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September 2010 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Nearly $580 Million Cut from Trails and Bike/Ped in Transportation Rescissions—Where Does Your State Land?

    On August 13, 2010, states were notified that they had less than two weeks to rescind $2.2 billion in transportation funds to the Federal Highway Administration. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President Keith Laughlin sent letters to the governors and transportation directors of all 50 states and the District of Columbia encouraging the state to not disproportionately target Transportation Enhancements (TE), the nation's largest funding source for trails, walking and bicycling.

    While some states respected TE and made proportional (or no) cuts relative to their total share of funding, other states did not follow this path.

    In total, nearly $580 million was cut from TE--representing more than 25 percent of the total rescission and the equivalent of nearly eight months' worth of TE funding. This shocking cut nationally is more than 10 times TE's apportionment.

    See how your state reacted to this rescission mandate and speak out--to express your thanks or your disappointment--to your governor!

  • Bike Sharing Hits the Trail

    Yesterday, RTC staff joined the official launch of Capital Bikeshare, the nation's largest and only multi-jurisdiction bikeshare network. After opening words from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Adrian Fenty, local DDOT Director Gabe Klein, Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at U.S. DOT, Polly Trottenberg, about 150 riders hopped on their bright red bikes and fanned out to docking stations across the District and Arlington.

    RTC staff joined DDOT's trail planner on a ride from the starting location at U.S. DOT headquarters on a route that took us past the Capitol, Union Station and to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Our final destination was a docking station on the corner of 4th and Adams streets NE in the city's Edgewood neighborhood. This station, along with others along the trail, gives area residents the option of safe, convenient and immediate bicycle access to downtown.

    Membership costs $5/day, $25/month or $75/year. An introductory offer has dropped the annual membership cost to $50. Trips under 30 minutes are free and rates escalate for longer rides, to encourage short trips within the city. The system includes 1,100 bicycles at more than 110 stations in the District and Arlington. An application for U.S. DOT TIGER II funds, if funded, would expand the system to more than 3,500 bikes at 431 stations in the District, Maryland and Virginia. This expansion would create an American system roughly the size of Montreal's much-lauded Bixi system

    The Metropolitan Branch Trail joins the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, Minn., which threads between stations of that city's bikeshare system, called NiceRide Minnesota. The system in Minnesota was funded by the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, a victory in the 2005 federal transportation bill upon which RTC hopes to build with the Campaign for Active Transportation

    Photo: RTC staff ride Capital Bikeshare bikes to a docking station near the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Photo by Kelly Pack/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • Trail Voices: Mia Birk

    This September, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) caught up with Mia Birk, CEO and Principal for Alta Planning + Design in Portland, Ore. From her groundbreaking work shaping Portland into the gold standard for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, to her project consulting all over the country, Birk has helped cultivate a national movement for more trails, walking and bicycling. She's been a close partner with RTC's Campaign for Active Transportation, as well as one of the leading experts on rails-with-trails (pathways alongside active railway corridors).

    Most recently, Birk completed her new book, Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet, a compilation of stories spanning two decades of experiences in cities across the country and around the world. "I purposefully wrote Joyride as an accessible series of stories," she says. "It's not a technical book, but there's plenty of technical information woven into it."

    Her chapters, broken down into bite-size anecdotes, revolving around such issues as the challenges of retrofitting streets with bike lanes and building off-street paths, encouraging people to incorporate bicycling into their daily lives, gaining community support, overcoming opposition, and much more.

    "Far beyond Portland," Birk says, "Joyride showcases progress from west to east and parts in between. My own story, getting fit through bicycling, is but a backdrop for the much larger story about change--about creating safer communities and improving our health, the people behind the scenes, the battles we fought, our successes and failures, and hope for a brighter future for us all."

    These stories begin in suburban Dallas, where Birk grew up with parents who drove to get everywhere. Her only memories of riding a bike, in fact--crashing into a hydrant, getting attacked by a dog--hardly endeared her to it.

    But when she moved to Washington, D.C., for graduate school, Birk found herself living a few miles from campus in a neighborhood somewhat removed from easy Metro and bus service. She didn't have a car and it was too far to walk regularly, so her brother offered his 10-speed. After a few shaky weeks, Birk started losing weight and felt in shape for the first time in her life--and she was finally able to make it all the way up the big hill on her way home. "I absolutely fell in love in that moment with biking as a way to get around," she says.

