By Jake Lynch
Everyone agrees that getting more children walking or riding
to school each day would be a great thing. The regular exercise would do them
the world of good, not to speak of keeping all those parent-taxis off the road
in a.m. and p.m. peak hours.
In 1969, about 41 percent of kids walked or biked to school.
Now, that number is down to about 13 percent. And in that same time period, the
percentage of children who are overweight has more than tripled. This
generation of young people is the first in our history expected to have a
shorter average life expectancy than their parents, and inactivity is the main
However the problem isn't just lazy kids. Many communities
have developed in such an auto-centric way that their roads and streets don't
have sidewalks, and walking or riding is either unsafe or, in some instances,
Students at Kenowa Hills High School in Michigan were
suspended earlier this year for riding their bikes to the last day of classes,
a ride which, incidentally, they had to take on-road as there are no sidewalks
or bike lanes connecting to the school.
At Norwood-Norfolk Central School in Norfolk, N.Y., they are
facing a similar challenge - students and staff are desperate to add more
regular physical activity to their days, but the school is in an area where the
built environment discourages active transportation. The school says it was
told by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYDOT) that sidewalks
would not be permitted alongside the only road that connects to the school.
No sidewalks? Okay then, how about a rail-with-trail? Luckily
for Norwood-Norfolk, there is a rail corridor running adjacent to the school's
playground (left). Though still active, the line is lightly-used, and school district
officials are leading the push to make better use of the underused corridor as
a walking and biking pathway for students, teachers and the broader community.
"It would be a definite benefit," Superintendent Elizabeth
A. Kirnie told the Watertown
Daily Times. "We were told by DOT, no sidewalks, no recreation on [State
Route] 56. This is one possibility. We don't have a lot of alternatives."
Kirnie's aim is to create an all-season recreational trail
that could be used for activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing,
walking and running. Elected officials in Norfolk and Norwood have added their
support, and as a result of this coordinated application the National Park
Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) has awarded
the project a grant of consultancy expertise, to be provided by the Department
Although it is still early stages for this exciting project,
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Office has contacted RTCA
staff and offered to provide technical assistance relating to rail-with-trail designs.
"Rail-with-trail is a growing part of our work," says Carl
Knoch, RTC's manager of trail development in the Northeast. "These rail
corridors were designed to take people and goods directly to community centers,
gathering points and places of interest, which are exactly the routes modern
planners are looking for today."
One of the biggest hurdles to getting approval for
rail-with-trail projects continues to be the perception that having biking and
walking close to active rail lines is unsafe.
"But building a designated trail area alongside such
corridors can contribute to a reduction in accidents, as it provides a better alternative to walking on the actual rail line. If there is a trail there, you
don't need to," Knoch says. "As these pathways prove themselves to be safe,
convenient and incredibly efficient uses of otherwise underutilized land, I
think more and more municipalities are going to see their tremendous value."
RTC is currently producing a report on rail-with-trail projects
across America, to be released in 2013. Stay tuned.
Photo of school children walking to school in Crete, Neb., courtesy Natalie KingstonMap view of Norwood-Norfolk Central School courtesy GooglePhoto of joggers on the Springwater Corridor, Ore., courtesy Bryce Hall
My husband and I have cycled along a rail trail in RI which was full of students walking and biking to and from school - The Wm O'Neil South County Bike Path. I encourage Norwood-Norfolk CS advocates to research the school districts along this path for support.
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
Washington, DC 20037