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January 2012 - RTC TrailBlog

  • RTC's New Report Challenges Long-Held Assumptions About Walking and Biking in Rural America

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) this morning released a groundbreaking report that for the first time challenges long-held assumptions about active transportation--walking and biking--in America's small towns and rural communities.

    Here at RTC we are constantly hearing stories about the importance of walking and biking outside the typical urban centers. Whether it's the economic impact of a tourist destination trail network, or the vital importance of transportation options in population centers without significant public transit, walking and biking are truly woven into the fabric of rural life.

    Yet there has long been an assumption that walking and biking are strictly "big city" phenomena--and that rural Americans can't benefit substantially from investment in bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. It is an assumption a number of elected officials--including many who represent rural areas-  have used to argue against spending money on sidewalks, bike paths and trails in their communities.

    But RTC's important new analysis tells a much different story.

    Active Transportation Beyond Urban Centers: Walking and Bicycling in Small Towns and Rural America, released today and produced by RTC with support from SRAM and Bikes Belong, reveals the surprising prevalence of walking and bicycling in rural communities of all sizes.   

    In these smaller communities--from Idaho to Mississippi, Wisconsin to Wyoming--the rates of walking and bicycling are often comparable to what you find in large cities. In some cases, the rates are higher.

    For example, the share of work trips made by bicycle in some small towns (population 2,500 to 10,000) is nearly double that found in urban centers.

    "In the past, such studies have divided America into binary categories of either urban or rural," says Tracy Hadden Loh, RTC's research manager and co-author of Beyond Urban Centers. "That split paints an inaccurate picture of the travel patterns of millions of people."

    By recognizing the key distinctions between categories of rural and urban communities, Beyond Urban Centers presents a more complete picture of how Americans move every day. Some key findings include:

    • Among a list of transportation priorities-­including major roads and long-distance travel-rural Americans selected sidewalks more often than any other transportation need. Almost nine in 10 also cited the importance of pedestrian-friendly communities, and nearly three out of four reported that bike lanes are important.
    • The share of work trips made by bicycle in small towns is nearly double that of urban centers. Among all trips taken in rural towns of between 10,000 and 50,000 residents, just as many people bike as in the urban core. Within small towns of 2,500 to 10,000 residents, people walk for work purposes at a rate almost identical to Urban Core communities.
    • Biking, walking and trail infrastructure projects create more jobs per dollar than highway projects.

    The findings come at a crucial time for rural populations. With the United States Congress currently considering the reauthorization of a multi-year surface transportation bill, ignoring the demand for active transportation options-such as walking and biking-in small towns and rural areas would severely impact the economic, social, individual and environmental health of these communities.

    At the report's launch in downtown Washington, D.C.--hosted by the National Association of Realtors--representatives of both the bike and real estate industries gave their testimony about the great importance walking and biking infrastructure has on house sales, the survival of small businesses and the economic engine of the main street retail and housing sector in rural America.

    Beyond Urban Centers underscores that the federal government has played a critical role in enabling walking and biking in rural areas through programs such as Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School. Continued federal investment in active transportation infrastructure is cost-effective and essential to a balanced transportation system that meets the needs of all Americans. Contrary to preconceptions, those needs are at least as critical in small town America as in larger cities.

    "Small communities need safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities just as much as big cities," says Kevin Mills, RTC's vice president of policy and trail development, and Beyond Urban Centers co-author. "To meet this need, Transportation Enhancements, the nation's top source for active transportation investment, has provided twice the funding per capita in rural America than in big cities."

    To learn the role biking and walking have played in your community, explore an interactive online tool at www.railstotrails.org/beyondurbancenters. You can search the map to reveal bicycle infrastructure in your area, local stories of active transportation, county health data, congressional districts and bicycle and pedestrian fatalities.

  • Chicago Heights Breaks Through on Key Section of Old Plank Road Trail

    The saying "anything worthwhile is worth waiting for" may well have been coined by a rail-trail builder. As America's growing community of trail supporters, volunteers, planners and managers can attest to, trails projects often take time. The complex legal, financial and political issues surrounding land ownership and conversion have seen some trails projects take 20 years or more, from vision to fruition.

    About 30 miles south of Chicago, in Cook County, Ill., trail advocates are this week celebrating a breakthrough moment in the long-awaited development of the Old Plank Road Trail.

    The initial sections of the Old Plank were built in 1997, along the out-of-service Michigan Central Rail Road line. It has since become part of a larger trail known as the Grand Illinois Trail, looping 500 miles through northern Illinois between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

    Like many longer trails systems, however, the Grand Illinois Trail has been plagued by a number of missing links--sections of the route without a dedicated non-motorized pathway, where riders and hikers are forced to use road or sidewalk. Over the years, these missing links have been filled in as money and planning allowed.

