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March 2011 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Pass It On: A Rail-Trail Rescue in Maryland

    A few weeks ago, we received a letter from Jerry and Bobbi Klima, who had stopped for a rail-trail ride in Maryland on their long drive home from Florida to Massachusetts. Thanks in part to a kindred cycling spirit they met, the Klimas came home with wonderful memories of the trail and the communities supporting it. They agreed to let us share their words here, so enjoy their story! 

    February 14, 2011

    When we travel by car, we bring our bikes and use them to explore new places. In February, we were returning from Florida to our very snowy home in Massachusetts. We planned to spend an evening in Maryland and looked on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's TrailLink.com website for interesting rail-trails there. We chose the Indian Head Rail Trail, a 13-mile trail between Indian Head and White Plains in Maryland.

    The day dawned sunny and cold. We found the eastern end of the trail snow-covered and chose to walk a couple of miles along the trail through a beautiful forest, seeing a pair of bluebirds and a red-headed woodpecker, among others. We then drove to the end of the trail in Indian Head and found most of the snow had melted, so we took a bike ride along the trail, seeing three bald eagles and large flocks of geese, ducks and swans.

    We returned to our car for lunch, listening to radio coverage of the Egyptian uprising and hoping to hear President Obama speak. Unfortunately, we listened a bit too long and our battery died. Jerry got on his bike and went looking for help, stopping at the fire station and talking to a passerby. They recommended Charles County Auto Body a few miles down the road.

    When Jerry arrived and went inside carrying his helmet, Mike Jones, the owner, greeted him, saying, "Ah, a fellow biker, how are you doing today?" Jerry said that our day had started out great on his town's beautiful trail, but had gotten worse fast when we drained our battery. Mike produced a jumper battery pack and strapped it on Jerry's bike.

    Our day got much brighter when our car started right away. When we drove to the shop to return the battery, we learned that Mike is on the local trail committee. We told him that we are working on developing rail-trails in our hometown. Mike refused to take any payment, simply saying, "Pass it on." We certainly will! Bicycling and rail-trails bring out the best in people.

    By the way, the Indian Head Rail Trail is terrific. Don't miss it. And when you're in New England, don't miss our beautiful Coastal Trails Network in Salisbury, Newburyport, Newbury and Amesbury, Mass.

    Jerry and Bobbi Klima

  • Trail Voices: Michael Henderson

    Rail lines and six-lane commuter arteries slice across the Edgewood and Eckington neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. Just to the south, across a dangerous intersection, sits the NoMa business district. This formerly industrial area has received $1.5 billion of investment, including a new Metro station, offices, retail and a supermarket. At the southern edge of NoMa is Union Station.

    Michael Henderson has lived in Edgewood for nine years. To travel the two miles between his home and Union Station--a trip that can be made in 12 minutes by bike--Henderson would drive his car because he didn't have a safe, convenient way to get there.

    That trip is now a little easier after the opening of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Named for the rail corridor it parallels, the pathway soars over busy avenues and connects to neighborhood streets, offering a quick route for people to walk and bike between downtown and neighborhoods in Northeast D.C.

    Since the path opened, Henderson has taken his bike more often, sometimes four times a week, down the trail to Union Station. "I've never ridden my bike more," he says, "because there's never been a trail."

    In some ways, riding the trail is a return to childhood for Henderson. Growing up in Denver, Colo., he remembers biking three or four miles to school with his friends. Since moving to Washington, Henderson has tried to keep physical activity integrated with his daily routine. "I'm not someone who likes to go to the weight room," he says, "but I can get on my bike and ride." He adds with a laugh: "I coast a lot."

    But Henderson is worried that some of his neighbors aren't using the trail as much as they could. "There are tons of folks like me who understand the value of a trail...but there's certainly a significant number of people in Edgewood who have never used a trail," he says. "Inertia is our biggest obstacle here."

    The solution is reaching out to neighbors, through community celebrations, tree plantings, 5K races and good old face-to-face contact. "One by one, people will say, 'I guess that trail is real,'" Henderson says. Once they're out on the trail, "they love it...It will eventually meld into the culture of Edgewood."

    Now, when he bikes past a group of people walking on the trail, he often knows someone in that group, who introduces him to the rest of the party. "Turns out, it's a neighbor that lives a block away," he says. As his neighbors begin to use the trail more, Henderson wants them to take ownership and become stewards of the trail. "You've got to invest in it."

    Even as the trail has improved access for residents, there is still more to do. The only route to the Metro station at Rhode Island Avenue follows a narrow sidewalk underneath a dark railroad overpass, with six lanes of commuter traffic speeding past. Before the trail was built and fences were installed, many residents used a shortcut that crossed an active freight rail corridor.

