Author Archives: Van Meter Pettit

Happy trails

Christian Science Monitor, from the November 19, 2003 edition

Want to get to the post office in a hurry? The nearest bike trail may be the best way.

By Ross Atkin | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Retired warehouseman George Redman loves to hit the trail – the asphalt ribbon that runs only a few blocks from his house in East Providence, R.I. Year-round, the 79-year-old grabs his trusty 10-speed Schwinn, the one with the saddlebags on the back and an additional bag in the front, and takes a daily spin, often 20 miles or more along Narragansett Bay.
Besides offering ample fresh air and exercise, the bicycle rides connect Mr. Redman to people and places in a way that nothing else does.

He explores towns, stops to read a book or buy a bottle of water, and frequents his favorite sandwich shop, the Café la France in Bristol, R.I., with its outdoor tables and bike rack.
Unlike traditional bike paths, the trail Redman uses isn’t strictly recreational. It is utilitarian. Instead of just passing through lovely scenery, it takes him and others to useful places, illustrating what some experts see as the future of trails.
In the past, recreational trails were typically located outside cities, says Richard Killingsworth, director of Active Living by Design, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “This didn’t allow them to connect destinations of interest. But now we’re entering a new kind of paradigm, looking at how trails can be used as transportation corridors, located in dense residential areas where they connect people to places they want to go.”
The shift is an acknowledgment that trails must integrate with everyday lives. Otherwise they serve a relatively small constituency of Lycra-clad cycling enthusiasts and suburbanites out for Saturday fun or exercise rides, which begin by driving to the trail.
Nowadays, the idea is to make it easy and attractive to think the way Europeans do, who are more inclined than Americans to cycle during their daily rounds.
Certainly Redman is a pedaling billboard for the benefits of regular trail use. And Rhode Island, where he rides, is an excellent example of the networking that is increasingly connecting scattered, local trail-building efforts.
The East Bay Bike Path runs 14-1/2 miles through towns and hamlets, eventually making a connection that leads into Providence, where the plan is for several trails to converge and link to the ambitious East Coast Greenway, a 2,600-mile work in progress.
When completed, possibly by 2010, this interurban, firm-surface equivalent to the Appalachian Trail will run from the Canadian border in Maine to the Florida Keys.
It’s being pieced together – like a massive quilt – sometimes in high-visibility areas. Last year, for example, one stretch was designated that runs along the Mall in Washington, at the heart of the nation’s capital. Another metro trail runs to Washington National Airport.
Major trails, such as the East Coast Greenway, are like tree trunks from which many branches (local trails) grow.Mark Fenton, a cycling advocate and host of the PBS program “America’s Walking,” says that creating numerous connections is the key to the increased usage public trails have begun to experience.
This is evident in Seattle, which has set itself apart with bike-friendly initiatives, including the Burke-Gilman trail, a granddaddy among urban trails. “Much of what has happened there,” Mr. Fenton says, “is not at all glamorous. It’s [a network of] little neighborhood connectors – maybe the cut-through at the end of a cul de sac that allows you to access a trail from a neighborhood that connects to a school or a playground or something like that. It makes all the difference in the world.”
Trail connectivity is a challenge, especially in built-up areas. This is where unused or abandoned railroad corridors and canal towpaths have come in handy.
The rails-to-trails movement converts out-of-use railroad rights of way to trails. In doing so it has become increasingly important to developing urban trail infrastructure, since rail corridors often run through the middle of towns and are ready-made and mostly flat.
The US has 12,648 miles of rail trails that serve about 100,000 users a year, and many more miles are under development or under consideration. When available rail corridors run out, many communities are marking off bike lanes at the sides of streets. (The East Coast Greenway, when completed, should be 20 percent on-road.)
Indianapolis is going even further with its bold plan to build the Cultural Trail, a downtown greenway that would use existing traffic lanes to connect five designated cultural districts.
One lane of the center city’s wide thoroughfares would be co-opted for a multiuse, 6-1/2-mile landscaped trail. Approval seems almost certain for this $15 million to $20 million project, which aims to enhance the city’s appeal to both residents and visitors. If built, it would also connect with the very popular Monon Trail and create a circuit for cafe- and theater-hopping.
“Probably 70 percent of the time you’d be seeing something beautiful, and every five or 10 minutes you could stop and find a restaurant, a gallery, a store, or park,” says Brian Payne, president of the Indianapolis Foundation, a major supporter of the project.
Tourists might also be able to use the path. New smart-card technology could be employed to automate bike rentals at various points.
There’s mounting evidence that municipalities and homeowners like bikeways and trails. Homeowners see them as a popular neighborhood amenity that often enhances property values, and civic leaders view trails as green infrastructure that links open spaces and creates alternative transportation routes.
Still, building trails can be a long, arduous process, which may bog down over jurisdictional, design, and approval issues. For example, the Minuteman Bikeway, which stretches 11 miles between Cambridge and Lexington, Mass., took 18 years to complete.
In Michigan, the GreenWays Initiative is helping to stimulate faster action and foster greater regional cooperation. A program of the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan, the initiative has created a $75 million financial incentive for greenway development in a seven-county area that includes Detroit.
In three years 53 grants have been made to local trail developers, and more groups are “lining up,” says GreenWays director Tom Woiwode. “By having a time line, we’re trying to create an urgency to get these plans done and projects started.”
Some of the most exciting plans involve Detroit, where a three-mile riverfront trail could stimulate development of a citywide network, fanning out from the banks of the Detroit River to every neighborhood.
Roughly a half-dozen subregional trail coalitions have been formed among neighboring communities. In addition, Mr. Woiwode says, what began as a movement of bicyclists and hikers has now grown into a movement of community activists, with architects, planners, public health advocates, and businesspeople all joining in.
After a trail is finished, there’s often a need to acquaint people with the trail. “The first users you’re going to see on the trail are the hard core from the local walk and biking clubs,” Fenton explains. “Then you’ll see groups and families, dads and moms with the kids. Over time, more routine use by individuals will become common.” At that point, the trail has arrived.

