend 15 times current levels on walking and bicycling (currently, less than two percent of all transportation dollars) at the expense of what they view as lopsided spending on roads. ACT Act states that:

    • Nearly half of the trips taken in the United States today are within a 20-minute bicycle ride, and half of those trips are within a 20-minute walk;
    • Further, 90 percent of transit trips begin with walking or bicycling;
    • There is huge potential for an increased role for active transportation to these nearby destinations, and;
    • The ACT Act is can maximize mode shift by providing “intensive, concentrated funding of active transportation systems rather than discrete piecemeal projects.”  
    “Everywhere we go, communities are eager to pull the pieces of their active transportation systems together so the public can safely walk and bike,” says RTC Vice President of Policy Kevin Mills. “It is essential that we give Americans the means to achieve their dreams of livable communities by offering healthy, clean, affordable and enjoyable ways to get around. The ACT Act provides the missing piece of our transportation puzzle; ironically, we have left the simplest and most cost-effective investment for last.” 

    RTC and the ACT Act
    RTC has been the lead advocate behind the creation of this bill, organizing more than 50 communities around the country, and soliciting case statements from these communities that detail how, if the funding were available, they would create active transportation systems in their area. Most of these communities have been engaged for years, committing local resources to their organizing and planning efforts, earning support from mayors, city and county councils, advocacy and business leaders. Additionally, a national letter of support has been signed by representatives from more than 300 national, regional and local groups and more than 30 mayors and other elected officials.

    The introduction of this bill, which would be a part of the larger transportation reauthorization, represents opportunity knocking. Current original co-sponsors of the bill include Representatives Capuano (Mass.), Carnahan (Mo.), Cohen (Tenn.), Filner (Calif.), Lipinski (Ill.) and Moran (Va.).

    Take ACTion
    RTC is calling on its supporters and coalition members to contact their members of Congress and encourage them to become co-sponsors of the ACT Act.

    For more information on RTC and the ACT Act, visit www.railstotrails.org/act.

  • RTC Teams with Google for Biking Directions

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is proud to announce its partnership with Google™ as an official content provider for Google Maps’ brand-new biking directions functionality.

    The release of this long-awaited feature allows Google Maps users to type in their destination and receive directions for the best bicycling route. Previously, Google was able to provide walking, driving or transit directions. Now, RTC is providing its extensive trail-map data to Google Maps for the seamless integration of safe, accessible and fun bicycling routes into daily travel.

    See for yourself. This Google Gadget, below, demonstrates a cycling route from Arlington, Va., to RTC’s National Headquarters in Washington, D.C.—via the Custis Trail and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail. Just click “Go.”



    For months, the blogosphere was buzzing with speculation about the release, which has cyclists and active transportation advocates rejoicing.

    This morning’s announcement is already receiving national media attention. Earlier today, it was picked up by NPR’s Morning Edition, including a nice mention of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

    Check it out: Google Unveils Newest Map for Cyclists : NPR

    Happy Trails!

  • RTC Helps Score Big Victories for Railbanking and Trail Development

    Armstrong Trai, Pa., courtesy of Armstrong Valley Land TrustOn February 22, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition filed by adjacent landowners seeking review of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s previous decision in Moody v. Allegheny Valley Land Trust.

    In that initial July 20, 2009, ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had affirmed that the 52.5-mile Armstrong Trail in western Pennsylvania is entitled to the protections of “railbanking”—the federal law that allows out-of-service railroad corridors to be converted for interim trail use. The U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of this petition finally terminates a long-running challenge to the right of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust to develop the Armstrong Trail, and an important precedent upholding “private railbanking” has been firmly established.
     
    On February 25, 2010, in another Pennsylvania case, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania rejected a “takings” challenge filed by adjacent landowners concerning a 19-mile corridor in Elk and Cameron County, Pa., which was railbanked by the West Creek Recreational Trail Association. The court relied heavily on the Moody decision in reaching this result.
     
    RTC, with the assistance of pro bono counsel William Semins and Neal Brendel from the Pittsburgh firm of K&L Gates, along with RTC General Counsel Andrea Ferster, was very involved in securing both of these important victories.

    Railbanking has allowed for the development of more than 100 rail-trails, including the 161-mile Cowboy Nature and Recreation Trail in Nebraska and the 225-mile Katy Trail State Park in Missouri.

    For more information about the Armstrong Trail, contact RTC’s Northeast Regional Office.

    Photo by Armstrong Valley Land Trust

  • Sign of the Times: Regional Cooperation in Ohio Yields Results

    Central Ohio Greenways (COG) is a collaborative in central Ohio whose mission is to help communities build and expand their trail and greenway networks. The group is run by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), Franklin County MetroParks, city of Columbus and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Midwest Regional Office. In working with the numerous jurisdictions that attend COG's quarterly meetings, the group decided that a clear, concise and professional signage program for the region was needed.

