Dear Mr. President-Elect:
The Mt. Vernon Trail, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is a popular route for commuter bicyclists and countless
In September, we asked you to tell us what you would like to say to the next president of the United States about the importance of trails, walking and bicycling? We heard from several passionate supporters who represent different angles of the trails movement. A few of their responses appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Rails to Trails magazine alongside an "Open Letter to the Next President," by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President Keith Laughlin.
Together, these voices make a strong statement about the many important and meaningful uses of trails and other walking and bicycling facilities.
Kristin Firth - Chardon, Ohio
What makes community trails so valuable? I see people from all walks of life and varied physical abilities using the trails, on foot, bicycles, inline skates, in strollers and wheelchairs. In my semi-rural area, it is not very safe to walk along the roads. I do cycle the roads as well as the trails, because no trail leads into town from where I live. But you must be a careful, somewhat aggressive cyclist to negotiate some intersections. At certain times of day, I avoid them altogether.
I would like to see more cities and towns weave usable trails through their municipalities. In Geauga County, Ohio, the trails stop at either end of the county seat, and you're on your own getting through! The trails are great for recreation, but it would be nice to have more that actually take you somewhere.
Don Cummings - Greenwood, Ind.
In the same way that we came together for the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is time for the nation to take action toward a sort of "ADA-UTOP" act—Americans with a Desire to Act Under Their Own Power.
For too long we have permitted state and local planners to ignore the most basic of human needs—to get from one place to another under one's own power. Many communities have finally gotten the message from their residents. But many have not, and many need to do more.
It should be a fundamental right of all Americans to be able to transport themselves, by foot or bicycle, using a safe and well-maintained infrastructure.
We are well behind many other Western nations in this respect. At the same time, we lead those nations in obesity and automobile use. It is not anyone's desire to eliminate the automobile. Most people who want to forgo the car for trips of reasonable length are motorists in their daily lives. But in many places having the option not to use a car for a short trip isn't practical due to lack of infrastructure.
Embarking on a trails and pathways initiative often is regarded in local communities as something for the fitness crowd alone. But trails also serve those looking for engaging family activities, those wanting to get to their place of employment and those just looking for an evening stroll. Trails provide self-reliance for those unable to drive—the elderly, children, the disabled—allowing them to get where they need to go. Use of trails improves national health, makes safer communities and decreases the need for fossil fuels.
We ask that you consider legislation that would set national standards for pedestrian infrastructure and cycling infrastructure, create true incentives for getting them built and establish disincentives for not building them. Each governmental unit should be required to have a trails plan in order to receive highway funds. The new legislation should mandate that some percentage of new state highway projects be designed for such non-motorized travel. And to put more teeth in it, give citizens the right to take their communities to court if their officials do not honor the mandates.
James R. Wiley - Tampa, Fla.
Why build trails as an alternative to roads? We should instead be asking, "Why not?" Compared with automobile travel, trail use is all positive—cheaper, much healthier, more fun, enabling better appreciation of surroundings, offering more opportunity to interact positively with others, and engendering a more positive outlook on life (have you ever seen anyone frowning on a bicycle?).
Even the "negatives" are positives. Use of trails entails no reliance on foreign oil (or any oil, for that matter), no pollution, no traffic jams, no need for massive car lots and garages, no two-ton car to dispose of in a few years, no car wrecks, no drunk drivers, no bureaucracy to regulate drivers.
Bottom line: Building more trails will make us better citizens.
Paul Guenther - Parker, Colo.
My biggest concern has to do with our roadway systems and ensuring the safety of bicycle riders who share the corridors. It is important to make sure that road construction and roadway improvements allow for the safety of cyclists. That is not being done now.
Here is an example of the problem. I live in Parker, Colo., a suburb of Denver. Parker is growing like a weed, and there are a lot of cyclists out here. Lincoln Avenue is a major thoroughfare connecting Parker to points west. A couple-mile stretch of this road was just rebuilt. Does the improved section incorporate a bike path or adequate shoulder area to accommodate bicycles? No! Let's not continue to ignore cyclists when road construction is being planned.
Joe Maitner - Wyoming, Mich.
Please do all you can to make as many rail-trails available as possible. Rail-trails are accessible to the general population, they do not favor any particular racial or economic group and they go a long way to promote a healthy lifestyle. Rail-trails are family-friendly, providing free family entertainment regardless of children's ages.
My 30 years of cycling experience have me convinced that cycling promotes good citizenship and etiquette—lessons learned through yielding right-of-way and exchanging pleasantries on the trail.
Gwynne Bee - Warminster, Pa.
I would like to ask you to support the rail-trail movement as part of an overall effort to encourage safe, green transportation.
To reduce use of fossil fuels, I try to ride my bicycle when possible instead of driving my car. In an environment unfriendly to biking, however, this is difficult. I live 15 miles from where I work and have attempted to make the trip on my bicycle. The route requires that I cross a few major intersections. There are no significant shoulders for me to use, so I put myself in danger and must hope that drivers will be careful.
Please promote pedestrian and bike lanes, corridors and rail-trails for the safety of the public, and to save our environment.