Trails = Better neighbourhoods, better fitness

Canadian broadcasting corporation

Better neighbourhoods, better fitness
Last Updated Thu, 28 Aug 2003 13:42:31

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA – Trails and streetlights are important elements in influencing how much people exercise, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered access to trails and other places suitable for exercise are especially key.

The report, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, examined the link between neighbourhood characteristics and level of exercise.

Researchers called a sample of 1,796 randomly selected adults in the U.S. and asked questions ranging from how much the person exercises to whether there were sidewalks, trails or biking lanes in their communities.

They looked at rural, suburban and urban areas.

“We found no association between leisure activity and unattended dogs and only a weak link with heavy traffic,” said Dr. Sara Huston, one of the study’s authors.

“But people who reported having access to places for exercise of various kinds and those who reported neighbourhood trails were significantly more likely to be getting the recommended amount of physical activity.”

Huston said the survey included a diverse population. Researchers found blacks, American Indians and those with lower incomes and less education were less likely to exercise but only because of their “less favourable” neighbourhoods.

Huston says the study was meant as a springboard to find out why American adults have such high rates of obesity.

One recent study attributed more than 280,000 deaths in the U.S. to people being overweight or obese.

Economic Benefits of Greenways: a Summary of Findings

Adapted by The Conservation Fund’s American Greenways Program: Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails, and Greenway Corridors – National Park Service, 1990.

Real Property Values
Many studies demonstrate that parks, greenways and trails increase nearby property values, thus increasing local tax revenues. Such increased revenues often offset greenway acquisition costs.

A. California’s Secretary for the State Resources Agency estimated that $100 million would be returned to local economies each year from an initial park bond investment of $330 million (Gilliam, 1980).

B. A greenbelt in Boulder, Colorado increased aggregate property values for one neighborhood by $5.4 million, resulting in $500,000 of additional annual property tax revenues. The tax alone could recover the initial cost of the $1-5 million greenbelt in three years (Cornell, Lillydahl, and Singel, 1978).

C. In the vicinity of Philadelphia’s 1,300 acre Pennypack Park, property values correlate significantly with proximity to the park. In 1974, the park accounted for 33 percent of the value of land 40 feet away from the park, nine percent when located 1,000 feet away, and 4.2 percent at a distance of 2,500 feet (Hammer, Coughlin and Horn, 1974).

Expenditures by Residents
Spending by local residents on greenway related activities helps support recreation related business and employment, as well as businesses patronized by greenway and trail users.

A. Residents are increasingly spending vacations closer to home, thus spending increasing amounts of vacation dollars within the boundaries of the state (NPS 1990).

B. In 1988, recreation and leisure was the third largest industry in Califoraia. More than $30 billion is spent each year by Californians on recreation and leisure in their state. This amounts to 12 percent of total personal consumption (California Department of Parks and Recreation, 1988).

Commercial Uses
Greenways often provide business opportunities, locations and resources for commercial activities such as recreation equipment rentals and sales, lessons, and other related businesses.

