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September 2012 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Powerful Story of N.Z. Rail-Trail Rejuvenating Rural Communities

    This wonderful video from the folks at Path Less Pedaled demonstrates that the power of rail-trails is universal. The story of how the Central Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand, at first opposed and doubted but now heralded for revitalizing shrinking rural towns, is identical to what we hear from rail-trail communities here in America.

    (Except for the funny accents, of course. Nothing at all like us Australians. Anyone who needs help translating, let me know...)

    In all seriousness, this great video is a wonderful testament to the economic impact destination trails have on communities suffering the withdrawal of train traffic, primary industries, population and services.  Enjoy and share.

    Jake Lynch - RTC Communications Manager.



  • RTC Study of California DOT Reveals Need to Improve Bike/Ped Culture

    Growing support for active transportation has been manifesting itself into calls for more and safer opportunities for bicycling and walking all across the country. In some instances, this booming trend is the catalyst that pushes municipal planners to provide more bike paths, trails and pathways--a response to the demands of the population.

    But how prepared are the planners, designers, engineers and work crews of our state departments of transportation to deliver this active transportation infrastructure? Aware of the critical role of these staff in facilitating walking and biking, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) recently led a study of the California Department of Transportation's (Caltrans) bicycle- and pedestrian-related technical training for its staff.

    While California has made significant gains in its policies and procedures to improve its statewide active transportation system, the study reveals that there is still room for improvement.

    For example, during a series of interviews with Caltrans staff, it was found that fewer than 60 percent of planners, and fewer than 50 percent of traffic operations staff, were "moderately familiar or very familiar" with California Complete Streets policies, including Caltrans' own directive that all of its projects accommodate all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users.

    Similarly, a majority of respondents (51.4 percent) felt that Caltrans did not do an effective job of advertising bicycle/pedestrian training for staff being offered by other districts or divisions.

    While bicycle and pedestrian facilities are often thought of as the province of local streets, and, therefore, local government, bicyclists and pedestrians have legal access on all conventional highways and State Highway System expressways, and about 25 percent of California's freeways. Of particular importance, state highways function as the main street for hundreds of communities throughout the state, especially in rural areas. This means that Caltrans' ability and willingness to prioritize walking and biking has a huge impact on access, safety and mobility in local communities.

    Among the recommendations of the study, which was led by RTC's Western Region Director Laura Cohen, and co-authored by California Walks, California Active Communities, and the California Department of Public Health, was that Caltrans needs to better integrate bicycle and pedestrian considerations early in the planning process.

    More difficult, but equally as important, Caltrans also needs to foster an organizational culture that treats bicycle and pedestrian transportation on par with other modes.

    Data for the report was gathered through personal interviews with more than two dozen Caltrans managers that play a role in bicycle and pedestrian projects, an online survey emailed to more than 1,000 Caltrans staff, and a review of current training offerings.

    The report, "Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Training for Caltrans Staff," is now available in RTC's Trail-Building Toolbox at www.railstotrails.org.


  • With Highway Project Opposed, Trail Becomes Transportation Solution in Connecticut

    The proposed Norwalk River Valley Trail in southwest Connecticut continues from great idea toward reality, with the completion of a design for a 27-mile, mixed use trail, utilizing both active and disused rail corridors, between Norwalk and Danbury.

    According to newstimes.com of Danbury, the concept of a Norwalk River Valley Trail was launched years ago when the Connecticut Department of Transportation admitted it would never build a proposed limited-access four-lane highway between the two communities - a project opposed by locals for its nine-figure price tag. When the question arose of what might be done with the right-of-way the DOT acquired to build the road, the idea of a greenway, rather than a highway, got started.

    Two short sections of the trail have already been completed in Norwalk and Wilton. Locals hope that major portions of the trail can be completed over the next five years.

    In addition to providing a critical active transportation link between schools, offices and homes in this growing region, the Norwalk River Valley Trail would also connect to a number commuter train stations.

    Now the hard task of funding and constructing the trail begins. The good news, however, is that the communities involved understand the trail would be much more than a pleasant place of recreation.

    "You could take a train to work, then use a bike to get home," local trail planner Pat Sesto told newstimes.com. "We're quite serious about this."

    Photos courtesy Norwalk River Valley Trail



  • Middlesex County, N.J., Converts Unused Land Into Valued Local Asset

    "The county turned an abandoned railway, which could easily have become useless land, into a fantastic asset for our residents to enjoy."

    This comment by Middlesex County's Freeholder Director Christopher D. Rafano, as quoted in an article at mycentraljersey.com, demonstrates the growing appreciation of the benefits of rail-trail projects by community leaders across America.