    However, none was more tricky than a short section of less than a mile through the city of Chicago Heights. For the last decade, a continual series of efforts failed to bring about a non-motorized trail along a .8-mile stretch that would have extended the Old Plank Road Trail from where it abruptly ended at Western Avenue, east to an extensive trail system at Thorn Creek and, eventually, to Indiana and the Chicago lakefront via the Pennsy Greenway and Burnham Greenway Trail.

    Finally, the end is in sight, with the news this month that the city of Chicago Heights has signed off on a preliminary engineering report for a multi-use trail across the missing link, an event that supporters are describing as an "all systems go" announcement.

    As advocates note, it took the terms of four Chicago Height mayors to reach this point. Current Mayor David Gonzalez's commitment to the project continued the momentum generated by his predecessor, Alex Lopez, and Alderman Willie White. Both Lopez and White have since passed away. The completion of the Old Plank Road Trail will be just part of both men's significant legacy.

    A federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant paid for an Active Transportation Plan for the community, creating widespread acknowledgment of the need for more biking and walking infrastructure in the area. Design costs and the budget for construction have been secured by a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, recognition of trails' tremendous value not only as recreational amenities but also vital transportation solutions in urban areas.

    A community working bee late last year in a park at Thorn Creek (right), which was attended by Mayor Gonzalez, was seen by locals as a key moment in galvanizing community energy for the project.

    "Connecting communities is where trails meet the 'triple bottom line' - economic impact, environmental stewardship, and health and wellness," says Steve Buchtel, executive director of Trails for Illinois. "Connecting this historic city to the region's trail network enhances nearly every initiative the city is undertaking, including community wellness programs, bike and pedestrian planning, and a new downtown transit center."

    Despite the project looking decidedly like a "no-brainer," Buchtel is conscious that behind every champagne cork moment like this is a core of dedicated people who kept pushing even when there was barely a light at the end of the tunnel. He made special mention of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the National Parks Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation program for continuing to support the project even as it fell in and out of political favor.

    "They were stalwart advocates to finish this trail, even as at those times when the city was difficult to work with," he says. "They showed patience and perseverance, making their case and waiting for the leadership in Chicago Heights to start connecting the trail's benefits with their residents' needs."

    Opposition to the trail came in part from residents who believed that a pathway through the historically poor neighborhood on the south side of Chicago Heights would encourage additional criminal activity in the area. It is a refrain familiar to urban trail proponents. In cities across the country, countless trail projects have been held up by the unfounded concerns that opening up depressed, underserved sections of the city will present a public safety hazard to trail users and neighborhoods nearby.

    Yet time and time again, the opposite occurs. Increased foot traffic and community activity has been shown to decrease crime and delinquency, and as trail users, local residents and businesses develop "ownership" of the trail, improvement projects and maintenance transform neglected areas with gardens, parks, murals, orchards and markets.

    As a local resident, Diane Banta, who works for the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program, has tremendous enthusiasm for what the completed trail will bring to the people of Chicago Heights, and the broader region.

    "It will serve an incredibly important public health purpose by encouraging walking and biking, and it will provide the connectivity that all communities these days are striving for," Banta says. "Not only that, but it makes Chicago Heights the hub of all this trails activity. It's really very exciting."

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is excited to be a part of this transformation. This year we will be using funds from our Metropolitan Grants Program, funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation, to install a number of benches along the trail and help with the establishment of a trailside garden.

    Photo of working bee at Thorn Creek courtesy of Diane Banta.
    Photo of Old Plank Road Trail by RTC.
    Map courtesy of dnr.state.il.us

     

  • Kansas City Passes Resolution for Bike-Share Program

    Just moments ago, Kansas City, Mo., took a giant leap toward a healthy, vibrant and economically sustainable future by passing a resolution to permit the establishment of a bike-share program this year.

    Since the first large-scale bike-share programs were rolled out in Washington D.C., Denver, Co., and Minneapolis, Minn., they have been wildly popular with users and helped alleviate the congestion concerns typical to most big cities. Kansas City now joins a growing list of municipalities that recognize when it comes to solving pressing connectivity and health issues, active transportation - walking and biking - is pure genius, for all its simplicity.

    BikeWalkKC is partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City to establish the bike-share service, which will be known as BikeShareKC. The two groups will drive development of BikeShareKC by enlisting other leaders in the business community to commit to sponsorships, advertising deals and augmenting employee wellness by subsidizing memberships. They hope to have 20 bike stations and 200 bikes in place in and around the downtown Kansas City area by summer 2012.

    The resolution passed by the city council today recognized that "studies have found that Bike Sharing Programs significantly improve public health, encouraging large numbers of participants to use bicycles as part of their daily use and increasing physical activity," and "a bike sharing program would greatly benefit the growing Kansas City tourism industry by allowing tourists to easily and economically get around to the City's different attractions."