A. Along the lower Colorado River in Arizona, 13 concessionaires under permit to the Bureau of Land Management generate more than $7.5 million annually, with a major spinoff effect in the local economy (Bureau of Land Management, 1987).

B. Golden Gate National Recreation Area has contracts with ten primary concessionaires. Total 1988 gross revenues for these concessionaires were over $16 million, over 25 percent of which was spent on payroll (NPS, 1990).

Greenways are often major tourist attractions which generate expenditures on lodging, food, and recreation related services. Moreover, tourism is Maryland’s second largest and most stable industry, and is projected to become its largest.

A. A poll conducted by the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors found that natural beauty was the single most important criterion for tourists in selecting outdoor recreation sites (Scenic America, 1987). Maryland’s Department of Economic and Employment Development estimated the annual value of tourism and commercial activities directly related to the Chesapeake Bay was $31.6 billion in 1989 (DEED 1989).

B. The San Antonio Riverwalk is considered the anchor of the $1.2 billion tourist industry in San Antonio, Texas. A user survey concluded that the Riverwalk is the second most important tourist attraction in the state of Texas (NPS 1990).

C. The Governor’s Committee on the Environment reported in 1988 that the governors of five New England states officially recognized open space as a key element in the quality of life in their region. They credited that quality of life with bringing rapid economic growth and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry to the region (Governor’s Committee on the Environment, 1988).

Agency Expenditures
The agency responsible for managing a river, trail or greenway can help support local businesses by purchasing supplies and services. Jobs created by the managing agency may also help increase local employment opportunities.

Corporate Relocation Evidence shows that the quality of life of a community is an increasingly important factor in corporate relocation decisions. Greenways are often cited as important contributors to quality of life.
The quality of life in a community is an increasingly important factor in corporate relocation decisions; greenways are often cited as important contributors to quality of life and to the attractiveness of a community to which businesses are considering relocating.

A. An annual survey of chief executive officers conducted by Cushman and Wakefield in 1989 found that quality of life for employees was the third most important factor in locating a business (NPS, 1990).

B. St. Mary’s County, Maryland, has found over the last ten years that businesses which move to the county because of tax incentives tended to leave as soon as the incentives expire. However, businesses that move to the county because of its quality of life remain to become long term residents and taxpayers (NPS, 1990).

C. Site location teams for businesses considering San Antonio, Texas regularly visit the San Antonio Riverwalk. A location on the river-walk is considered very’desirable; A regional grocer, the HEB Company, relocated its corporate headquarters to a historic building oriented towards the river (NPS, 1990).

D. The Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress reports that a city’s quality of Life is more important than purely business- related factors when it comes to attracting new businesses, particularly in the high-tech and service industries (Scenic America, 1987).

Public Cost Reduction
The conservation of rivers, trails, and greenways can help local governments and other public agencies reduce costs resulting from flooding and other natural hazards.
While greenways have many economic benefits it is important to remember the intrinsic environmental and recreation value of preserving rivers, trails and other open space corridors. Greenways along rivers can help reduce the cost of repairing flood damage and improving water quality.

A In a study of major land uses in Culpepper County, Virginia, it was found that “for every dollar collected from farm/forest/open space, 19 cents is spent on services’ “(Vance and Larson, 1988).

B. In Yarmouth, Maine, an analysis of costs of providing municipal services to a specific parcel proposed for parks showed that the annual costs of those services exceeded revenues generated by taxes by $140,000 annually. This was compared to an annual cost of $76,000 over 20 years to purchase the property (World Wildlife Fund, 1992).

C. In Boulder, Colorado, the 1988 public cost for maintaining developed areas was estimated to be over $2,500 per acre. The cost for maintaining open space in the city was only $75 per acre, or less than three percent the cost of non-open space (Crain, 1988)

From the American Trails website:

Signs of civic life

From the Op-Ed pages
Published Tuesday, November 27, 2001, in the Herald-Leader

Trail work, arts meeting speak well of public involvement

A foot trail and footlights hold different sorts of appeal. But two volunteer movements — one working to build a creek-side trail along Town Branch, the other giving voice to Lexington’s artists — have some connections worth noting.

Both are signs of vitality in Lexington’s civic life.

Both are examples of visionary thinking by ordinary citizens.

And both have the potential to enhance the quality of life in our city and region for years to come.
Although both also are funded with a sprinkling of grant money, the energy and imaginations of their unpaid backers are what’s propelling them. On a recent Friday night, about 40 friends of Town Branch Trail gathered at McConnell Springs for an annual meeting.Their idea — to restore the badly polluted creek to a central role in Lexington’s life — will take years, even decades, of hard work to accomplish.