    Rafano was talking about the recent opening of the Middlesex Greenway, a 3.5-mile portion of the disused Lehigh Valley rail corridor that has been converted into a multi-use trail connecting county parks, schools and shopping centers.

    The Middlesex Greenway, which runs between Woodbridge, Metuchen and Edison in north-central New Jersey, now forms an important link in the developing East Coast Greenway, an ambitious project to connect nearly 3,000 miles of trails between Canada and Key West, Fla.

    Photo courtesy Middlesex County Freeholders



  • Rail-Trail Extension Brings Activity, Attention to Fryeburg, Maine

    The people of Fryeburg in southwestern Maine are celebrating. Their New Hampshire neighbors in Conway are envious. What's the source of all the fuss? A new section of the Mountain Division Trail is finished and set to open next week, and already the local residents and business people are anticipating it will build on the successes of the first phase.

    "The first 1.5-mile section has been very well received and many people use it every day," Dave Kinsman of the Mountain Division Alliance told the Conway Daily Sun this week. "With the additional 2.5 miles, the trail should attract even more bicyclists, walkers and runners."

    The goal of the Mountain Division Alliance is to continue to develop a public trail along the disused rail corridor, eventually connecting Fryeburg with Portland, about 50 miles to the southwest. Six miles of Mountain Division Trail have already been built in Windham, Gorham and Standish, as well as a mile in Portland.

    These trails bring "welcome commerce to rural communities," Kinsman said. But the trails benefits are being noticed by people far beyond the usual trail advocate community.

    Project co-manager Hannes Schneider of R.J. Grondin and Sons, says he was taken by the positive comments he and his crew heard while working on the rail-trail.

    "There were a lot of people out there, both on and off hours," he told the Conway Daily Sun. "We heard from a lot of people thinking this was really wonderful. I thought it was interesting to hear from people coming from Conway and North Conway. They couldn't believe Conway didn't have something like this and they had to come to Fryeburg to do it."

    The grand opening ceremony for the new section is scheduled for Sept. 24. The ceremony will take place on at 3 p.m. on Porter Road at the northern end of the new trail.

    Photos courtesy Mountain Division Alliance



  • Texas Community Mourns Passing of Iris Stagner, 54

    The bicycling community is today mourning the loss of one of its most loved and respected advocates.

    Iris Stagner, a member of the BikeTexas Board of Directors and a longtime promoter of bike safety and education, was killed on Monday after being hit by a pickup truck while riding on U.S. Route 180 outside Mineral Wells, Texas.

    Everyone at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy sends our sincerest condolences to Iris' family and friends, her colleagues at BikeTexas, and the many people she helped during her life as a passionate citizen.   

    "Iris has been a tireless volunteer and champion for Texas cyclists of all types and ages," says Executive Director of BikeTexas, Robin Stallings. "Iris believed in giving back and wanted to see more racers engaged in bicycle advocacy and making conditions safer for the current and next generation. Her death is a terrible loss to Texas and the cycling community."

    Friends of Iris will gather for a memorial ride before her funeral, today, Friday, September 21, in Mineral Wells. The five-mile ride will start from the parking lot of the Palo Pinto General Hospital, 400 SW 25th Avenue. If you would like to join the ride, please plan to be at the parking lot at 12:30 p.m.

    Iris' legacy remains in the strategies and legislation she developed to make conditions safer for riders in Texas.

    "She loved the bicycle trail in Mineral Wells and the protected bikeways that are catching on around the world, but she could not resist the beautiful, open Texas roads," Stallings says. "Iris believed the roads exist for all users and we should exercise our rights as Americans to use them. She had been harassed and threatened while cycling by aggressive drivers many times over the years but she would not be intimidated."

    "Iris knew she was a safe and skilled bicycle rider and did not take unnecessary chances. She also said, 'If I die while riding my bike, then I will go out doing what I love.' Iris knew that the more bicyclists there are in a community, the safer it is for all of them. Unfortunately for all of us, Iris Stagner, age 54, died about 50 years too soon."

    Friends of Iris are encouraged to share memories and photos on the BikeTexas Facebook page.

    Photo courtesy Mineral Wells Index


  • Rotary Club Pursues Grand Rail-With-Trail Plan for Cleveland

    In Cleveland, Ohio, a local Rotary Club is demonstrating once again the remarkable creative and physical energy of America's volunteers working to improve their local surroundings.