    While each participating community realized that signage was needed and that consistent regional standards were important, the cost of quality signage was prohibitive to many. So with MORPC's lead, COG took on the challenge and funded the professional design services necessary to create a sign template, which is now available to all jurisdictions in the area. With design costs taken care of and the template available free of charge, each community now only had to find funding for manufacturing and installation.

    The first of the newly designed COG signs have been installed by the city of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department along the Alum Creek Trail. The unique color and design of these signs will brand the entire trail system throughout the region, thus allowing users to quickly identify the trails and know they are in the Central Ohio Greenway network.

    Photo by Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission

  • Watch: The Story of a Local Trail Effort in New Orleans

    As part of the Urban Pathways to Livable Communities conference in New Orleans, a walk of the Lafitte Corridor introduced attendees to the Crescent City's own urban pathway project. The first stop on the walk was hosted by Bart Everson of Friends of Lafitte Corridor and Daniel Samuels of the Lafitte Greenway Steering Advisory Committee. In this audio slideshow, they provide some background on the history of the corridor itself and the effort to convert it to a multi-use greenway.

  • What Do a Rail-Trail and a Grocery Store Have in Common?

    Last week, the Safeway grocery store at the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center in Washington, D.C., closed its doors. Although the store location was walkable from the Edgewood neighborhood and close to a Metro station, the neighborhood is bisected by a traffic-choked road and a rail line, leaving the shopping center cut off from many potential customers arriving on foot and by Metro. Many elderly residents of the Edgewood Terrace complex had used the Safeway but now must negotiate narrow sidewalks on busy Rhode Island Avenue to access a different supermarket instead.

    At NRDC Switchboard, Kaid Benfield took a look at this closing as a case where a potentially transit-oriented neighborhood has the right ingredients but an insufficient connection between development and transit, with the result hurting both businesses and residents:

    Craig Muckle, an official for the Safeway chain, told Washington Post writer Hamil R. Harris that the Edgewood Safeway had been unprofitable for a decade: "While we are closer to the Metro, the Giant is more convenient for people coming off the Metro, and it is located in a plaza that is frankly more vibrant."

    In addition to the Metro, the rail corridor bisecting the neighborhood is home to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. With the trail comes an opportunity to better connect the neighborhood with its Metro station. The Edgewood section of the trail is being completed this spring, and plans are already under way for a pedestrian bridge between the trail at the shopping center and the Metro faregates. Students of nearby schools and residents of Edgewood Terrace will no longer have to risk walking alongside speeding traffic on Rhode Island Avenue, or jumping a fence to cross active CSX tracks illegally. Along with a mural painted last summer (the city's largest), these new connections provide Edgewood an opportunity for transit- and trail-oriented development.

    Rendering of pedestrian bridge concept by The Louis Berger Group

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Jefferson County, New York

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about February 16, 2010, CSX Transportation, Inc. filed for the abandonment of 0.24 miles of track Philadelphia, Jefferson County, New York. We are providing this information because it presents an opportunity to develop a real regional asset: a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.

    NEXT STEPS: If this corridor is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge local trail advocates, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. A "boiler plate" letter (found here) can be filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using STB docket number AB-55 (sub-no. 695x). Filing this letter does not commit its authors to acquire the corridor; it merely gives time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad. According to the information we have received, the deadline for filing this letter is March 18, 2010. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all of the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its Web site, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing.

    The STB has imposed a $200 filing fee for all railbanking requests. Entities filing a railbanking request may request a fee waiver or reduction, and government agencies will receive an automatic fee waiver. Throughout the process, make sure local government officials and citizen activists are kept informed of the project's progress. We also recommend contacting your state trails coordinator or your state bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

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

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE: RTC's Web site may provide valuable tools as you plan for a rail-trail, including how-to manuals, the Trail-Building Toolbox, our Publications Library and the Trails & Greenways Listserv for trail advocates and professionals. These resources can be found within the "Trail-Building" section of our Web site. If you take advantage of this information and other resources promptly, you will be well on your way to creating a successful rail-trail in your community. For more information, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact the Northeast Regional Office of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • Watch: South Bronx Embraces a Greenway Before Pavement is on the Ground

    At the Urban Pathways to Livable Communities conference, Miquela Craytor of Sustainable South Bronx presented on her organization's efforts surrounding the South Bronx Greenway, a planned urban pathway through a neighborhood that confronts health, congestion and open space problems on a daily basis. Although pavement for the greenway has not yet been laid, Sustainable South Bronx has engaged the community through job training, trail amenity design, block parties and other events. In this video, Craytor explains the challenges her organization has faced with this project and outlines some of the greenway's initial successes.

