There was some wonderful news for rail-trail advocates and
planners in Illinois last week, with Governor Pat Quinn announcing tens of
millions of dollars would be invested in trails throughout the state.
The grant funding was provided by the federal Transportation
Enhancements (TE) program, now known as Transportation Alternatives (TA), and
was part of a package of nearly $50 million for active transportation works
throughout Illinois, that is expected to support more than 400 jobs across 54
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Director of
Policy Outreach, Dan Persky, who spent many years working on active
transportation projects in Illinois, said that the strong focus on trails in this round
of grant funding represents a significant shift in the state's transportation
"In recent years, Illinois has often dedicated a majority of
TE funds to streetscape projects," Dan said. "To see the governor's office
directing such significant support for projects like the Calumet-Sag Trail and the
Grand Illinois Trail is recognition that these facilities are vitally important
transportation and recreational assets, and that they represent a smart
investment in the state."
In addition to the Calumet-Sag Trail (a regional trail southwest
of Chicago), and the Grand Illinois Trail (a planned loop of more than 500
miles between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River), other noteworthy
projects to receive funding include the Millennium Trail, the North Shore
Channel Trail, the DeKalb-Sycamore Bikeways, and the Historic Route 66 Bikeway.
Local groups such as Trails for Illinois
and the League of Illinois Bicyclists deserve a lot of credit for many years of
advocating for appropriate investment in trails and active transportation
That job is about the get a little easier. A new partnership
between RTC and Trails for Illinois will soon produce the first ever
comprehensive study of trail usage in that state.
Late last year, I spent a week visiting a wide variety
of trails across Illinois, including the Tunnel Hill Trail, the Rock Island
Trail and the Old Plank Road Trail, retrieving automated trail counter
equipment which had been tracking user activity over the previous months. At
the same time, teams of local volunteers were distributing and collecting trail
user surveys, which included questions about spending patterns.
It's part of Trails for Illinois' 'Make Trails Count' push.
"We want to show Illinois and its communities the triple bottom line
benefits-economic growth, improved health and environmental stewardship-that
trails are creating," says Executive Director Steve Buchtel. "We want to put a
number on those benefits so decision makers take them seriously."
The results of those surveys are now being analyzed by the
Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the University of Illinois. In
terms of trail development and trail use, so much has happened in Illinois over
the past few years, but we really know very little about it. This survey is the first of
its kind for the state, and will go a long way to demonstrating the
significance of these trails to the people and businesses of Illinois.
That report on trail-usage patterns and the economic impact
of trails tourism in Illinois comes out in the spring. Stay tuned.
Photo courtesy Trails for Illinois