    In 1977, the Rotary Club of Cleveland began a project to improve a 200-foot section of overgrown and neglected land beside the city's red line train tracks. Three decades later, Rotary's involvement in the project has grown, and thanks to their efforts local residents and visitors to Cleveland now enjoy a two-mile length of improved greenspace along the busy transit line stretching from the Cuyahoga River to Fulton Road.

    But when, a few years ago, Rotary volunteers unearthed and recycled thousands of feet of unused rail tracks alongside the active metro line, a grand idea was born. A rail-trail. Connecting five disparate neighborhoods and thousands of Clevelanders. The airport to downtown. A transportation corridor. A place for recreation. A vital corridor of vibrant greenspace cut through a dense American city.

    "This could be really incredible," says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Eric Oberg, who toured the site with the Rotarians. "The corridor itself is amazing, crossing the bridge over the Cuyahoga River and looking straight into the city. And the fact that it's so urban, that it connects so many people and places, and combines with an active rail line... rail-with-trail projects are super-exciting because they make such good use of land, combining many modes of travel in the one corridor."

    But, says Oberg--who is manager of trail development in RTC's Midwest Regional Office--one of the particularly interesting things about Rotary's rail-trail vision is the Rotarians themselves.     

    "This isn't a trail group, it's not a city transportation initiative--it's a civic group just taking the reins and following an idea they know would be great for their city," he says. "If this idea catches on, there are thousands of Rotary groups, Kiwanis groups, other civic groups across the county. It could do awesome things for how we develop new trail systems and greenways."

    As Rotary's Lennie Stover acknowledges, the precedent they are setting in Cleveland represents "a whole new way of developing public greenspace." That's because the work already completed by the Rotary Club volunteers has substantially kick-started the completion of a connected public trail, reducing its estimated cost by $800,000, and the time to build by more than a year. Stover wonderfully describes the corridor as the city's "hidden treasure, waiting to be discovered and opened by its people."

    The Rotary Club is in the process of gathering public support for the project, so share this story where you can. And if you live in Cleveland, get in touch and see how you can help. Good things await.

    Photos courtesy Rotary Club of Cleveland



  • Just Outside Philadelphia, Energy Grows to Recycle Former Rail Line

    The success of the nearby Pennypack Trail has inspired a group of residents in Bucks County, Pa., to push for the conversion of another section of disused rail corridor into a public trail.

    "Build Our Trail - A Rail Trails Initiative," is advocating for the now unused Fox Chase-Newtown line (right) owned by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), to be developed into a shared-use trail that would connect to the established Pennypack Trail as well as the proposed Neshaminy Creek Trail.

    "Such trails have proven to be safe and valuable assets for local communities," the group writes on its website. "Multi-use trails can be utilized by our future generations and create more appealing, healthy, and livable communities."

    Unfortunately, rail-trail advocates in Bucks County, which is less than an hour from the Philadelphia metro area, are hitting a frustrating hurdle common in urban areas. Although corridor leasing agreements explicitly state that the transit authority would be permitted to resume rail service on the line at any time in the future, local officials are concerned the development of a trail would somehow impede such reactivation.

    SEPTA has admitted "there is very little chance of that happening." SEPTA's Media Officer Kristin Geiger told phillyburbs.com that "the reactivation of this line segment (which stopped running in 1983) is not included in the long-range plan for the region," citing the "millions of dollars" that would be required to electrify, upgrade and reopen the railroad.

    Despite the fact that on the Pennypack Trail along the same line SEPTA retains the right to convert the trail back into a rail line if that ever becomes feasible, Bucks County officials are still wary of supporting a more constructive use of this currently underutilized corridor. According to the phillyburbs article, Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush said it was doubtful county officials would play an active role in any effort to turn the unused rail line into a trail. They wouldn't want to run the risk that might discourage restoration of rail service, she said.

    However, the towns of Northampton and Upper Southampton, through which the rail line passes, have endorsed the rail-trail plan. If realized, the trail would become a vital link for "The Circuit", a planned 750-mile trail network connecting the greater Philadelphia area.

    The Build Our Trail group is now collecting signatures in support of a rail-trail project. Learn more, and show your support, at www.buildourtrail.org

    Photo courtesy of phillyburbs.com



  • "Bad News Bears" of Rail-Trails, Good News for Ferry County, Wash.

    Winners of the first-ever Rails-to-Trails Conservancy very unofficial award for Best Trail Organization Tagline: the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners ("The Bad News Bears of Trail Groups").

    By the looks of it, though, these guys are in better shape than Walter Matthau with a Studebaker full of beer cans.

