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May 2010 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Survey Says...Measuring Feedback is Important!

    Once again, RTC has been fortunate in obtaining grant funding to conduct user surveys and economic impact analyses on trails in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Boxes containing survey forms have gone up on the Armstrong Trail in Pennsylvania, and on the Black River Wildlife Management Area, Columbia, Patriot's Path, Paulinskill Valley and West Essex trails in New Jersey. In addition, passive infrared counters have been deployed on the trails to help get an estimate of the total number of annual user visits. This is the fifth year that RTC has deployed surveys of rail-trails.

    The surveys are designed to accomplish a number of objectives. They help provide a better understanding of how people use trails, where they come from and what they spend in conjunction with their trail-related activity. For trail managers, the surveys provide feedback on trail users' perceptions of the maintenance of the trail, how clean it is and how safe they feel when using the trail. On the economic side, the surveys provide counts of dollar spending on items such as bicycles and clothing, and water, snacks, meals and lodging.

    RTC has collected survey responses from more than 4,000 trail users through the end of 2009. Many of the findings from the surveys are interesting. For example, on all of the surveys except one, the primary reason citied for using the trail was health and exercise. Most trail users find out about a trail from other trail users by word of mouth. In every case the majority of trail users are over the age of 45. The gender split averages 53 percent men, 47 percent women. Average spending on beverages, snacks and meals is $11. The vast majority of the trail users think that the facilities are well managed, clean and safe. Full results from RTC's previous surveys can be found in our Trail-Building Toolbox.

    In addition to the trails that RTC will be surveying this summer, other trail organizations may also be looking for user input. If a survey is being conducted on a trail you visit this summer, take a few minutes to participate!

    Photo: Trail users along Pennsylvania's Ghost Town Trail complete a survey.

  • USDOT Sec. Ray LaHood Talks Rail-Trails, Walking and Bicycling on NPR

    Yesterday, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke with Neal Conan on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" to discuss our nation's current transportation policies. The conversation was precipitated by LaHood's recent "Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation" Policy Statement, in which he declared that bicycle and pedestrian travel deserve greater attention in transportation planning.

    On the show, LaHood referenced the American people's desire to walk and bike more in their communities, and the federal government's responsiveness to that overwhelming demand: "... there are lots of people who want to bike on streets. In order to make it safe, you paint a lane down the street and make sure that it can be safe... so that people then begin to pay attention to these bicyclists."

    By referencing the strong demand for more safe and convenient opportunities to walk and bike for transportation, LaHood echoed much of the language in H.R. 4722, the Active Community Transportation Act of 2010 (the ACT Act), a direct result of RTC's Campaign for Active Transportation. The ACT Act would fund efforts in communities around the country to complete their active transportation systems, enabling people to walk and bike to get where they're going.

    Next on LaHood's list of praiseworthy programs were rail-trails! "And then you also have a number of communities around the country that are turning old railroad lines into what we call Rails-to-Trails," he says. "People are looking for biking paths and walking paths and paths where they can be with their families on the weekend and enjoy the great outdoors. These paths really become an opportunity, almost like a nature walk in some instances."

    What LaHood didn't mention, however, are the strong economic benefits to be realized as a result of enabling Americans to walk and bike more. By investing in active transportation, we will save tens of billions of dollars--every year--in climate/environment, mobility and health benefits alone.

    For more, listen to the NPR conversation, read about the economic benefits of more walking and bicycling, or read more about Sec. LaHood and his background supporting trails.

    Photo of Sec. LaHood by BikePortland on Flickr.

  • Letter from RTC President Keith Laughlin: Thank You, Friends!


    The Members Project competition for $200,000 in funding from American Express and Take Part is now over. The last I could tell, at just past midnight last night, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was locked in a 43%-43% tie with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the Arts & Culture category. The votes are being tallied right now and we should know the winner early next week!

    American Express launched this campaign on Oscar night. At the risk of sounding like an Oscar winner who acknowledges everyone they know, I'd like to thank a bunch of folks who made this campaign so successful for RTC.

    First, I would like to thank American Express for generously providing the sum total of $1,000,000 in funding to support the five winning non-profit organizations. In an era when there are ample opportunities to disparage the actions of large financial institutions, American Express has provided a sterling example of corporate responsibility.

    Second, I want to thank our members and supporters who voted for RTC week after week in this competition. I am continually impressed by the passion and commitment of so many people who yearn for safe places for walking and bicycling in their community.