    There was a double dose of good news for the people and businesses of Kansas City this afternoon - the same resolution also commits the city to increase its bicycle lane network.

    The BikeShareKC bikes and kiosks will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nine months out of the year. Like many existing bike-share systems, the stations will have a smart phone application that will allow riders to find out about bike and station availability in real time.

    A little more unique is the tracker that will allow riders to see how far they've ridden, how many calories they've burned and the carbon dioxide savings they've made.

    A BikeShareKC annual membership will cost approximately $60. This yearly membership fee permits participants an unlimited number of 30- to 45-minute trips. For longer trips, members will be charged a small, graduated usage fee. Daily and weekly memberships will also be available for those who wish to use the system less frequently.

    The BikeShareKC system will be designed to serve as a solution to the final leg of trips for those who use public transportation.

    "BikeShareKC will bridge the awkward distances that are too far to walk but too short to drive," says BikeWalkKC Executive Director Eric Rogers. "It will also expand the reach of the transit system by providing new options for the 'last mile'. And it will help clear the air while giving Kansas Citians a new option for being healthy and active."

    Congratulations, Kansas City!

    Photos of excited locals checking out the BikeShareKC demo station courtesy of BikeWalkKC.

  • "Real Power" - Climate Ride Both an Adventure and a Potent Tool for Change

    It was truly stirring stuff, being in Washington, D.C., to cheer on the more than 150 Climate Riders as they pulled into the nation's capital at the end of their amazing ride from New York City last May.

    Visually, it was a spectacular thing to behold - the traffic stopped, the police escort past the United States Capitol Building, all those bikes, the collective soul of the group that had shared so much during the previous five days and 300 miles. Before, they were strangers, but by the end they were friends united by the trip and their shared interest in making a positive contribution to the Earth.

    Think you might be ready for a mission like this? Then sign up to ride with Team Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) for the 2012 edition of Climate Ride - N.Y.C to D.C!

    The words of Bill McKibben, as he addressed the Climate Riders at the journey's end last year, impressed upon everyone the true magnitude of what these riders had achieved.

    "You guys felt real power over the last five days," said McKibben, fellow Climate Rider and author, who as the founder of 350.org is working toward promoting alternatives to fossil fuel consumption. "There is something really powerful, not just about riding 300 miles, which is good, but about riding 300 miles together, which is really, really something."

    With the symbol of America's political institution, the Capitol Building, looming in the background, McKibben told the crowd that the simple act of riding a bike was a potent tool for positive change, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels for transportation and improving the health of all Americans.

    "Bicycles are powerful," he said. "They're part of the solution the world over. The bicycle is one of the few things that both rich and poor people can use, that makes as much sense in the global south as it does in the global north."

    As RTC's President Keith Laughlin noted on the day, the growing popularity of Climate Ride is part of "a cultural shift, to something new and exciting and different, and the bicycle and walking is at the center of it."

    As I interviewed some of the riders after the event, the elation and satisfaction they felt was palatable, and the sense of achievement contagious. By adding their body to this very visual, active demonstration of the joys of riding, they had said something worthwhile and raised vital funds for organizations focused on sustainability, green jobs, clean energy, climate education and bicycle advocacy. Last year, riders who rode with Team RTC and pledged their Climate Ride fundraising to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy raised more than $30,000 to support our work developing trails and active transportation infrastructure across America.

    This fully supported ride is a great opportunity to learn more about sustainability and the green energy future from expert speakers, and network with others who are passionate about renewable energy and innovations. Most importantly, it's your chance to take action, all while experiencing an exciting cycling adventure through some of the nation's most beautiful countryside.

    If you are interested in taking part in Climate Ride 2012 as a member of Team RTC, email Karl Wirsing at karl@railstotrails.org

    Photos by RTC

  • With Winter Here, Rail-Trails Welcome Different Uses

    Although in some parts of America, January is the time when bikes and hiking boots are put away in closets and garages, in other parts of the country it heralds the beginning of an altogether different season--a time to pull out the skis, snowshoes and sleds.

    Many states saw their first heavy snowfalls of the season this past weekend, great news for those who use their local rail-trail as a route for cross-country skiing, a snowmobile avenue or even a race track for their huskie teams!

    In Washington, snowfalls this weekend meant supporters of the Ferry County Rail Trail (pictured, right) commenced their ski grooming program for sections of the trail that pass through the Curlew Lake area. Skiing is a popular activity on the trail this time of year, and while walking and snowshoeing are still encouraged, people are urged not to walk in tracks specially groomed for skis. The grooming is approved by the local county commission and funded by donations to the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners.

    ­In Southington, Conn., the town council recently endorsed a plan to leave part of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail unplowed this winterto provide trail-use opportunities for skiers.