    In her coursework on international environmental issues and then at the International Institute for Energy Conservation (her first job out of graduate school), Birk focused on transportation in cities of developing countries. In her research and travels, she grew increasingly aware of how cities in the United States were overwhelmingly developed around the automobile, and how there needed to be a cultural and practical shift in transportation strategy. From those early days in D.C., Birk committed her personal and professional life to advancing the walking and bicycling movement--to re-thinking American cities around active transportation.

    Birk next took on the role of bike coordinator for the city of Portland, Ore., helping launch the city's transformation into the leader for bicycling infrastructure. What she stresses, though, is that Portland wasn't always that way. "We made it this way," she says. "It was really hard, and we started in a place where most American cites are today. It took a lot of people working together and ferocious battles being fought out in the media, in neighborhoods and in business associations. But every time we came up against obstacles, we found a way to keep going."

    "There are a lot of hurdles and challenges," she says, "but ultimately anything you want to succeed is going to take some work. Things do not get built overnight. But it's worth it--it pays off in the long run."

    After six years as Portland's bike coordinator, Birk began working in 1999 as a consultant with Alta Planning + Design, a Portland-based planning and design firm dedicated to "creative active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun and normal daily activities." This position has taken her all over the country, from rural to urban communities and all sizes, shapes and flavors in between, to assist with projects from rail-trails and bikeways to bike parking and improving pedestrian conditions. What she's witnessed, she says, is an incredible surge in support and eagerness for trails and bikeways. While Portland was in the forefront, the movement has expanded enormously in the past two decades. "There's no question that it's happening everywhere. Every community that takes that first step, whether it's putting in that first mile of rail-trail or starting their first safe routes to school program ... all they do is whet the appetite for more."

    You can learn more about Birk's life and work at www.miabirk.com. Joyride will be in bookstores and on Amazon.com in October, or you can order the book today through www.miabirk.com. Make sure to enter "RTC" in the promo code/comment box. Birk is donating a portion of those proceeds to support our work at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy! 

    Photo of Mia Birk and sharrow by Deborah Moon. 

  • Speak Up, Florida: Don't Unfairly Cut Funding for Trails, Walking and Bicycling!

    TAKE ACTION NOW: Stop marginalizing Florida's cyclists and pedestrians!

    In response to a federal order for states to trim their transportation budgets, the Florida Department of Transportation has disproportionately cut $24.7 million in Transportation Enhancements (TE) funds, along with $3 million from the Recreational Trails Program. TE is our nation's largest source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling. These funds are highly prized and very limited.

    Far from an isolated incident, these recent cutbacks follow a pattern in which walking and bicycling are marginalized and under-prioritized in our state. This comes on the heels of two devastating and disproportionate cuts made in 2009 that totaled more than $60 million. These 2009 cuts alone represented more than a year's worth of Florida's total TE allocation.

    In Florida, TE represents less than three percent of our total transportation dollars, yet accounts for nearly 22 percent of these recent reductions! Meanwhile, road money and associated contract authority has been mostly protected.

    Please take a moment to write to Governor Crist as well as gubernatorial candidates Alex Sink and Rick Scott. We must stop the attacks to our very limited funds.

    Photo of Blountstown Greenway by Ken Bryan/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

  • California Teens Turning the Richmond Greenway Green

    This summer, the teens working with Urban Tilth in Richmond, Calif., made great progress in expanding the community gardens along the Richmond Greenway with new raised bed gardens, a fruit tree orchard, a grape trellis and work on Berryland. The gardens finish off the summer as a lush oasis along the trail, with the well-tended beds kept weed-free and watered by the hard work of the youth and community stewards. The Watershed Project’s native plant gardens are also expanding with additional areas cleared of weeds and planted with natives that attract birds, butterflies and bees. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was able to join in the celebration of the summer’s accomplishments at the August Second Saturday work party, where we gave out helmets for safety and locks and lights supplied by Mike’s Bikes of Berkeley.

    If you missed last week's webinar on gardening along rail-trails, you can still watch the recorded version and take a look at our new garden resource center.