    Third, I am pleased that RTC has been supported by so many individuals and organizations in the trails and active transportation movements whose efforts went far beyond voting. These folks-who are too numerous to list-repeatedly e-mailed, blogged, tweeted and Facebooked to urge others to support RTC. I want to personally extend my thanks to our friends at Trek, Bicycling Magazine, Bikes Belong, Climate Ride, American Trails and Bike Portland. Also, thanks to our corporate sponsors at Fetzer Vineyards who helped get the word out from the start.

    Fourth, I am continually amazed by the creativity, hard work and commitment of our staff here at RTC. That we battled to a dead heat with an organization many times our size is an indication of their effectiveness and sense of purpose.

    Finally, I'd like to congratulate the "peeps" over at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We have worked together extensively in the past to preserve America's cultural heritage and we'll continue to do so in the future. While we were healthy competitors in this campaign, we are, foremost, cheerful friends in conservation.

    Unlike the Oscar winners, we still don't know if we will hold the final prize. And, as Tom Petty sang, "the waiting is the hardest part." So keep your fingers crossed!

    But, regardless of the final outcome, this campaign has already been a success.

    Thanks again!

    Keith Laughlin

  • The Trail Down the Street: San Jose Plans for Trails Within Three Miles of All Residents

    By Yves Zsutty, City of San Jose Trail Program

    I recently learned of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's goal to have 90 percent of Americans live within three miles of a trail or connecting corridor by 2020. With this metric in mind, I thought that San Jose might be a good model to showcase how an urban area is served by and functions with distributed trails. We have nearly 54 miles of off-street trails within the city's urban boundaries. Several of the 24 trail systems are not yet interconnected but are found throughout the city. Our ambitious Green Vision supports completion of a 100-mile trail network by 2022.

    We prepared this map to show neighborhoods served within three miles of existing trails. Even with just more than 50 percent of our network in place, we offer accessibility to 99 percent of all residents. The work underway through 2022 will make trails even more viable for commuting and recreation by extending trails, closing gaps and interconnecting the trails. The Trail Network is and will be an important element within the transportation system of the nation's 10th largest city. It will be possible for Silicon Valley residents to journey to work, or take care of errands with little or no interaction with automotive traffic. 

    With well-distributed trails in place, let me offer a few facts about existing trail usage. First, San Jose has a little more 1 million residents and is the largest city in Northern California. The city's mild climate, with 300 days of sunshine, a level valley-floor topography, and casual Silicon Valley style make biking a viable and desirable recreational and commute mode that is always a few short miles from home. The network's core regional trail systems are easily accessible from the roadway system. Until fully developed, 200 miles of on-street bike lanes provide defined bicycle access, and that system will grow to 400 miles by 2022.

    Our annual Trail Count tells us the following:

    • Usage has increased by double-digits for each of the past three years.
    • More than 50 percent of trail users are commuting to and from work.
    • Trail users report a desire to bike more with further trail development.

    Other data-collection efforts in recent years show a dramatic growth in bicycling: a 200-percent increase (0.4 percent to 1.2 percent of work trips) from 2006 to 2008, and 2008 work trips by bike are about two-and-a-half times the national average (1.2 versus 0.5 percent).

    Trails play an important commuting role because of their proximity to employment:

    • High tech jobs within the North San Jose area are within three-quarters a mile of a trail.
    • Approximately 50,000 residents reside downtown and are within three-quarters a mile of a trail.

    So, from our local perspective, I can say that Rails to Trails Conservancy's mission is highly achievable and will offer big dividends in terms of greater levels of recreation and bicycle commuting.

    Photos courtesy City of San Jose Trails Program

  • Rail-Trail Commuter Convoy Uses Real-Time Arrival Information

    Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day, and commuter convoys will be happening in many cities to encourage novice bicycle commuters to hop on two wheels. While many of these convoys will have timed pit stops along the route, a convoy leader following Rhode Island's East Bay Bicycle Path to downtown Providence has come up with a way to let riders know when to head out the door and meet him on the trail. Using InstaMapper, the leader's phone will provide continuous location updates via GPS, which will be displayed on a real-time online map. The convoy begins in Bristol at 6:05 a.m. and ends in Providence around 7:15 a.m. With a convoy so early in the morning, this new tool might help some riders catch a few more minutes in bed!

  • Watch: Richmond, Va., Begins to Build a Rail-Trail

    Virginia Public Television's Virginia Currents recently aired an episode that spotlighted the James River Branch Trail, a project trail on Richmond's south side. The show's first segment features city of Richmond Council Member Doug Conner and Virginia Bicycle Federation President Champe Burnley speaking about the potential this corridor holds for the neighborhood, and how the proven benefits of rail-trails elsewhere in Virginia can translate to this urban neighborhood.