    North of the border, the Slocan Valley Heritage Trail Society, which supports the Slocan Valley Rail Trail near the town of Nelson, in British Columbia, is getting ready to host its eighth annual ski and snowshoe day on the trail, January 29. This popular event started as a way to encourage locals to discover new scenic locations on the trail but has grown into a friendly social gathering, with a diverse community get-together around a toasty bonfire. All winter long, trail society volunteers have been grooming and track-setting the entire 31-mile length of the trail.

    As the palette of our landscape turns from green and brown to white, rail-trails from New Hampshire to Idaho and Oregon are welcoming a new season of users. If you haven't made a winter trip along your favorite trail, give it a try! Contact your local trail organization or recreation group for scheduled outings.

    Photo courtesy of Ferry County Rail Trail Partners.

  • Richmond, Calif., Shows the Love to Popular Community Greenway

    Some 375 volunteers brought some TLC to the Richmond Greenway in Richmond, Calif., on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week, joining communities across the country hosting volunteer events to honor a man whose generous spirit continues to inspire Americans.

    Community groups and energetic individuals got their hands dirty maintaining the popular greenway, pulling out weeds, collecting seeds and replanting garden beds.

    But in addition to regular upkeep, this year's event created some new project areas around the Richmond Greenway. Urban Tilth, a nonprofit organization that promotes community agriculture in west Contra Costa County, started planting its Edible Forest in a disused area on 16th Street. Gompers Garden, a remarkable revitalization project of Gompers High School, built raised beds for their new garden area. And The Watershed Project continued the development of its bioswale, a landscaping feature designed to remove silt and pollution from surface water runoff, applying sheet mulching and planting a number of native plants.

    "Last year we brought out 750 native plants and ran out after the first hour," says Matt Frieberg from The Watershed Council. "So this year I brought out 2,000. And it looks like the volunteers rose to the challenge!"

    The volunteer event had a lively festival feel, with food, music, tents and a Kids Zone with farm animals and biodegradable pots for youngsters to decorate and plant with a winter vegetable.

    Richmond Spokes, a local bike shop, was there fixing bikes with their mobile Spokeshop. It was great to see the Spokeshop in action--RTC helped launch Spokeshop through our Metropolitan Grants Program, funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation. This grant program has supported the tremendous work of community groups across America, and Gompers Garden and Urban Tilth will soon receive grants courtesy of The Coca-Cola Foundation and RTC for expansion of their garden areas.

    If you live in the area but missed out on the MLK Day event, you can still get involved in volunteer projects around the Richmond Greenway through The Watershed Project's Second Saturday work days.

    Congratulations to the many volunteers across America who marked MLK Day by making a positive contribution to their community.

    Photos by RTC.

     

  • A Great Moment for Trails as Deal Struck for Connection in New York

    Just a few weeks ago, we posted a story to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) TrailBlog about the imminient completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail in New York, one of the final acts in office of outgoing Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus.

    The completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail was set to draw attention once again to the possibility of connecting the Dutchess to the remarkable Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, and on to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail on the opposite side of the Hudson River.

    Though the Dutchess is separated from the Walkway Over the Hudson by just one mile of disused rail corridor, the cost and complexity of negotiating a land deal with CSX Transportation Corp., which owns the disused corridor, had drained many supporters of any optimism that the link would happen.

    Not Steinhaus, however.

    "I believe there will be a meeting of the minds sometime next year that will finally allow for the acquisition of that final piece of property and the linkage between the [Dutchess Rail Trail] and the Walkway to become a reality," Steinhaus told the Poughkeepsie Journal at the time.

    They turned out to be words of great prophecy. Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., stood at a podium set up at the Walkway's eastern gate to announce a deal had been struck to purchase the land from CSX for the creation of a rail-trail.

    The announcement of a deal to purchase the relatively small section, in the city of Poughkeepsie near College Hill Park, makes real what has long been a dream of trails advocates, business people and residents - a complete trail system from Hopewell Junction to the town of Lloyd, taking in some of the region's most scenic landscape and communities.

    CSX has agreed to sell the eight-tenths of a mile stretch to Walkway Over the Hudson, a non-profit organization, for $1.15 million. The Dyson Foundation will provide $500,000, with $600,000 having been raised through recreational and environmental grants. CSX will donate $100,000 as a credit at closing. Preliminary work on the connection is expected to begin soon.

    It is expected that the completed trail system will provide an enormous boost for tourism and economic development in the Poughkeepsie and Highland areas.

    Since the Walkway opened in October 2009, it has drawn more than 1.2 million visitors and pumped more than $30 million into the local economy.

    RTC's own Karl Wirsing visited the area last year, and says the new connection will further enhance the great benefits of the existing trails, for visitors as well as locals.