But the effort is making headway. Town Branch Trail Inc. has been incorporated as a non-profit organization and has a spot on the Internet at Thanks to developer Dennis Anderson and a $100,000 grant from the state, the first link, beginning at the trail’s Masterson Station Park terminus, is in the works. It will provide 24 acres of interconnected parkland, greenways, and hiking and biking trails. Water quality also will get a boost in the near future when an old city-owned dump is capped and stops leeching into the creek.

Thanks are due to the small band of talented volunteers and city planners and engineers who are pushing this project, which deserves additional support from local, state and federal governments. Someday Town Branch Trail could be the premier link in a citywide network of paths and greenways, tying Lexington’s past to its future and making the city a more desirable place to live and work.

Also worthy of support is a Dec. 8 town meeting put together by a group of Lexington artists.
The organizers are seeking a broad discussion by artists and patrons. They want to talk about how the city can better serve the arts. They also want to talk about how the arts can better serve the city, especially by creating a cultural climate attractive to new-economy entrepreneurs.

“Envisioning the Future: a Town Meeting for the Arts in the Bluegrass” will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Carnegie Center for the Literacy and Learning, 251 West Second Street.

The public is invited. It’s a great chance to help shape the future of Lexington from the grass roots up.

The Cost of Sprawl

From the Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse,

For decades, uncontrolled, scattered development has characterized planning all across the United States. Farmland and other open spaces are being paved at an alarming pace.

* Although the population of the Cleveland metropolitan area fell by 11% between 1970 and 1990, developed land increased by 33%.1

* Between 1970 and 1990, the population of Chicago’s metropolitan area grew by a mere 4%, while developed land increased by 46%.2

More communities recognize the detrimental costs associated with sprawl. As a result of poor planning and limited transportation choices, people waste increasingly more time and money running errands and commuting to school and work. In addition, financing sprawling development costs taxpayers money, sometimes creating significant budgetary crises for local governments.

* In a 1998 study, the American Farmland Trust found that children living in scattered developments spend the equivalent of 24 school days commuting to and from school on buses each year.3

* A 1992 study by economists at Rutgers University revealed that infrastructure costs related to sprawl, such as roads, water and sewer lines and new school facilities, were going to cost New Jersey residents $1.3 million to keep up with development plans.4

* Planners in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota estimate that $3.1 billion will need to be invested in new sewer and water lines to keep up with projected growth for 2020.5

* According to estimates from the Texas Transportation Institute, in major metropolitan areas across the country, the annual cost of congestion per capita resulting from low density development is $650.6

The Tides of Change

Local governments unable to ignore the costs associated with sprawl, and citizens alarmed by their diminishing quality of life are calling for an end to sprawl. Many are using trails and greenways to manage development in their communities.

* On November 3, 1998, voters across the United States approved 72% of 240 ballot referenda to spend more than $7 billion on state and local conservation measures. These initiatives will protect and improve farmland, parks, open space, greenways, historic resources, biological habitats, watersheds and other related environmental enhancements.7

* A 1998 report by the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy found that conservation of open space and higher density development were essential to preserve a higher quality of life, which is an important factor in attracting employers and employees to California localities.8

* A study in Woodbridge, Connecticut showed taxpayers that it was more cost-effective for them to buy a 292-tract of land for open space conservation than to permit new development.9

Preserving What We Value

Small towns and rural areas are hot spots for vacationers and people in search of a quieter and more peaceful lifestyle. The popularity of these areas often leads to development problems. In response, many communities are using greenways to conserve land and preserve the lifestyles that make their communities so popular.

* Residents of Yampa Valley, Colorado are preserving the Yampa River to protect thousands of acres of ranchland, and they have built the Yampa River Core Trail as part of an urban greenways program.10

* All across the country, land trusts are working to protect remaining open space. More than 1,200 land trusts have saved nearly five million acres of wetlands, wildlife habitat, ranches and farms, recreation land and other important areas.11

* The Stowe Land Trust has protected over 2,500 acres of land in Stowe Valley, Vermont. Land conservation is important in this popular vacation spot, where tourism thrives on the natural beauty and picturesque town.12

Expanding Transportation Options

Trails are corridors that connect residential areas with retail areas, neighborhoods with schools, and homes with work. Trails provide safe and pleasant environments for people to commute either to work or to public transit systems. They also encourage people to enjoy the outdoors. If planned properly, they can provide an alternate route for commuting, reducing air pollution and traffic congestion.