    A pedestrian bridge between the trail and the station is being designed that will provide a direct, safe route for Edgewood residents connecting to transit. It will also introduce new people to the trail. "They will use that to access the Metro," Henderson says, "then they'll see where the trail continues...and they'll say, 'Oh! That's the way to get there.'"

  • Meet the Pedal Pushers!

    This spring, Team RTC will once again be riding as part of Brita Climate Ride. The five-day, 300-mile bicycle journey from New York to Washington, D.C., raises money and awareness for sustainable energy solutions--including promoting bicycling as an important alternative mode of transportation.

    For the third year, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been named a beneficiary of the event, meaning a portion of funds raised through Climate Ride will go directly to benefit our trail-building work. But the rules are a little different this year. Now, participants who sign up can directly choose the organization they wish to support with their fundraising dollars.

    Two weeks ago, we heard from two women in Philadelphia--Steph Rio and Sara Lanious--who had signed up to ride and raise money for us. They hadn't heard of RTC before registering for Climate Ride, and they were looking for more background on our work. Honored that they chose us, we wanted to learn more about them and what attracted them to ride and help promote RTC. They're riding as a team, and together they make up the Pedal Pushers!

    Steph Rio
    Steph RioI grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago. Biking has taken many forms for me throughout my life. I'm 26 now, and some of my earliest memories growing up were sitting in the seat of my parents' bikes as they rode on the Illinois Prairie Path, and picking up yellow smiley-face cookies as a treat from the local bakery. I went to the University of Vermont (UVM) and graduated with a degree in Elementary Education. After that, I volunteered for AmeriCorps through a mentoring program in Steamboat Springs, Colo. While living in Vermont and Colorado, I discovered a new love of recreational mountain biking. Then, in 2008 I moved to Philadelphia to work with inner-city youth through Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA. I continue to tackle the challenges of city biking, which is a new adventure for me. My inspiration to participate in Climate Ride came from my college friend Emily, who completed the ride in 2009. After hearing Emily's amazing stories, I knew I had to get involved.

    Sara Lanious
    ISara Lanious'm a 28-year-old interior designer who has never taken on a 300-mile bike ride--or ever thought I would. I'm the youngest of four kids and grew up all over the world because my dad was an army officer who served from the time I was a toddler. I attended the University of Kansas, where I learned the importance of college basketball ... and also earned a BFA in Interior Design. I was looking for adventure and moved to Philadelphia after graduation to begin my career. Shortly after moving, I got rid of my trusty Ford Escort and invested in my first bike since I was 12; I've been living a carbon-reduced life for the last four years. It is glorious! My initial interest in Climate Ride was the physical challenge, being able to see the northeast countryside and have a good story to look back on.


    We met at the end of 2010, and Steph was soon talking about doing Climate Ride. We both wanted to do something active, meaningful and fun with our time off work, so we decided to take the plunge and sign up for the ride as a team. We spent a good half-hour figuring out what our team name would be and finally decided on Pedal Pushers.

    Pedal PushersWhen you sign up for Climate Ride, you have the option to choose an organization for which to raise money. We felt it was important to choose an organization that was transparent about its mission and worked to support healthy living and awareness of the environment. Neither of us had ever heard of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), but we were impressed with their mission, and they've shown solid progress during their 25 years of work. 

    So far, we are following the recommended training schedule that Climate Ride compiled on their website. It includes a variety of cardio, strength training and yoga. It's only the beginning of March and already we've seen a huge increase in gym activity (and soreness)! We are looking forward to the longer rides up to places like Valley Forge, which is part of Climate Rides route.

    In order to participate, Pedal Pushers has to raise $4,800, which will be donated directly to RTC! Currently, we are hovering around 18 percent of our goal, which is really exciting. With the help of some local bars in Philly, Pedal Pushers will be hosting two events to raise money and awareness. We have also started a blog so supporters can follow our fundraising and training progress. We are three weeks into the training schedule and looking forward to those warmer days when we can ride the Schuylkill River Trail. It's our backyard trail, but we only recently discovered that it's a rail-trail!

    We need the help of community members who already believe in the impact of RTC to build further awareness about their mission. Please consider supporting us in our efforts to raise $4,800 dollars to give this great organization!

    To donate, please go to tinyurl.com/pedalpushers2011. And if you'd like more information on the Pedal Pushers and their fundraising efforts, keep up with our progress at pedalpushers2011.blogspot.com.

    Photos courtesy of Sara Lanious and Steph Rio. 

  • From Polio to a Passion for Cycling

    For each issue of Rails to Trails, the official magazine of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we invite our readers to submit a short essay in response to a specific question in our "Trail Tales" department. We then publish one of the responses in the next magazine issue.