    "The view from the Walkway Over the Hudson really is spectacular, and the whole trail system there is a huge draw," he says. "When the connection is complete, it will make for an incredibly scenic trail adventure. The river, the hamlets and towns, the scenary - it's a wonderful place to explore. And all this within 70 or 80 miles of New York City."

    RTC offers its heartiest congratulations to all the community groups and individuals who have worked so hard over the years bringing this tremendous vision to fruition.

    Photos courtesy of the Poughkeepsie Journal

     

  • Ahead Of The Curve, Tom Murphy a Key Trailblazer in Pennsylvania

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we recognize the legacy of Tom Murphy, one of the first mayors in the nation to recognize the economic value of trails to developing cities.

    For the last 30 years, Tom Murphy has been a highly active and influential supporter of rail-trails. As an elected official, his promotion of trails and urban green space has transformed the landscape of Pittsburgh and helped make Pennsylvania one of the nation's most trail-friendly states. From 1979 through 1993 Murphy served eight terms in the Pennsylvania State General Assembly House of Representatives. The legislation Murphy authored during this time to encourage industrial land reuse and transform unused railroad rights-of-way into trails and greenspace went a long way toward building a sustainable economy around trails tourism and outdoor recreation.

    Murphy led the passage of the Pennsylvania Rail Trail Act in 1989, as well as the state's purchase of what is now the 64-mile Pine Creek Rail-Trail. He went on to serve three terms as mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2005. During this time, he oversaw the development of more than 20 miles of new riverfront trails and urban green space, and he developed strategic partnerships to transform more than 1,000 acres of blighted, unused industrial properties into new commercial, residential, retail and public uses. Murphy's legacy in Pittsburgh is evident today in the Three Rivers Heritage Trail System, which attracts millions of recreational and commuter users.

    "Tom understood what trails and biking could do for the city, at a time when nobody was talking about it," says RTC's Tom Sexton. "Beyond his role in Pittsburgh, Tom was a cheerleader for trails right throughout the southwest part of the state. Now that we have all these great trails, people forget there was a time when people weren't interested in this stuff. But Tom was a visionary; he was out on the stump."

    Murphy dedicated the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant awarded in his honor to Friends of the Riverfront, which has worked for 20 years to reclaim Pittsburgh's riverfronts for public access and recreational use.

    Photo of Tom Murphy at RTC's 25th Anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C. by Laura Cohen/RTC.

  • Rail-Trails Help Power a Ride to Honor America's Veterans

    The rail-trails of Ohio will host a remarkable long-distance ride later this year, when Todd Reigle and the Honor Ride Ohio team pedal from Sylvania, on the Michigan border, all the way to Cincinnati to raise money to support our military veterans.

    The goal of Honor Ride Ohio is to raise more than $100,000 for Honor Flight Columbus, Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial, Wounded Warrior Project, Ohio Warrior Scholarship Fund, Hidden Scars Foundation and the Ohio Combat Veterans--community organizations that provide support to returning servicemen and women.

    Reigle, a native Ohioan with a strong interest in America's military history and the sacrifices made by his family, and others, in active service, was inspired to organize the ride by the success of similar fundraising efforts.

    "Honor Ride Ohio has been in my mind for a few years," Reigle says. "I participated in Pelotonia, the bike ride for *** cancer awareness, and that kind of got me interested in riding bikes. I'd been thinking of something we could do where we could raise money to help these grassroots organizations that deal with taking care of the vets, but that also have to raise money to make sure that the services are provided."

    Reigle will be joined on the five-day journey by a number of active and retired soldiers, and the group will make stops in Lima, Kenton, Sunbury, Columbus, Dayton and other communities on their way to Cincinnati.

    "The best thing about this is that 100 percent of donations will go directly to these organizations," Reigle says. "My goal is to go out and get donations for everything we need for the ride, so there are no other expenses."

    Eric Oberg, manager of trail development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Midwest Regional Office, has been working with Reigle and the Honor Ride Ohio crew on plotting a safe, and fun, route across the state. "Ohio has so many great rail-trails," Oberg says. "They are perfect for a long ride like this, as they're relatively flat, travel fairly directly between communities, and are scenic and peaceful, too." 

    Oberg hopes Honor Ride Ohio will be able to travel a number of rail-trails in central Ohio, including the Olentangy Greenway Trail, Camp Chase Rail Trail, Roberts Pass Trail and the Prairie Grass Trail. The riders will utilize RTC's trail-finder website, TrailLink.com, for accurate, up-to-date information on the best way to get from A to B.

    For more information on Honor Ride Ohio, visit toddsride.com, or visit todd.reigle@radiohio.com.

    Photo of the Roberts Pass Trail courtesy of TrailLink.com.

  • Sally Jacobs Heralded for Building a Landscape of Biking and Walking in the Northeast

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to Sally Jacobs, whose promotion of options for walking and biking made her a powerful champion of active transportation in the Northeast.