    Ferry County Rail Trail Partners' (FCRTP) energetic director Bob Whittaker sent us these photos of trail volunteerism in action. When a massive windstorm brought down six large trees in July, it was up to the Ferry County Rail Corridor Committee to roll up their sleeves and clear them off the trail. Last week, committee members Paul Cribby, Madilane Perry, Whittaker and Bobbi Weller cleared the storm damage in the Curlew lake area of the trail--from Herron Creek trailhead north to the trestle that traverses the lake.

    FCRTP's active supporter base is not only sustaining the trail but also inspiring future investment. The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office recently ranked Ferry County's rail-trial surfacing project seventh out of 20 statewide projects, and number one overall in the public support and cost-efficiency categories.

    To see why this up-and-coming rail-trail is attracting new fans from across America, check out the wonderful slideshow of images at www.ferrycountyrailtrail.com.

    Photos courtesy www.ferrycountyrailtrail.com.



  • Mile for Mile, North and South Carolina Grow Rail-Trail Networks

    A healthy rail-trail rivalry is developing in the Carolinas, with both the Old North State and the Palmetto State taking great strides this month to boost active transportation networks in their growing communities.

    In Beaufort Country, S.C., officials broke ground on the first section of the planned 13.6-mile Spanish Moss Trail, which when complete will provide an active transportation corridor along the former Port Royal Railroad line through Beaufort County between Port Royal and Yemassee.

    Also being referred to by locals as the Magnolia Line Trail, the project is being driven by the Atlanta-based PATH Foundation under the direction of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Rail-Trail Champion Ed McBrayer. With more than $3 million already raised through federal and state grants and contributions from local foundations, the people of Beaufort County are excited to see construction of a rail-trail that, in the words of the Beaufort Tribune "will not only be a recreational asset, but will also provide an alternative mode of transportation linking people to jobs, services, and schools."

    "It is really something that is going to tie this community together physically, spiritually, politically, socially and, hopefully most of all, healthfully," Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling told the Tribune.

    Across the border to the north, construction of phase three of the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail (above) through downtown Lincolnton, N.C., began last week. Since the first mile of the rail-trail opened in 1997, it has been a popular downtown recreation and active transportation amenity. However, this new section is seen as being particularly important as it will connect the trail with two city parks and a paved walking trail.

    Although short in length at 1.5 miles, the rail-trail's popularity with locals has planners anticipating its tremendous potential for growth.

    "I think the ultimate goal would be to extend it as far as we can," Lincolnton City Manager Jeff Emory told the Gaston Gazette.  "We'd like to extend it to the Carolina Thread Trail."

    Photo of the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail courtesy of TrailLink.com.


  • Court Win Preserves Medicine Bow Rail Corridor in Wyoming

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) this week earned a significant win against ongoing litigation threats to preserving America's inactive rail corridors for public use.

    RTC General Counsel Andrea Ferster, assisted by pro bono counsel (and former RTC board member) Charles Montange, filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief in a case in which private landowners were attempting to challenge the United States' ownership of the corridor, which was originally acquired by the railroad through federal land grants. 

    The rail line in question is on the same corridor as the popular Medicine Bow Rail-Trail, one of Wyoming's most successful trails, which was built by the U.S. Forest Service and spurred by the enthusiasm and monetary support of the citizens of Wyoming and nearby Colorado (right). The disputed section is approximately 30 miles east of the developed Medicine Bow Rail-Trail and represents a terrific opportunity to extend the Medicine Bow and transform a day-ride into an overnight destination trail and tourism asset .

    A small group of neighboring landowners, however, have challenged the right of the United States to preserve the corridor intact and for the public benefit, a right established under federal law, including Section 9(c) of the National Trails System Act.

    On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit rejected the appeal of the landowners, reaffirming the government's right under these federal statutes to secure the corridor for future conversion into a rail-trail. In doing so, the Court declined to follow a number of recent decisions from other circuits, which refused to recognize that the United States retains an ownership interest in all federally granted rights-of-way under federal law.

    Though it doesn't receive the public profile of many of our trail-building and advocacy efforts, the work of RTC's legal program, and our General Counsel Andrea Ferster, involves perhaps our most critical challenge: preserving the corridors. Each time these public assets are transferred into private hands and fragmented, America loses not only the opportunity to build a public pathway, a tourism asset, or a community connector, it also loses a piece of its railroading and pioneering history.

    For more about RTC's legal work to rail-trail future, visit www.railstotrails.org/ourWork.