    For the Spring/Summer 2011 issue, we received our most responses yet to "Trail Tales," and we ended up choosing an inspiring story from Margaret M. Frey of Sun City, Ariz.. Enjoy her essay below!

    What did you love most about cycling when you were a kid?

    I dreamed of riding a bicycle as a child, but physical limitations from polio held me back. My brothers and sisters zoomed around on bikes, yet I could only watch. 

    For a family of 14, our two to three bicycles were in high demand. However, one day I did pick up an old Schwinn that lay on its side. At 12 years old, I began my pursuit to ride. In those days, there was no such thing as adjusting seat height-and it was high. I wore a brace on my weakened right leg, so the effort would come from my left side.

    I found a high spot in the yard which became my take-off point. The slight downhill grade proved helpful. I practiced and fell, got on again and fell. Day after day, I attempted to sail through the streets as others did. Then it happened! I was up! I stayed up!

    At 20 years old, my first paycheck bought me a new Schwinn 10-speed. At 40, a Trek was my dream bike. At 60, I received a retirement gift of a Gary Fisher comfort bicycle and all the gear. My husband and I travel and camp. We have ridden many roads and trails throughout the Western states. The rail-trail movement has provided us grand opportunities for sharing and solitude.

    We now live in Sun City, where bicycling is a means of transportation. We eliminated one car. My endurance for walking has decreased (a fold-up cane fits nicely on a bike), but my passion for cycling still grows. For that I am thankful. 

    Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Frey.

  • Do You Count? Join Our Webinar Next Week

    Do You Count? Using Trail Counts Effectively
    Wednesday, March 30, 2011, 1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. EST
    Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now!

    As the adage goes, "You can't manage what you don't measure." This rule is especially true for trails, which host a wide variety of transportation and recreation users. Learn how nonprofits, governments and the private sector are using trail counts to better understand bicycle and pedestrian behavior, and how these resources can assist your pathway. We will discuss counter technology, volunteer management, using trail counts to conduct economic impact studies and the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project.

    See which types of options are available for your trail and ask questions of the panel. We look forward to your participation! 

    Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now!


    • Jennifer Donlon, Alta Planning + Design 
    • Mel Huie, Oregon Metro Regional Government 
    • Eric Oberg, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy 
    • David Patton, Arlington County, Virginia

    Read biographies of the webinar presenters (PDF).

  • Connecting Cyclists to Trails: Portland's 50's Bikeway

    By Ruby Brunk

    Work is scheduled to begin in early 2012 on an important piece of Portland, Oregon's 1996 Bicycle Master Plan. Funded through a $1.5 million federal grant with an 11-percent city of Portland matching grant, the 50’s Bikeway will run 4.5 miles north-south along Portland’s east side, providing an important link to the Springwater Corridor.

    A celebrated rail-trail running east-west from Boring to downtown Portland, the Springwater Corridor connects to the north-south Eastbank Esplanade along the banks of the Willamette River. The 50’s Bikeway will improve north-south access to the rail-trail by adding bike lanes, street crossings and signage from Rose City Park to the Woodstock neighborhood, where it will connect to the Springwater Corridor through existing bike lanes.

    Portland’s new Bicycle Plan for 2030 targets the expansion of bicycle infrastructure from 630 miles by 2016 to 962 miles by 2030. Projects like the 50’s Bikeway show that the city is also working to connect on-street infrastructure to trails to form the backbone of the city's bike network. Portland isn't alone in using its on-street bicycle network to better connect its residents to trails. We've reported before on a temporary complete street in Memphis connecting to the Shelby Farms Greenline, and the role cycle tracks can play in connecting cyclists arriving by trail to their destinations across downtown Washington, D.C.

    Map: The 50's Bikeway (pink) will connect with the Springwater Corridor (red).
  • Helping the Homeless with Bicycling

    By Ruby Brunk

    As our nation warms to the environmental, health, safety and economic benefits of bicycling, more and more people are choosing to hop on a bike to get where they're going. But for those who don’t have cars and struggle to afford public transportation, biking is not a choice but a necessity.

    A number of organizations exist with the purpose of assisting those who need it most with this mode of transportation.

    Many groups that assist the homeless refer to those who need their services as "clients." The Community Bicycle Project in Goshen, Ind., bridges the gap between volunteer and client, requiring that clients work for an hour or more in the shop to get a bicycle. Many clients end up as long-term volunteers. Good Karma Bikes in San Jose, Calif., goes a step further with their Certified Bicycle Mechanic job skills training, a program for clients-turned-volunteers. Good Karma founder Jim Gardner counts the personal empowerment he sees in his clients when they learn how to fix something as his greatest reward.