    Born in New York City and transplanted to the Black Hills of South Dakota as a teenager, Sally Jacobs spent a number of years in northern Colorado and Iowa before settling in Orono, Maine.

    Her diversity of experiences in America's urban and rural areas was the perfect background for the many decades she has since spent as an advocate for reshaping community landscapes to better serve riding and walking.

    After a long and successful career in bio­chemistry, Jacobs was tapped in 1975 to chair a newly formed bicycle safety committee in Orono. One of her first actions in what would become a second career was securing grant funding from the Federal Highway Bikeway Demonstration Program to build bike lanes in Orono, and the first off-road paved bike path in Maine. The five-mile bike path connected Orono, Old Town and the University of Maine campus with sections of an old railbed.

    Jacobs went on to become founding president of the Sunrise Trail Coalition, a position she held for 12 years. She has served on the Maine Depart­ment of Conservation Trails Advisory Committee and the Maine Department of Transportation Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee since their inceptions in 1992.

    Her most recent dream-come-true was the opening of the 85-mile Down East Sunrise Trail, built on a railbanked corridor along the coast of Maine--the culmination of 25 years of rail-trail advocacy.

    To receive the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions grant awarded in her honor, Jacobs chose the Sunrise Trail Coalition (STC) in recognition of their outstanding work and need for ongoing funding. With the official opening of the Down East Sunrise Trail in September 2010, the scope of the STC has transitioned from advocacy to management and fundraising for trailhead amenities, promotional materials and maintenance.

    Photo of Sally Jacobs receiving her Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions Award from RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.

     

  • RTC Brings Rail-With-Trail Expertise to Coastal California

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Western Regional Office has been watching with great interest the progression of plans for a rail-trail along Monterey Bay in the Central Coast of California.

    So too have the people of Santa Cruz County, and the champagne corks were well and truly popping with the announcement recently that the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) had closed the deal to acquire the right-of-way beside the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.

    This 135-year old transportation corridor parallels California State Route 1 from the town of Pajaro in Monterey County, to Davenport, linking major tourism and activity centers as it crosses the Pajaro River, Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and the San Lorenzo River. In addition to providing non-motorized access to a number of state beaches, state parks, swim centers and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the proposed Santa Cruz Coastal Rail Trail would pass within one mile of more than half the county's population.

    Now, trail advocates, such as the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail Trail, are anxious to see work begin on a multi-use trail alongside the active tracks. Enter RTC.

    Utilizing our technical and planning experience with rail-with-trail projects, RTC staff met recently with the SCCRTC and a large group of regional officials, engineers, planners and community advocates to begin designing a Santa Cruz Coastal Rail Trail.

    The line will continue to carry freight and recreational passenger services, so great emphasis will be placed on designing a trail that is safe for all users.

    Entering this phase of rail-trail planning was the perfect opportunity for RTC to bring the Healthy Transportation Network's "Designing for Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety" Workshop to Santa Cruz to share the safety record of rail-with-trail projects, successful strategies for community stewardship of trails, and methods to avoid user conflict.

    "A lot of rail lines in California are still in use for passenger and freight service, so we are seeing some really great rail-with-trail projects," says Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development for RTC's Western Regional Office. "Combining both a trail and an active train line makes incredibly efficient use of these corridors in our transportation system."

    A project of the California Department of Public Health's California Active Communities program, the Healthy Transportation Network has been presenting this free workshop in communities across California for the past four years. They were able to bring the workshop to Santa Cruz thanks to help of local sponsors including the University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, Spokesman Bicycles, Family Cycling Center, Ibis Bicycles, Traugott Guitars, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and Ecology Action.

    Some more great news for the people of California came with the announcement this week that land has been acquired for the development of another mile of the city of San José's burgeoning trails network.

    A remarkable multi-jurisdictional effort involving the city of San José, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (Open Space Authority) and the Parks and Recreation Department of Santa Clara County, the one-mile addition to the Three Creeks Trail will expand recreation and transportation options within the urban core, and create linkages between the Los Gatos Creek, Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek regional trails. It will also enable the continued growth in non-motorized commuting and errands that have been documented in annual San Jose trail counts since 2007.

    Both of these projects are manifestations of a growing demand in California and across the country for healthier and more active options for getting from A to B.

    "Growing active transportation mode share is critical to continued improvements in air quality, congestion mitigation,and health of California residents," Schweigerdt says. "Santa Cruz and San José are taking important steps in the right direction, and their residents and businesses will benefit."

    Photo courtesy of Howard Cohen

     

  • This Monday, Bring Some Love to Your Local Rail-Trail

    This coming Monday, January 16, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not only a moment to reflect on a very amazing guy who did some very amazing things. It's also a first-rate opportunity to get out with your friends, roll the sleeves up and make a positive contribution to your community!