  • Walking Challenges as a Tool to Encourage Trail Use

    Walking challenges are a great way to raise the awareness of trails in the community and inspire regular use. A challenge motivates people to join groups and aim for a target number of steps, miles or minutes walking. As participants report their miles, their team can trace progress toward a goal that they couldn't do alone. Hopefully after the challenge is over walking will be a routine for the participants.

    Here are a few examples of Walking Challenges on the west coast:

    • With the completion of the Whittier Greenway Trail in Los Angeles County, Activate Whittier is challenging groups to take the Hollywood Walk to Fame by traversing the country from New York City to Hollywood with star-studded stops along the way to the Oscars. The website has suggested routes with mileage that include 4.2 miles along this rail-trail.
    • Walk the California Coast with San Francisco's Shape UP Walking Challenge. Challengers join teams and walk 1,016 miles, the equivalent of the length of the California coast, in 10 weeks. If they complete that level, participants can continue their virtual tour across the country or even around the world. The San Francisco Department of Public Health reports that the program has gone viral and gained momentum since inception.
    • With the Itida-Walk you can track your progress across Alaska as you follow the sled dogs in the Itidarod. Instead of tracking miles, this program tracks minutes of walking, encouraging participants to walk 30 minutes a day for 35 days for a total of 1,049 minutes.

    Photo from Shape UP San Francisco.

  • Florida OGT Saved in 2010 - Due to Your Hard Work in 2009

    As it was last year, the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) was scheduled for elimination earlier this week by the Florida Senate despite the office's success in building partnerships and leveraging funding. However, due to the enormous and coordinated grassroots support that was demonstrated by RTC, our partner organizations and many dedicated trail supporters last year, the threat was quickly dropped. We owe a special thank you to Senators Aronberg, Lawson and Baker of the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee.

    We still have work to do. OGT is no longer targeted for elimination and most of the mission and subsequent positions have been restored. All but two of the office's positions will be back another year to continue building our ever-expanding statewide system of trails. Senator Aronberg supports us strongly and has sponsored an amendment to restore the remaining two positions at a meeting that will, most likely, occur on Friday. Please take a moment to thank our legislative champions--Senators Aronberg, Lawson and Baker--as well as to our important House friends--Representatives Robaina and Cannon. Without them, OGT, which won Florida the designation of Best Trails State by American Trails, would be roadkill!

    Their e-mail addresses are:

    Senator Aronberg: aronberg.dave.web@flsenate.gov
    Senator Lawson: lawson.alfred.web@flsenate.gov
    Senator Baker: baker.carey.web@flsenate.gov
    Representative Robaina: julio.robaina@myflorida.gov
    Representative Cannon: dean.cannon@myfloridahouse.gov

    Thank you and stay tuned. We hope to have an important announcement concerning the Florida Department of Transportation soon!

  • Bold Policy Statement Commits U.S. DOT to "Fully Integrated Active Transportation Networks"

    Video: Sec. LaHood speaks at the 2010 National Bike Summit, specifically mentioning the C&O Canal towpath and TIGER grants for active transportation networks.

    U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood has issued some of his strongest statements yet in support of active transportation networks. Encouraging state agencies and local communities to "go beyond minimum design standards and requirements" to treat "walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes," this new policy is a bold step that includes the following trail-specific points:

    • In encouraging active transportation plans to go beyond the minimum requirements, the policy notes that trails "designed to minimum width requirements will need retrofits as more people use them. It is more effective to plan for increased usage than to retrofit an older facility." Many communities are learning this lesson the hard way; here in Washington, D.C., the local government has been working with the National Park Service to widen the popular Rock Creek Park Trail.
    • "DOT encourages bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on bridge projects including facilities on limited-access bridges with connections to streets or paths." Bridges are particularly important links between our communities; in Cleveland, cyclists and pedestrians have been fighting for a bike path to be included as part of a major bridge replacement project. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has listened, asking his DOT to reconsider its opposition. Now advocates have the official policy of U.S. DOT on their side, as well.
    • Calling for "routine collection of non-motorized trip information" and "setting mode share targets for walking and bicycling and tracking them over time," the policy places new priority on counting bicyclists and pedestrians. The case for active transportation becomes stronger with solid numbers to detail exactly how many people are using sidewalks, trails and bikeway systems.
    • The policy also encourages "removing snow from sidewalks and shared-use paths...in the same manner as other roadway assets." This should come as welcome news along the Keystone Trail in Omaha, Neb., where cyclists have organized to shovel the trail where the city leaves blockages, or along the Capital Crescent Trail in Maryland, where a county refuses to clear a commuter route.

    While it's exciting that these measures are now official U.S. DOT policy, and recommended policy for state and local agencies, Sec. LaHood noted that these were only "initial steps forward." Communities that want to commit to active transportation as a cost-effective component of our larger transportation system still need funding to make it happen. The Active Community Transportation Act will do just that by providing $2 billion--that's less than one percent of our national transportation spending--to communities for investment in trails, walking and biking. This bill needs your help. Please encourage your representative to co-sponsor this very important legislation by taking action now.