  • In Pa., Neighboring Towns Now Keen for Their Slice of the Saucon Rail Trail

    "Can't wait for them to finish this!" writes a recent TrailLink.com reviewer of the Saucon Rail Trail (right). Serving a number of small communities in eastern Pennsylvania's Lehigh County, the Saucon Rail Trail is very much a work in progress. Since the pioneering section between Hellertown and Upper Saucon Township was opened in 2011, its immediate popularity raised hopes that the trail would continue to develop to the south, extending from its current five miles to its full potential of more than double that, into the Borough of Quakertown.

     And there was some promising news on that front this week, with Coopersburg Borough Council voicing its support for developing their section of the former Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority corridor, an important connection in the trail's extension to Quakertown.

    "We could send a message to other townships that we're doing our part," councilman Steve Lundy was quoted as saying in the Hellertown-Lower Saucon Patch. "It could encourage the other townships to follow."

    According to Patch, the Coopersburg Borough Council raised the possibility of the rail-trail extension as part of a brainstorming session for stimulating economic activity in the borough. In Pennsylvania, they need not look far for dozens of examples of rail-trails energizing local tourism and real estate markets, and providing a hub for local businesses.

    "This is the kind of thinking I'm trying to encourage," said council president John Felch. "(Rails to Trails) is part of our vision that won't happen tomorrow, but it will happen."

    Photo courtesy of www.lehighvalleystyle.com



  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in McKinley County, New Mexico

    On or about August 30, 2012, BNSF Railway Company filed for the abandonment of 5.11 miles of track near Gallup, McKinley County, New Mexico. We are providing this information because it presents an opportunity to develop a real regional asset: a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.


    NEXT STEPS: If this corridor is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge local trail advocates, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. A "boiler plate" letter (found here) can be filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using STB docket number AB-6 (sub-no. 485 x). Filing this letter does not commit its authors to acquire the corridor; it merely gives time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad. According to the information we have received, the deadline for filing this letter is September 29, 2012. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all of the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its Web site, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing.

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

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

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



  • Delaware Affirms Commitment to Active Transportation

    The vision and leadership of Delaware Governor Jack Markell and the state's senior transportation officials continues to pay off for the citizens of their state.

    In a speech to mark National Bike to Work Day last year, acting secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), Cleon Cauley, Sr., went on record as saying biking and walking were a growing part of the state's transportation needs, and "to ignore this trend is to do a great disservice to the people of Delaware."

    A little more than a year later, Delaware's transportation advocates are celebrating the opening of the long-anticipated Pomeroy and Newark Rail Trail in the city of Newark. The two-mile walking and biking trail, which was funded in part by the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program and partly through a federal earmark, passes through downtown Newark, connecting transit hubs, a university campus and shopping areas with parks and recreation spots.

    Gov. Markell, U.S. Senator Tom Carper and Newark Mayor Vance A. Funk III are all planning to attend Monday's grand-opening celebration of a transportation and recreation facility that was the city's most-demanded project.

    "The goal is to encourage people to get out of their automobiles and either walk or ride their bikes to destinations where they might normally drive," Newark Parks and Recreation Director Charles Emerson told the Newark Post.



  • AASHTO's Best 10 Transportation Projects List - No Bike/Ped, No Transit

    "There is no question that conditions for bicycling and walking need to be improved in every community in the United States."

    "Every transportation agency has the responsibility and the opportunity to make a difference to the bicycle-friendliness and walkability of our communities."

    "Public support and advocacy for improved conditions for bicycling and walking has created a widespread acceptance that more should be done to enhance the safety, comfort, and convenience of the nonmotorized traveler."

    These clear statements of support of better active transportation infrastructure come from the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT)'s own guidance on accommodating bicycle and pedestrian travel.

    Unfortunately, it appears that message isn't making it down to many of the officials and planners actually designing our transportation system.

    The Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) yesterday released its list of the nation's "Top 10 Transportation Projects." Incredibly, the list did not include a single project specifically geared to promoting non-motorized transportation, or even public transit.

    The Max Brewer Bridge replacement project in Florida comes closest to serving those many millions of Americans eager to embrace active transportation as a better way to get around; it does include a bike and pedestrian pathway. (This was not, however, listed by AASHTO in their description of the project's successes.)

    This, despite AASHTO's own findings last year that active transportation infrastructure projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocation generated more jobs per dollar than any other form of transportation construction (road construction and repair where among the least efficient job creators), and USDOT's admission that biking and walking is a crucial part of our transportation future that deserves more attention.

    AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley said these projects were remarkable for their "innovation and discipline." Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and our peers in the new Partnership for Active Transportation, will be working hard in the coming decades to enlighten this restricted understanding of what the term 'transportation' actually means to millions of Americans.



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