    Volunteering just a few hours of your MLK Day holiday is good for the soul, not to mention that hanging out with a bunch of community-minded folks in your neighborhood is generally pretty fun anyway.

    All across the country, in big cities and small boroughs, citizens are planning volunteer events that pay tribute to Dr. King's remarkable legacy, while sprucing up their neighborhood at the same time. Many of these events are being hosted on rail-trails, as supporter groups do simple maintenance and clean up the community pathways we love and use regularly. In Richmond, Calif., Friends of the Richmond Greenway is getting its buddies together for an event on Monday morning. And here in Washington, D.C., Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is teaming up with the Student Conservation Association to do a little pre-spring cleaning on the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

    Do you have a great rail-trail in your neck of the woods? Then get in touch with your local municipality or "Friends of" group to see if there is a volunteer event supporting the rail-trail this Monday.

    If there isn't an event on your favorite rail-trail, perhaps you can start one yourself? All you need is a few friends and a can-do attitude!

    Photo of Met Branch Trail courtesy of Randall Myers.

     

  • Organized Advocates in Wayland, Mass., Push for Local Rail-Trail

    Conscious of the many benefits rail-trails bring to rural communities, the people of Wayland, Mass., about 20 miles west of Boston, are taking a proactive approach toward developing a rail-trail in their region.

    Wayland lies along the route of the proposed Massachusetts Central Rail Trail (MCRT), a 104-mile trail project that would connect 24 communities, from Boston to Northampton, and traverse almost the entire width of the state.

    The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MDCR) recently leased 26 miles of the rail corridor passing through Wayland and the small communities of Waltham, Weston, Sudbury, Hudson and Berlin, for conversion into a multi-use greenway. But while MDCR has the administrative will to see the corridor through Wayland turned into a trail, it does not currently have the means--an estimated $20 million to develop 26 miles of hard-surface trail.

    Fearful that the daunting task of raising such a large amount of money would see the entire project languish and disappear, an energetic and well-organized group of locals has formed Friends of the Wayland Rail Trail. They are positioning the town as the ideal candidate to kick off the larger trail effort as a smaller demonstration project.

    Friends of the Wayland Rail Trail has produced a remarkable document explaining the value of a multi-use trail to the town, and stating why Wayland is the most appropriate choice to receive funding support as a "phase one" in the larger development of the trail. The Wayland section is three miles of the 26-mile corridor.

    "Over the last several years, support for the rail-trail in Wayland has been growing and we have been improving the informal path through special permits," the report states. "We would like to work with MDCR now on the three miles within our town lines as a demonstration project for the MCRT. It may be as much as 20 years before the goal of a 26-mile hard surface multi-use trail could be funded and built. With low cost improvements the informal path could be transformed into a significantly improved and safer recreational trail."

    The report points out the significant public and municipal support for the trail in Wayland and notes the inclusion of a multi-use trail connecting to downtown Wayland in the municipal master plan. In recent years the township has emphasized the importance of enabling non-motorized transportation; it's new "Wayland Walks Wayland Works" program is aimed at connecting all of Wayland Center with sidewalks and walkways.

    In mobilizing support for the rail-trail in their town, Friends of the Wayland Rail-Trail has built a thorough and digestible library of maps, photos, information, summaries of benefits, current trail conditions, potential links to other trails and proposals for development that clearly demonstrates the strong grassroots support needed to turn state or federal funding into a successful local project. The document also includes statements of support from residents and local businesspeople, a compelling testimony to the energy in Wayland for more opportunities for walking and biking.

    "This is an unprecedented opportunity to develop a major community resource," says one resident. "I still have the dream that Weston will join up and make a Waltham to Bolton connection, but even just through Wayland is a great opportunity."

    "One of the best aspects of Wayland is the ability to make use of open space," another resident comments. "As we lose some of the space to development, we need to keep working to find and new ways to offer open space to residents and visitors. The rail-trail works well in other towns; we need to get on board!"

    "I'm in support of any activity that will bring families and friends together for exercise," says another resident. "It is an excellent use of the land and will preserve it for future generations."

    With federal and state budgets tight, the people of Wayland have tapped into the importance of demonstrating resounding community support for these projects, and emphasizing the value for money they represent.

    For more information on the Wayland Rail Trail, contact Larry Kiernan at larrykiernan04@gmail.com, or 508.358.2568.

    Photo and slide courtesy of Friends of the Wayland Rail Trail.

     

  • Rail Company Donates 21-Mile Corridor for Rail-Trail

    Patriot Rail Corp. has demonstrated a tremendous community spirit by donating a section of unused rail corridor to the people of Mississippi for conversion into a rail-trail.

    The 21-mile portion of the Mississippi and Skuna Valley (MSV) Railroad line runs through Calhoun and Yalobusha counties in north-central Mississippi. Calhoun County Board of Supervisors accepted the property donation last month, establishing the Mississippi and Skuna Valley Rails to Trails Recreational District. Since the MSV also traverses Yalobusha County, Calhoun County entered into a joint agreement with Yalobusha County for the project.