  • Portland Cyclists Reach Out to Minority Communities

    Portland, Ore. - known as a bicycling Mecca but not necessarily a culturally diverse city - has been blending these two issues through the work of the Community Cycling Center's Understanding Barriers to Bicycling project. The center, founded in 1994 to provide bicycle safety and repair education, began the project in 2009. They recognized that many minority community members who would otherwise benefit from bicycling - including reduced transportation costs, health improvement and journey-time reduction - were not hopping on their bikes.

    Determined to find out why, the center worked with Alta Planning + Design to complete a literature review of existing transportation research into promoting bicycling among minority communities. The center also completed a community health literature review. While no proven methods to overcome these barriers has yet been found, there has been significant research into identifying barriers among various communities, including low-income populations, women and racial minorities.

    The center also conducted workshops and focus groups with various communities of color, including African American, Hispanic and African immigrant groups. The reasons for not bicycling varied between the groups, providing insight to the center on how to best tailor their programming to these various populations. In April, Alison Graves, executive director of the Community Cycling Center, presented findings of these focus groups and lessons learned from community outreach in a seminar at Portland State University. You can watch or listen to the presentation online; it's listed under "April 30."

  • Missouri’s Katy Trail Turns 20!

    Katy TrailAnyone who’s ever been on the 225-mile Katy Trail knows it’s a fantastic rail-trail (RTC certainly does—we inducted it into our Hall of Fame in 2007—and we’re partnering with them this year to enhance the Katy Trail map, description and photos on TrailLink.com).

    This Saturday, May 8, the Katy Trail State Park is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a party in Rocheport, Mo. And you’re invited! Festivities include a commemorative bike ride, memorial walk, music, refreshments and the kick-off of the Katy Trail Ticket Book Program. The program encourages trail users to visit all the trailside towns and collect stamps along the way. First 1,000 people to fill their book get prizes including a Katy Trail t-shirt and water bottle.

    20th Anniversary Party Details

    • Where: Rocheport Trailhead
    • When: Exhibits open at 1 p.m.; anniversary ceremony at 2 p.m.; ride/walk to follow
    • Who: Speakers include Governor Jay Nixon; Katy Trail Coalition Chairman Darwin Hindman; Rep. Chris Kelly of Columbia; special honoree Pat Jones; Missouri DNR State Parks Director Bill Bryan as MC

    If you’re in the neighborhood, we hope you join in this weekend’s celebration! And if you go, post back here and tell us all about it!

  • Watch: Trails Help Make Minneapolis America's Top Cycling City

    To mark the occasion of Minneapolis joining the National Association of City Transportation Officials, Streetfilms visited the City of Lakes to document what that city is doing to make active transportation a part of everyday life. New trails and connecting infrastructure, much of it funded through the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, have been key to boosting the numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians. Also supporting the top-notch infrastructure are community-based programs and amenities for urban pathways such as safety patrols by Midtown Greenway Trail Watch volunteers and the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center, a full-service bike station directly on the trail.

    The combination of new infrastructure, innovative initiatives, soaring cyclist counts and can-do spirit (even in Minnesota's brutal winter weather!) pushed Minneapolis to the top of Bicycling Magazine's 2010 ranking of America's most bike-friendly cities. This change could happen in your city, too. Encourage your local advocates and planners to plug in to RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative to connect with more than 200 other trail practitioners working to encourage trail use in cities across the nation, and ask your U.S. representative to become a co-sponsor of the Active Community Transportation Act, which would provide competitive grants to cities that want to complete their active transportation networks.

  • A Long-Awaited Ribbon Cutting for a D.C. Trail

    This morning, District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty and DDOT Director Gabe Klein joined neighborhood residents, area cyclists and long-time trail advocates for the ribbon cutting of a key missing link in the Metropolitan Branch Trail. A photo set from RTC features images of today's event.

    Residents of Edgewood, Eckington, Brookland and much of Northeast D.C. now have a seamless route to Union Station and downtown that bypasses busy arteries including Rhode Island, New York and Florida avenues. While this ribbon cutting was twenty years in the making, today is only the beginning of the fun for area residents. May is National Bike Month and this month the trail will host commute convoys, walking tours, and neighborhood bike rides culminating in Meet the Met, a grand opening celebration on National Trails Day, June 5. To keep on top of all the happenings, sign up for Met Branch Trail e-mail updates.

    The process of completing this  trail took a few twists and turns over its many years. In February, we were lucky enough to be joined by DDOT trail planner Heather Deutsch (in photo, with Mayor Fenty) at Urban Pathways to Livable Communities, a conference hosted by RTC to bring together professionals working on the challenging issues that surround trails in urban neighborhoods. Heather presented a short history of the trail and the hurdles it faced during construction. A video of her presentation is below:


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