Rails to Trails Guest Post: National Bike Month

Throughout National Bike Month we are highlighting the efforts of some of our advocacy partners who are making a difference for cyclists throughout the US. Last week we turned our blog over to our friends from People for Bikes, and this week we’re letting the good folks at the Rails to Trails Conservancy lead the train. Read on below to find out what they’re doing to make cycling safer and more accessible, and how you can help.

I bet most of you have a good trail or bike path close by, right? Yeah, I do – the Capital Crescent Trail between Maryland and Washington, D.C. I ride it each day to work, and sometimes on the weekend to meet buddies in the city.

For those of us fortunate enough to have access to a trail, bike lanes or just some wide-open space, riding a bike to get around is a pretty simple, visceral pleasure. The wind in your face, the adrenaline pumping… you save time, save money and generally feel good about things. Simple.

But as basic as this joy seems to those of us who ride regularly, in many parts of America there are significant barriers to this simple activity. In a landscape often designed for cars to the exclusion of walking or biking, millions of Americans lack a safe and convenient place to ride at all, let alone a network of trails, bike lanes and paths that enable others to ride to work, to school, to visit friends or go shopping.

Riding the new Windsor/Ash bicycle boulevard in Columbia, Mo.

That’s what drives us at Rails to Trails Conservancy. We have an ambitious target—referred to here in our office as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal—to put 90 percent of Americans within three miles of a trail system by 2020.

We are working toward that goal by helping communities develop rail-trail projects, by supporting trail-based business and residential development, by working hard on Capitol Hill and with state and local governments for policies and funding that recognize the importance of biking to our transportation system, and by building a movement of people who love their trails and want to spread that love!

Opening day of the Windsor/Ash bicycle boulevard in Columbia, Mo.

National Bike Month this year is a particularly significant one for us, as it marks the release of a report on active transportation we have been eagerly anticipating. Launched by Congress in 2005—and with management support from RTC—the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) dedicated $25 million to each of four communities to invest in biking and walking infrastructure. The idea was to see what this kind of unprecedented, targeted investment could do to change and grow a culture of biking and walking in these communities.

Essentially, it was an experiment into whether Americans were interested in non-motorized transportation – whether, to borrow loosely from a famous baseball movie about a guy in a cornfield, “If we build it, will they come?”

The results came in last week, and just three years into the pilot the change in transportation behavior tells a truly compelling story.

Across the four communities, counts revealed a 49 percent increase in biking. Compared to a national increase of 15 percent from 2001 to 2009, that spike is astounding. In just three years, the pilot communities achieved triple the expansion in biking activity the rest of America took eight years to realize.

Building the Cal Park-Hill Tunnel path to San Francisco in Marin County, Calif.

Although the pilot program did involve education and safety programs, a huge part of this increase was directly tied to infrastructure – physically providing safe, convenient and direct pathways that actually take people where they need to go.

In Columbia, Mo., the new Windsor/Ash bicycle boulevard completed in 2010 resulted in a 124 percent increase in bicycle traffic. In Marin County, Calif., the new Cal Park-Hill Tunnel path to San Francisco—constructed through a hillside and alongside active rail tracks—resulted in a 400 percent increase in weekday bicyclists. Nearby, the new Alameda Del Prado bicycle lanes increased weekday bicycle traffic by 366 percent and weekend bicycle traffic by 540 percent.

No question, if we build it, they will come. Big time.

Heading into the Cal Park-Hill Tunnel path in Marin County, Calif.

So what does this mean for you? Well, right now the U.S. Congress is debating whether to dedicate any transportation funding to biking and walking infrastructure, as part of a new federal transportation bill. Many of our Congressional representatives believe that money spent on enabling biking and walking is “frivolous,” and a waste of taxpayer dollars that should be spent exclusively on roads.

Rails to Trails Conservancy is doing everything we can to make sure our transportation system provides a better balance and gives people the healthier, cheaper, cleaner and greener option to bike and walk. If you have a moment, tell your representative that a car-only landscape isn’t the way you want to roll, and that being able to bike is an important part of your transportation future.

It’s a critical time – every voice and every vote counts.

Happy National Bike Month, everyone!

Rails-to-Trails Guest Post: Federal Transportation Bill

If you’ve been reading almost any cycling site recently, or following the conversation through social media, you’ve probably heard about the ongoing transportation bill debate in Washington, D.C. The multi-year U.S. transportation bill has been moving along rapidly in Congress, and there are many in Congress who wish to remove any dedicated federal-level funding for bike and pedestrian focused projects. We wanted to learn more about this issue, just like you, so we asked our friends with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, who know the ins and outs of this transportation bill, to to be our guest here on the Performance Bicycle Blog today. Jake Lynch, Rails-to-Trails‘ Communications Manager, wrote this post about what the proposed changes to the transportation bill could mean, why this funding is important, and what you can do if you’d like to help influence the debate.