    Though many miles of rail corridor across the country currently lie unused, local governments and community groups are not always able to come to terms with railroad companies to purchase or negotiate other lease deals for the property. By contrast, Patriot's generous and farsighted gesture demonstrates not only a willingness to support its local community, but also an astute understanding of the importance of preserving the land for public use. By transferring ownership of the intact corridor to the counties, the door has been kept open for the corridor to be returned to use as a rail line in the future, if service is warranted.

    "Repurposing the MSV railroad into a trail is an excellent use of this rail corridor, transforming a once underutilized property into a vibrant community asset," says Gary O. Marino, chairman, president and CEO of Patriot Rail Corp. "We hope that this trail will be a source of enjoyment for the community for many years to come."

    The new trail, which would link the towns of Bruce and Coffeeville, is expected to be called the Skuna Valley Trail. Already local and state officials have begun exploring the possibility of connecting the corridor to existing trails in the area. Both counties have also met with the managers of trail systems nearby, such as the Tanglefoot Trail, to learn more about capitalizing on the myriad benefits such trails bring to local communities.

    Plans are being considered to connect the future Skuna Valley Trail with the Tanglefoot Trail, and another unused rail corridor extending north from Coffeeville to Water Valley.

    "There are people who fly all over the country to ride these trails," Mississippi Department of Transportation Chief Counsel Roy Tipton told The Journal of Calhoun County. "The possibility is there to bring a lot of traffic into your communities for very little risk."

    Photo courtesy of Patriot Rail Corp. Map courtesy of Mississippi Rails.

     

  • Demolition of Historic Bridge Would Be Another Setback for Rail-Trail in Pennsylvania

    "Rome was not built in a day," as the famous saying goes. That's not a fact that needs to be pointed out to the people of Lancaster County in southeast Pennsylvania.

    It has been 22 years since the railroad company Conrail filed to officially abandon a section of the Enola Branch rail line, which runs through the townships of Bart, Sadsbury, Conestoga, Eden, Providence and Martic. In that time, widespread support for the conversion of the 23-mile section of rail corridor into a multi-use trail has been held up by costly and complex legal proceedings and title disputes, which has in turn delayed funding applications.

    This past summer many improvements were made on what is now referred to as the Enola Low-Grade Trail. A rough surface of crushed limestone was laid by Amtrak on one section of the trail, where it needed access for its trucks to install new power lines. And while technically the entire corridor is open to the public, significant improvements, and secure maintenance and funding agreements, are needed if the trail is to become the regional attraction supporters believe it should be. Trail users this month report at least one township had posted "No Trespassing" signs along the corridor.

    Though the painful progress is frustrating for everyone involved, the passage of time has produced a remarkably resolute group of local rail-trail advocates. The project's delay has given them ample opportunity to study the benefits rail-trails across Pennsylvania have brought to communities just like theirs, strengthening their resolve to make good use of the out-of-service corridor.

    One of these advocates is Mark Rudy, roadmaster and outgoing supervisor for Eden Township. According to an article at Lancaster Online, Rudy was once opposed to the idea of a recreational trail but changed his mind as the great public desire for a trail became evident.

    This month, Rudy is responding to a pressing threat that has the potential to set the rail-trail project back once again and rob the area of an irreplaceable piece of its rich heritage.

    An historic stone arch bridge, which once carried steam-powered locomotives into Eden at the turn of the 20th century, is set to be demolished as early as this spring. Demolition of the Pumping Station Road bridge, built with blocks cut by Italian stonemasons a century ago, was ordered by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 1997; in transferring the corridor to the six townships in 2008, Conrail's successor, Norfolk Southern, included the same language requiring demolition of a number of structures.

    Rudy is circulating a petition in the area to save the Pumping Station Road bridge. He is concerned not only for the unique historical value of the bridge, but also its function as a vital part of the rail-trail. Rudy estimates the bridge would last another three generations with no upkeep costs. Demolition of the bridge would not only cost tens of thousands of dollars, but would also necessitate the construction of a new bridge for trail users.

    It is very much the 11th hour for the bridge, and the immediate future of the rail-trail. Bids for demolition are due in mid-January, and the structure could be gone by spring.

    Rudy suggests anyone wanting to support the preservation of the Pumping Station Road bridge should contact PUC Chairman Robert Powelson at 717-787-4301, or Pennsylvania State Rep. Bryan Cutler at bcutler@pahousegop.com and 717-783-6424.

    If you are interested in supporting the Enola Low-Grade Trail effort, or for more information, contact Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Northeast Regional Office at 717.238.1717 or northeast@railstotrails.org.

    Photo courtesy of lancasteronline.com.

     

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