* The planned Gwynns Falls Trails is a 40-45 mile loop that will connect 20 neighborhoods to parks and downtown Baltimore, linking the urban center to the suburban counties.13

* The Minuteman Trail, a rail-trail located outside Boston, is a popular commuting trail used by bikers and walkers to get to work and public transit stations.

The Walking Magazine selected “America’s Best Walking Towns” for their network of sidewalks and trails, aesthetically pleasing walking environments, compact and diverse development and “a culture of promoting walking in citizen activism, civic planning and administration.” (Dave McGovern, The Walking Magazine, May/June 1998.)

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Clayton, California

Boulder, Colorado

Washington, DC

Dunedin, Florida

Portland, Maine

Boston, Massachusetts

Exeter, New Hampshire

Raleigh, North Carolina

Xenia, Ohio

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Burlington, Vermont

Urban Revitalization

One of the greatest challenges for many local governments is revitalizing their cities and attracting people back to the cities from the suburbs. Trails and greenways are valued for their ability to connect people with places and enhance the beauty of urban centers. Famous greenways such as Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, and New York City’s Central Park are obvious examples of planned greenways that add quality to the lives of those living in these cities. Other cities, such as Providence, Rhode Island and Chattanooga, Tennessee turned industrial blight into beautiful and useful greenways and trails along riverfronts. Plans are underway in Birmingham, Alabama to create a 17-mile greenway encompassing Village Creek, which runs through a primarily abandoned brownfield industrial site. The greenway will include a multi-use trail.14

Quality of life truly determines the livability of an area. Americans around the country, from ranchers and farmers to suburban and urban dwellers, are demanding that green places be protected. In order to compete for residents and businesses, local governments realize that conserving open space is a benefit to their communities. Trails and greenways provide the tools for all Americans to shape their communities and retain the level of quality that they desire.

“People said, ‘Build this trail and no one will come’…Now commuters use it every day and families come on weekends to blade and bike and walk.”

– Tom Murphy, Mayor of Pittsburgh, PA talking about the Eliza Furnace Trail.

Helpful Resources

Erickson, Donna L. and Anneke F. Louisse. Greenway Implementation in Metropolitan Regions: A Comparative Case Study of North American Examples. Michigan: National Park Service, Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Southeast Michigan Greenways Project, The Greenway Collaborative, Inc., and the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment, January 1997.

Lerner, Steve and William Poole. The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space. San Francisco: The Trust for Public Land, 1999.

Sorensen, A. Ann and J. Dixon Esseks. Living on the Edge. Illinois: American Farmland Trust, Center for Agriculture in the Environment and Northern Illinois University, March 1998.

The Sierra Club. The Cost and Consequences of Suburban Sprawl. San Francisco: The Sierra Club, August 1998,

Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse, 1100 17th Street, NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: (202) 974-5133 or 5157; E-mail: or; and Web site:


1 American Planning Association, “Hot Topics, Paying for Sprawl,”

2 A. Ann Sorensen and J. Dixon Esseks, Living on the Edge, American Farmland Trust, March 1998, p. 2.

3 Ibid, p. 5.

4 Kasowski, Kevin, “The Costs of Sprawl, Revisited” Development: The National Growth Management Leadership Project Newsletter, September, 1992. Cited in Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails, and Greenway Corridors, National Park Service, Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance, 4th edition, 1995.

5 The Cost and Consequences of Suburban Sprawl, The Sierra Club, August 1998.

6 Donald Camph, “How Sprawl Costs Us All,” STP Progress, June 1995.

7 Phyllis Myers, Livability at the Ballot Box: State and Local Referenda on Parks, Conservation, and Smarter Growth, Election Day 1998, The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, January 1999.

8 Steve Lerner and William Poole, The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space, The Trust for Public Land, p. 4.

9 Ibid, p. 8.

10 Routt County, CO: Holding the Reins, National Association of Counties, Joint center for Sustainable Communities,

11 Lerner and Poole, p. 24.

12 Ibid.

13 Tom Horton, “Can We Grow Smarter,” Land & People, Spring 1999.

14″Village Creek Regains its Status in Birmingham,” Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Brownfields,

About the Clearinghouse: The Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse provides technical assistance, information resources and referrals to trail and greenway advocates and developers across the nation. Services are available to individuals, government agencies, communities, grassroots organizations and anyone else who is seeking to create or manage trails and greenways. The Clearinghouse is a joint project of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and The Conservation Fund’s American Greenways Program.

Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse n 1100 17th Street, NW, 10th Floor n Washington, DC 20036

Toll free: 1-877-GRNWAYS E-mail: Web site: