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January 2013 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Centennial Trail Now Bigger and Better in Pacific Northwest

    There's a powerful Pacific Northwest vibe on this trail -- leaping coho salmon, bald eagles, stores selling growlers of IPA, snowy peaks in the distance and the grey-blue icy waters of the Pilchuck and Stillaguamish rivers.

    Since its first phase opened in 1991, the Centennial Trail in Snohomish County, Wash., has grown in length and reputation to now attract more than 500,000 users each year. Its appeal with bikers, hikers, bladers and horseback riders is now set to expand even further with the extension of the trail another four miles, to a historic barn on farmland near the Skagit County line.

    Along a Burlington Northern railroad corridor that had sat disused since 1970, the area's original trails-activism group, the Pathways Task Force, succeeded mightily in pushing ahead a rail-trail which is now one of the county's iconic attractions as well as a much-loved resource for locals.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Graphic Designer, Barbara Richey, based in Seattle, made the short trip north last summer for a day on the Centennial Trail and shot these photos (click the photo, above right, for a slideshow of more images) of a trail which is clearly deserving of its popularity.

    "There's a lot to be impressed by on the Centennial Trail," Richey says. "Beautiful countryside and small towns, a wide path with gentle curves -- it's perfect for an afternoon outing. Everyone seems to move at their own pace, and although there were lots of people on the trail that day it never felt congested. It's fantastic that it has now been extended."

    Photo by RTC

  • Rail-Trail a Key Part of Rebuilding Community in Richmond, Calif.

    The Richmond Greenway is one of the great success stories of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) work in urban areas over the past decade.

    In the early part of the century, the Atchison-Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) helped make the San Francisco Bay Area-community of Richmond a thriving hub of industry. But the decline of the railroad and the industries that supported it saw Richmond fall on hard times, and in recent decades the city has been beset by the familiar problems of crime, low real estate values, lack of access to services and poor community health that afflict many urban communities across the country.

    In the late 1990s, RTC saw an opportunity to bring life and movement back to Richmond by turning the disused AT&SF corridor into a public greenway, a much-needed resource in an area suffering a chronic lack of green space and little provision for nonmotorized transportation. One of the key first steps was the creation of a local stewardship group, Friends of the Richmond Greenway. Years later, not only has the Richmond Greenway become a critical active transportation link and a place of recreation, but, just as importantly, it has fostered a new community of residents around caring for and maintaining the trail and its surrounds.

    That was evident last week during a Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. RTC's Laura Cohen and Barry Bergman from the Western region office (left) bicycled out to the Richmond Greenway and joined more than 500 volunteers who rolled up their sleeves and pitched in, planting trees and edible plants, weeding, and decorating litter cans with mosaics. Amateur painters helped a professional muralist complete a mural depicting some of the community volunteers who have made significant contributions to create and beautify the greenway.

    Organized by Urban Tilth, in partnership with the City of Richmond and local partners, this day of service has become a cherished and well-attended annual event.

    "It's so rewarding to be back on the Greenway, more than a decade after RTC began here, and see how it has grown into such an amazing community resource, for artists, gardeners, teachers, bicyclists, dog walkers - everyone has a place here," Cohen says. "That's the beauty of a rail-trail like this one: everyone has their own connection to it, and can bring their own passion and contribution."

    Click on either photo for a slideshow of more images from the event.
    Photos by RTC. Laura Cohen and Barry Bergman are pictured with Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt (center), a long-time champion of the Richmond Greenway.  

     

     

  • A Few Hundred Dollars or a Few Grand, Mini-Grants Program Helps Pennsylvania Rail-Trails

    In the township of Springfield, in eastern Pennsylania, local trail supporters were able to hire an engineering firm to help them build a bridge on the Indian Creek Hike & Bike Trail. Across the state in Dunbar, the local historical society got the small amount of money it needed to build two sheltered picnic tables and install them alongside the Sheepskin Trail. In Pittsburgh, Friends of the Riverfront was able to pay for the design and installation of six new map signs and two interpretive panels along the trail Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

    These projects, and many others, were made possible by the Trail Mini-Grant Program for Pennsylvania Rail-Trails. Managed by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), this funding source helps trail organizations or municipalities in Pennsylvania that need to make small repairs or improvements to their trail, for dollar amounts typically well below that requested in major grants.

    Applications are now being accepted for the 2013 round of Trail Mini-Grant Program grants, and must be submitted before the February 28 deadline.

    Last year's grant awards ranged from $759 to $8,000, with volunteer labor and donated materials and services counted toward the necessary matching funds.

    Application forms and guidelines can be found at www.railstotrails.org. For more information or assistance contact RTC program manager in the Northeast, Pat Tomes, at pat@railstotrails.org, or 717.467.4024.

    Photo courtesy Mountain Watershed Association

     

     

  • Money Available for Illinois Trail Projects

    Heads up, Illinois. Got big plans for a trail or bike path in your neck of the woods, but need some money to make it happen?

    Then talk to your local municipality about applying for an Illinois Bicycle Path grant, which can provide up to $200,000 for purchasing land, building pathway infrastructure or providing important amenities such as drinking water and restrooms.

    The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is accepting applications for Illinois Bicycle Path grants until noon on March 1. The DNR is also accepting applications to the Off Highway Vehicle and Federal Recreational Trails (RTP) grant programs.

    Build your dreams, people. 

     

     

  • Land Donation a Tremendous Gift for Rail-Trail Group in Massachusetts

    Terrific news out of Holliston, Mass., this week, with the generous donation of a parcel of land to make possible the continued development of the Upper Charles Rail Trail.

    The Upper Charles Rail Trail is being developed in sections as the land and funding becomes available, driven by a strong local group of volunteers always willing to roll the sleeves up. When complete it will run through Sherborn, Holliston, Milford, Hopkinton and Ashland in eastern Massachusetts.

    According to this story at Metro West Daily News, The Fredy and Regula Lienhard Foundation has donated a portion of the trail corridor that runs from South Street to the Milford town line.

    "(The foundation) basically donated the land so we can build the trail on that," said Robert Weidknecht, of the Holliston Trails Committee.

    Local trail advocates are now hoping some of that generosity might rub off on CSX, the railroad company which owns other significant sections of the planned trail.

    "We hope to find the money to purchase the other two pieces from CSX," Weidknecht said. "We know they want to sell them. It's getting the money that is difficult."

    Photo courtesy Friends of the Holliston Trails

     

  • Connecticut On a Roll As the Trail Gaps Disappear

    Driven by a supportive governor and a forward-thinking state department of transportation that is conscious of the role of biking and walking in modern planning, Connecticut has done some great things in recent years to connect, and expand, its network of trails.

    A key state in the plan to connect the burgeoning 3,000-mile-long East Coast Greenway from Maine to Florida, since 2011 Connecticut has built important sections that were once obstinate gaps in the system -- along the Charter Oak Trail through East Hartford and Manchester (right), and over Route 316 along the Hop River State Park Rail-Trail in Andover (below).

    Both events gave local trails planners great hope that Connecticut would be able to shake its tag as "home of the trail gaps." And the hits keep coming.

    Writing in the Hartford Courant, Peter Marteka reported this week that the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) is supporting an $11.4 million plan to bring the Charter Oak Trail from its present terminus in the Highland Park section of Manchester out to Bolton Notch State Park and to the Hop River Trail in Bolton, perhaps with a fall 2014 start date.

    Marteka quoted CDOT Principal Engineer Will Britnell as saying "It's a very popular trail now. You see a lot of people out, especially on weekends. And it's not only bicyclists, it is everyone of all ages. It is going to create a lot of connections out into eastern Connecticut. And it's going to get people there safely."

    Says Marteka - "It will be held up as a shining example of what can happen when state agencies, trail enthusiasts and towns along the trail work together to fill the gaps."

    Public information hearings on the project will be held at 6:30 p.m., Jan. 22 at the Lincoln Center Directors Room, 494 Main St., and Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Bolton Town Hall, 222 Bolton Center Rd. The Town of Manchester website has a detailed map of the project section.

    Photo of ribbon cutting on the Charter Oak Trail courtesy Hartford Courant
    Photo of bridge installation on Hop River Trail courtesy www.traillink.com

     

     

  • Bike Score Ups the Ante on Planners, Developers

    In the ongoing conversation about why Americans need more biking and walking options in their transportation infrastructure, often the "it feels good," "it's better for the environment," or "it's better for your health" arguments unfortunately don't carry a lot of weight.

    But you start talking economics, and wealth, and industry, and people tend to listen, particularly those elected officials and business leaders who are often difficult to engage on more "esoteric" concepts.

    One of the most persuasive arguments in support of more appropriate investment in walking and biking infrastructure has been its direct connection to real estate values. The American Association of Homebuilders has long recorded that access to a nearby trail is one of the amenities most desired by new homebuyers, and all across America neighborhoods and cities are booming or tanking based on how well they accommodate people who don't want to rely on a car to get around.

    A brand new web service called Bike Score is now set to increase the pressure on planners to be more conscious of bike connectivity. Brought to you by the same people who launched Walk Score in 2007, Bike Score ranks a city, or neighborhood within a city, based on the availability of bike lanes, hilliness, the number of bikeable destinations and the level of commuting.

    According to this article at www.fastcoexist.com, Bike Score cofounder John Herst says the new service is aimed at home-seekers who want to be less car-dependent. He hopes a greater focus on the connection between convenient bike pathways and real estate desirability will encourage more competition between planners to build bike friendly communities. So do we.

    (Minneapolis is Number 1, by the way. How does your city fare?)

     

     

     

  • And There Was Light - Genesis Moment Good News for Met Branch Trail

    A strong community of trail users and local residents around the burgeoning Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. continues to have great success in promoting and improving this vital nonmotorized connection into the city.

    Since this rail-with-trail was opened in 2008, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has focused on fostering a sense of community ownership, hosting listservs for regular commuters and joggers, establishing a formal neighborhood group and building a regular series of community events on and around the trail. As a result, not only are more people using the trail, but these same people are now invested in, and solving, important safety issues, helping keep the corridor clean and cared for, and exerting pressure on local authorities for new improvements.

    Now, thanks to public pressure from trail users and supporters, including Greater Greater Washington blogger Geoff Hatchard and the District Department of Transportation's Bicycle Program Specialist and Trail Planner, Heather Deutsch, DDOT management has committed to better maintaining trailside lighting in order to ensure the trail remains lit at night. Lighting is a critical issue for this urban trail which has suffered from a number of muggings of trail users in recent years. Though the number of incidents was reflective of the crime rate in the surrounding neighborhoods and the trail does not attract a disproportionate rate of crime, the prominence of this relatively new trail resulted in thorough media coverage of the muggings and sparked a groundswell of demands for increased police presence and other safety measures. Like keeping the trail well lit.

    Though solar LED lights have long been installed, the problem was keeping them in working order, and a number of broken units meant pockets of darkness along the trail. 

    Following a regular correspondence with DDOT's John Lisle, Hatchard reported that DDOT has agreed to work with the contractor to get all the lights functioning again, and would sign a new contract that included regular maintenance of the lights. The result is sure to be more trail users, safer trail users, and so the snowball rolls.

    Great job, Met Branch peeps.

    Photo by RTC

     

     

  • In California, RTC Urges Gov. Brown on Active Transportation Strategy

    The state of California is a unique bird, particularly when it comes to transportation planning. A massive space populated with a mixture of booming metropolises, sprawling suburbs, and sparse rural areas, the Golden State's dire financial straits of late have made solving its intense congestion, connectivity and public health challenges all the more difficult, and important.

    The good news is that Governor Jerry Brown's administration is conscious that active transportation infrastructure - trails, sidewalks, bike paths and pedestrian connections - can play an enormous role in improving California's transportation system, not to mention the health and wellbeing of its residents.

    Enter RTC. Over the past few months, the director of our Western Region office, Laura Cohen, has been working as part of a powerful Caltrans working group of transportation experts tasked by Gov. Brown to make recommendations on how California should invest its funding from the new federal transportation bill, MAP-21. An important part of that discussion is how to make biking and walking a better option, to take some pressure off the state's overloaded roadways.

    "One of the key issues for the governor and the legislature is how we can use the flexibility in MAP-21 to steer our transportation investments to achieve some major California policy priorities, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving public health and reducing traffic congestion," Cohen says. "Creating bikeable, walkable communities, and improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, will help us get there. In our state, 27 percent of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians and bicyclists - nearly twice the national average - and we need to address that. The new bill gives us a new landscape, and everyone is still trying to map out the best way forward."

    Cohen says that while it is exciting to see the state government seek the advice of groups like RTC, Safe Routes to School National Partnership and the California Bicycle Coalition, it is also a nervous time for active transportation advocates.

    "The Business, Transportation and Housing Agency has floated the idea of taking all the federal funds and the state level programs for biking, walking and trails and rolling them all into one account - an Active Transportation Account," Cohen says. "We expect this proposal will be included in the Governor's budget proposal, due out January 10. This could be a great opportunity to both increase efficiency and expand funding for active transportation investment from new sources like cap and trade auction revenue, so we are happy to be working with the administration on this proposal. But there is also real uncertainty with this. Will the state commit to maintaining and growing the state funded programs? Will the project selection process be transparent, inclusive and equitable? Making sure the state doesn't dilute these already thin funding sources is one of the challenges our coalition faces."

    One of the strongest arguments for more investment in trails, biking and walking is the real-world success of existing trails networks in California. RTC played a prominent role in recently developed, and still expanding, trails systems in the San Francisco Bay region (above left), the San Gabriel Valley, San Diego and Santa Cruz, in addition to the enormous success of Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program investments in Marin County (top). These projects have boosted enthusiasm for more of the same, and demonstrated to planners and law makers, as well as local residents and businesspeople, the benefits of better options for biking and walking.

    RTC and the coalition of active transportation advocates is due to send their recommendation to the state legislature later this month. How lawmakers respond represents a critical moment. At stake is many millions of dollars of investment in California's active transportation infrastructure, and potentially a path toward a healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable transportation system.

    Photo of Cal Park Hill Tunnel courtesy MCBC
    Photo of Bayshore Bikeway courtesy www.TrailLink.com

     

  • Rec Trails Grant Spurs New Trail Development in West Virginia

    The communities of West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle are one giant step closer to connecting to the thriving trail activity of western Maryland and Pennsylvania, thanks to a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant.

    On Monday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced $80,000 in RTP funds to support the development of the North Berkeley Rail Trail, utilizing a disused section of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line. Though still in the early stages of planning, when complete the trail will run between Berkeley Springs and the U.S. 522 Potomac River bridge, and connect to the C&O Canal towpath, the Western Maryland Rail Trail, and the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), an internationally renowned rail-trail that attracts many thousands of riders every year from throughout America and around the world.

    This trails tourism traffic is worth an estimated $50 million a year to the communities along the GAP, and in recent years has breathed new life and commerce into towns and small cities suffering the decline of traditional primary industries. The North Berkley Rail Trail would allow the businesses and main streets of northeast West Virginia to connect to this booming market.

    The grant to the North Berkley Rail Trail project was one of 22 West Virginian trail projects receiving support this week. Gov. Tomblin announced $1.2 million in RTP grants to trails throughout the state, including the Meadow River Rail Trail in Fayette and Greenbrier counties, the Mon River Rail Trail system in Monongalia and Preston counties, and the Potts Valley Rail Trail (above) in Monroe County.

    Way to go, Mountaineers.

    Photo courtesy www.TrailLink.com

     

     

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Fulton County, Illinois

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about January 4, 2013, BNSF Railway Company filed for the abandonment of 14.5 miles of track between Farmington and Dunfermline within Fulton County, Illinois. 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. 486x). 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 February 3, 2013. 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 Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org.

     

     

  • The Bronx Needs Your Help to Bridge The Gap

    Like many waterways through America's cities, the Bronx River in New York has seen better days. Industrial waste and the impact of millions of people living on and around its banks made the river suffer mightily from pollution in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

    But local efforts to restore and protect the Bronx River and its watershed are having a real impact, raising awareness of the river's plight and putting in place measures to reduce pollution, restore native vegetation and stabilize this vital ecosystem that runs through the heart of the Bronx to the confluence of the East River and the Long Island Sound.

    A key part of that effort is the creation of the Bronx River Greenway, a network of trails and preserved public green space extending eight miles along the watershed. However, despite tremendous progress on this wonderful local project, the City of New York and local supporters recently hit a wall in the development of a small, but critical, section of trail alongside a former rail line.

    Amtrak and the New York State Department of Transportation have been unable to reach agreement on indemnification and liability issues related to the construction of a pedestrian overpass. Without this link, more than 100,000 residents in adjacent neighborhoods will remain cut off from the river, the new parks along its banks, and an invaluable bike and walking trail system.

    You can help. The Bronx River Alliance is gathering signatures to send to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, urging them to push ahead with negotiations with Amtrak. It's easy for you to do - just fill in the petition. The people of the Bronx will thank you!

    Images courtesy bronxriver.org

     

     

  • In Central Pennsylvania, the Rail-Trails Keep Coming

    The state of Pennsylvania continues to build upon and improve its already impressive rail-trail network. Millersburg Borough is this week celebrating the news that a "gaming grant," funded by revenue from state-licensed casinos, will fund the continued construction of the Lykens Valley Rail Trail, a planned 20-mile multi-use trail that's been under development for about 10 years.

    Just a stone's throw from RTC's Northeast regional office in Camp Hill, the development of this rail-trail along the former Lykens Valley Railroad comes as the residents of nearby Lewisburg begin to calculate the tremendous popularity and impact of the relatively new Buffalo Valley Rail Trail. A recent study by researchers at Bucknell University found that the 9.2-mile trail between Lewisburg and Mifflinburg has the potential to bring an estimated $280,925 annually to recreational business in the area.

    The once booming anthracite coal industry in the region left many miles of rail corridor suitable for trail development. A few miles to the east of the Lykens Valley Rail Trail is the rough but ready Swatara Rail Trail; to the south is the Stony Valley Railroad Grade (above). Further afield in every direction are rail-trails of all sizes and styles, boosting hopes of local businesspeople and officials that this neck of the woods will continue to develop a sustainable economy around trails tourism.

    Great work, P.A. 

    Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

     

 

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