    In PortlandOre., The Community Cycling Center’s Create a Commuter program uses the help of volunteers to provide fully outfitted commuter bikes and bike safety workshops to low-income adults. Wrench Raiders, also in Portland, brings its services directly to the homeless, setting up shop under bridges, and in the downtown area.

    The Community Cycling Center maintains that "bicycles are a tool for empowerment and a vehicle for change." Indeed, these organizations are doing more than just providing bikes; they’re building community and empowering the individuals they serve.

    Photo: Wrench Raiders at work, courtesy BikePortland.org

  • Urban Pathways to Water Quality and Flood Protection

    Volnteers put in native plants on MLK Day - courtesy The Watershed Project

    The Richmond Greenway in the San Francsico Bay Area is demonstrating how urban pathways can be multi-purpose--critical not only for transportation, but also as a place to treat storm runoff, prevent flooding of nearby properties, enhance habitat and provide green space. In addition to the community gardens Urban Tilth is building, The Watershed Project is constructing the Richmond Greenway Bioswale Project, located between 6th Street and 8th Street along the three-mile greenway. The bioswale was designed to serve as a demonstration project, showing how Low Impact Development (LID) management practices can be used to capture and treat stormwater using natural landscaping to model nature.

    According to Matt Freiberg, the project manager:

    "The bioswale is designed to capture and filter stormwater from the immediate neighborhood, reducing the impacts of urban runoff from the area. We amended the site's soil by replacing the dense clay soil with more pervious sandy soil to increase the lands capacity to absorb water. We also designed the channel to meander like a real river would. This provides a natural aesthetic that enhances the beauty of the site and slows water during large flow events, increasing the residence time of the water, allowing for greater filtration and infiltration of the water. Lastly, we incorporated native plants that attract beneficial insect and bird species as well as break up the soil allowing water to drain deeper into the soil. The overall design maximizes infiltration to keep water on site in the soil rather than flooding the site, and allows the soil bacteria opportunity to literally eat the organic pollutants that would normally run off into the bay."

    The project will include posting a number of interpretive signs, providing an opportunity for the public to learn about native plants, how a bioswale works and the site's history. The bioswale engages the community as the Watershed Project hosts monthly workdays where people can help continue to plant new native vegetation, weed invasive species, beautify the site and learn about the impact of this project and how similar projects can be replicated throughout the community. "We also want to engage the community so they feel a sense of ownership of the site and are motivated to become stewards of their community environment for years to come," says Freiberg. 

    Photo: Volunteers plant native plants on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, courtesy The Watershed Project

  • A Bicycle is Worth a Thousand Words

    What does your bicycle say about you? Does it reflect your personality or the way you live your life? Two South African bicycle enthusiasts, Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler, may have some ideas about this form of expression. Englebrecht and Grobler are traveling around South Africa and photographing people with their bicycles as they go about their day-to-day lives. Bicycle Portraits invites viewers to observe moments in the lives and surroundings of South Africans, and to get to know a little bit about each person.

    Englebrecht and Grobler’s ultimate goal of the Bicycle Portraits project is to bring awareness to the possibilities of using bicycles as a primary form of transportation. They noticed that their country lacks reliable public transportation, and while they had embraced bicycles as a solution to their own needs, others were not as enthusiastic. They plan to publish a book of their portraits and put a portion of the proceeds toward resources and training for underprivileged South Africans to have access to bicycles. They hope their efforts will empower their fellow citizens with reliable independent transportation.

    Photos courtesy of Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler

  • Webinar: Promoting Equity in the Next Federal Transportation Bill

    As the White House and Congress jumpstart a dialogue about the next federal surface transportation bill, the Equity Caucus at Transportation for America invites you to join them on Friday, March 18, from 1 to 2 p.m. EST for a webinar focused on how we can expand mobility and opportunity for all Americans, including low-income populations and communities of color, through smart and equitable transportation investments.

    The Bus to the Capitol: Promoting Equity in the Next Federal Transportation Bill will feature:

    • Roy Kienitz, Undersecretary of Policy, U.S. Department of Transportation
    • Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
    • James Corless, Director, Transportation for America
    • Radhika Fox, Federal Policy Director, PolicyLink (Moderator)

    Join the webinar to:

    • Hear about the Obama Administration’s blueprint for the transportation bill
    • Get an update on Congressional activity on transportation
    • Learn how to get engaged in advocacy for a transportation bill that creates strong, healthy communities of opportunity

    We hope you’ll join us. Register today!

    Also, please stay tuned for future webinars hosted by the Equity Caucus at Transportation for America.

    The Equity Caucus at Transportation for America--formed by the nation’s leading civil rights, community development, racial justice, economic justice, faith-based, health, housing, labor, environmental justice, tribal, public interest, women’s and transportation organizations--drives transportation policies that advance economic and social equity in America. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a member of the Equity Caucus.


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