    Photo by Steve Schweigerdt/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

  • Watch our Webinar: The Secrets to Gardens on Urban Pathways

    Last week, RTC hosted The Secrets to Gardens on Urban Pathways, a webinar that offered tips and advice on how to start and maintain community gardens along trails in urban areas. Presenter Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl of Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future was joined by Urban Tilth executive director Doria Robinson and Park Guthrie of Wildcat Farms. With trail garden experience in Richmond, Calif., and Washington, D.C., the panel offered their expertise and took questions from the audience. The webinar, embedded above, is available for replay. We also have a trail garden page in our Trail Building Toolbox available for use.

  • Support Team RTC on Climate Ride!

    September 21-25, Team RTC will pedal more than 300 miles on Brita Climate Ride California 2010. If you think it's too late to sign up and be ready for the ride yourself, you can still help support our efforts by donating to the team! Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is a beneficiary of the event, meaning your contributions will go directly toward making more trails accessible to as many Americans as possible. RTC's Milo Bateman will be riding as team captain, and you can donate directly to the team from his page.

    Climate Ride is a five-day, 300-mile, supported bicycle ride from Fortuna (near Eureka) to San Francisco-under towering redwoods, through the famed Russian River Wine Country, and along the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, one of the most scenic coastlines in the world. Climate Ride raises funds and awareness of the bicycle as part of the solution to the climate crisis, while team members enjoy a unique cycling adventure. The ride also features nightly speakers who focus on bicycle advocacy, climate change and a clean energy future.

    For the first two Climate Rides, participants cycled from New York down to Washington, D.C., culminating on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol. This year's ride is the first in California, and RTC has been a part of all three. "We're very excited about supporting RTC again this year as a beneficiary, and the goal of making rail-trails accessible to everyone," says Caeli Quinn, co-founder and director of Climate Ride. "Not only is it an epic adventure, but it's also a great way to support an organization you really believe in."

    Team RTC members and more than 100 other cyclists aim to raise awareness of bicycling as a viable, environmentally friendly form of everyday transportation. Help support their efforts with your tax-deductible donation today. Find out more at www.climateride.org.

    Photo courtesy of Climate Ride. 

  • Along with Innovative Trail Projects, Indianapolis Seeks to Increase Usership of Monon Trail

    While Indianapolis may not have the bike-friendly reputation of a city like Portland, Ore., this Midwestern capital has some groundbreaking initiatives under way that both support and expand the city's trail network.

    The most high-profile of these projects is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Looping around downtown, the Cultural Trail is a combination sidewalk and cycle track, providing a safe and easily identifiable route for cyclists and pedestrians to move around the heart of the city. These types of "street grid greenway" projects are on the rise; in Detroit, for example, construction has begun on the Midtown Loop Greenway, which also aims to connect destinations within a neighborhood. In addition to its role as a route around downtown, the Cultural Trail will act as a hub for the central Indiana greenway network by including a direct connection to, among other trails, the Monon Trail to the northern suburbs of Carmel and Westfield.

    While the Monon Trail has a sterling reputation among rail-trails, its southernmost section, spanning the three miles between the Cultural Trail and the Indiana State Fairgrounds, has not had the type of extensive usage seen farther north on the trail. Residents of the lower-income neighborhoods adjacent to this section of trail use it, yet many area residents incorrectly perceive this section of the trail to be dangerous. As IndyParks greenways manager Al Ensley tells us, while vandalism has been an issue, crime reports show that this part of the trail is no more dangerous than other areas. To promote trail usage through these neighborhoods, Ensley has been working to minimize opportunities for vandalism and support trail amenities that encourage usership. The video embedded above provides more details about how the city has been working to get more people out on the Monon Trail.

    Another exciting undertaking in Indianapolis is the Smart Growth Redevelopment District, which is planning sustainable development in the neighborhoods around the southern end of the Monon Trail. Selected as one of five Sustainable Communities Pilot Projects  by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the district offers an opportunity for a community-based approach to brownfield redevelopment. Part of the district's plans include converting a spur off the Monon Trail into a rail-trail, connecting the district with Brookside Park and Pogue's Run Trail via a five-mile loop system. Kaid Benfield of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a member of a national team convened by the American Institute of Architects to provide support and guidance to the project; he offers a glimpse into the project on the NRDC Switchboard blog (parts one, two and three).

    By combining new trail amenities, connections to downtown and the regional greenway network, and trail-oriented redevelopment of brownfield sites, Indianapolis is mixing all the right ingredients for a successful urban pathway.

    Note: The embedded video has been slightly edited from the one originally posted.


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