  • Youth Activity Leagues Connect Kids to Trails

    Activity Leagues operated by local law enforcement agencies are often a good match for trail advocates looking to encourage cycling among youth. As part of our Urban Pathways Initiative work along the Compton Creek Bike Path in southern California, RTC came across a program of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department called Bicycle Education and Registration (BEAR). This program gives local youth the opportunity to work with deputies and learn about bicycle education, safety and repair. In addition, the program recycles confiscated bicycles and offers them to local youth who successfully complete the five day course. After completion of the class, local youth gain bicycle education, a new bike, a helmet, parts, and a positive relationship with law enforcement. The program graduates about 60 new riders each year and has about 100 graduates so far. As a part of our work in Compton, we are investigating ways to improve the connections between the trail and the Youth Activity League location so that the new riders can access the trail safely.

    Youth Activity Leagues or Police Activity Leagues are located across the country and can be found through the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues.

    Photo from Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

  • Is U.S. DOT's New Policy for Active Transportation a Good Idea?

    Last week, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood introduced a bold new policy that, as he noted, marks "the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized." Yesterday, National Journal's Transportation Experts blog asked: Is this new policy change a good move? RTC President Keith Laughlin responds:

    Absolutely. The time has come for walking and biking – or active transportation -- to be acknowledged as legitimate modes of transportation. Tremendous credit is due to Secretary LaHood for his leadership in catalyzing a “sea change” in federal transportation policy by recognizing the importance of walking and biking. And by introducing HR 4722, the Active Community Transportation Act, Rep. Earl Blumenauer has demonstrated how this sea change can be reflected in innovative federal policy.

    At present, 12 percent of trips in the US are taken by walking and biking. But only about 1½ cents on the federal transportation dollar are invested in furthering active transportation. Is it too much to ask that we increase that investment to three percent in the next surface transportation bill? ... Even that small increase will provide a multi-billion dollar return on investment in terms of reduced oil consumption, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and avoided health care costs. At a time of severe fiscal constraint, it is simply common sense to target our limited resources to relatively small investments that can provide such a big bang for the buck.

  • Help Make a Difference for Florida at the Florida Bike Summit

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is pleased to be helping the Florida Bicycle Association with an upcoming event at the Florida Capitol. Come to Tallahassee for the 2nd Annual Florida Bike Summit at the Florida Capitol Courtyard, April 8, 2010, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and help protect the rights of bicyclists to ride safely and freely.

    • Learn what Florida is doing for bicyclists
    • Meet with legislators throughout the day
    • Connect with other bicycle advocates
    • Ride to the Capitol from the St. Marks Trailhead at 9 a.m.
    • Secured bicycle parking in the courtyard
    • Summit gathering spot: Tallahassee/East KOA Campground
    • Summit legislative training: 4/7/10; 7 p.m.
    • Summit celebration reception: 4/8/10; 5-6:30 p.m.
    • The 2010 Florida Bike Summit is FREE - register today
    • Press event at 10:30 a.m.

    Our first Summit in 2009 focused on educating legislators about the benefits of bicycling. For 2010, we need your input to define what cycling really is and how it can change Florida one rider at a time. Join us to take advantage as more people are riding bikes. The time is now to show how powerful and influential we can be as a unified voice. Be a part of the solution to advance Florida as the best state to ride a bicycle. Register today!

    Photo: Florida Bicycle Association President David Henderson.

  • Getting to Park Connectivity in Built-Out Cities

    By Ben Welle, City Parks Blog

    Planners have long held up the idea of connectivity – links between people and places that tie everything together. Within park systems, the concept goes back at least to when the walls of European cities came down, as many of them (e.g. Paris), were turned into grand boulevards ringing their cities and linking up places. And when the American park movement was in full swing in the late 1800s, park planners in nearly every city were laying down parkways between green spaces — think Boston’s Emerald Necklace, the Grand Rounds of Minneapolis, and others in Louisville, Denver, Kansas City and Chicago to name a few.

    We've written before about how many of these spaces have been retrofitted probably too much for automobile use, and described the ways to refit them back for more rambling and two-wheeling. But another issue is present today — that many places still aspire for connectivity between parks but seem unable to do it because streets have been laid and the city built out. For instance, in Hartford, Conn., a parkway system was once envisioned but never implemented, and the dream of connections seemingly lost.

    But this isn’t necessarily the case. There are a variety of ways to make connections that even the most built-out cities can do. Based on what we’ve seen, here are a few ways:

    Read more at City Parks Blog...

    Image: A conceptual plan shows how a network of riverfront trails (partially completed), easements and street upgrades could connect Hartford's parks.

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