Right now, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are attempting to pass their own versions of our nation’s next multiyear surface transportation bill. These bills will dictate America’s direction for many years, and not only in terms of our transportation infrastructure; they will have far-reaching impacts on the nation’s health, environment and economic vitality.

The bad news for everyone who believes our government should help provide safe and convenient places to ride a bike or walk is that both the House and Senate bills would harm programs that fund trails, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and even transit. Transportation Enhancements (TE), the top source of funding for trails and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, would effectively be eliminated. TE is the lifeblood for active transportation projects in communities of every size all across the country (Ed. we’ve included photos from a few projects below).

TE funded Hot Metal Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

There is strong evidence that trails and bicycling and pedestrian projects are cost-efficient job creators, crucial to our nation’s public health goals, and keys to America becoming more environmentally and economically sustainable. Unsurprisingly, the bill was unpopular across the spectrum and provoked a backlash from constituents and transportation advocates like you. The good news is that your voice has been heard, as a vote on the proposed House bill (H.R. 7) has been delayed until at least the end of this month, an indication that there are not enough votes to pass this bill in its current form.

TE funded Capital Crescent Trail, Montgomery County, MD

But there is still work to be done. The Senate bill, as it was passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, would also be bad news for bicycling and walking projects – but it is not beyond repair. We are seeking passage of two bipartisan amendments that would restore the integrity of the programs that provide dedicated funding for bicycling and walking, including TE, Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails Program. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) have introduced an amendment (#1549) that would ensure communities a fair shot at dedicating funding for trails, walking and bicycling. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) have filed another amendment (S. Amdt. 1661) that would restore the Recreational Trails Program. By mitigating some of the oversights of the Senate bill through appropriate amendments, we can help the Senate craft a positive alternative to the House bill.

TE funded Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail, Salt Lake City, UT

We here at  Rails-to-Trails, along with many other cycling and walking advocacy organizations, are urging all our friends to support these two amendments to the Senate bill. As passionate riders and bicycle advocates, you can help by spreading this message, and by taking just a few moments to complete this automated email form that lets your senators know that trails, walking and biking are important to you.

We understand that often it is hard to get motivated by a legislative process that can seem distant and unproductive. But if a transportation bill becomes law with the current provisions of either of these bills, we will all suffer as our roadways become less safe, obesity continues to climb, and we fail to maximize our communities’ economic development and job creation potential. Please, join this effort to keep America’s transportation network moving forward. You can keep up to date with the latest legislative news by signing up for RTC Online, or on the Rails-to-Trails Trail Blog.

Roundtable with Rep. Earl Blumenauer & Rep. David Price

This week we were invited to participate in an interesting roundtable discussion about Livability and Smart Growth in our local Triangle community (which consists of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, where our home office is located), focused on efforts to improve access to and funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Organized by Multi-Modal RDU and McKinney (and hosted at McKinney’s offices in Durham), this discussion, open to the local community, featured the participation of our local U.S. Representative David Price, an important supporter of multi-modal transportation and environmental protection efforts in Congress, and Representative Earl Blumenauer of Portland, founder of the bi-partisan (or “bike-partisan” as he likes to call it) Congressional Bike Caucus and long-time bicycling advocate in Washington.

Rep. Price, Performance Bicycle CEO David Pruitt & Rep. Blumenauer

The room was packed with passionate cycling advocates and community members who were there to talk about bicycle and pedestrian planning on the local and national level. In addition to Reps. Price and Blumenauer, the roundtable discussion was led by representatives from the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee, the Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, and our Performance Bicycle CEO David Pruitt, who was there both as part of the local community and also as a representative of the bicycle industry.

Passion for their cause was evident with all of the speakers, whether it was supporting the construction of greenways along the east coast, building a path to bisect North Carolina from west to east, advocating for new bike lanes, or, in our case, reaching more customers with the cycling products, services and knowledge they need to ride more often. But the most interesting part of the discussion was hearing how these plans were being implemented – what strategies were and are still needed to bring these visions to reality. It was in this realm that Rep. Blumenauer was able to bring his experience as an advocate for the cycling community to the fore, as he talked about the need to make the case for both the economic and health benefits of increased access to cycling.

In addition to boosts to recreation and tourism, he cited examples from his home district in Portland where cycling-specific infrastructure fueled measurable economic growth and added value to the community (plus served as a catalyst for a thriving $100 million local cycling industry), all for a cost-effective investment.

It is for these reasons and more that we support the efforts of the National Bike Summit, and are a sponsor of Bikes Belong, a national coalition of bicycle retailers and suppliers that works to put more people on bikes more often, through projects, partnerships and advocacy efforts across the country. Because the one key lesson from this discussion was that it will take a concerted effort on both the local and national stage for cycling advocates to continue to create a safer, more accessible, and, in the end, more valuable cycling infrastructure in our country.

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