A growing number of American cities are beginning to understand the massive potential of rail-trails and bike and pedestrian corridors in their neighborhoods.
The city of Terre Haute, about 75 miles west of Indianapolis, is a great example. This weekend, the local newspaper, the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, ran a terrific article examining the popularity of existing rail-trails and the potential to develop more underused rail corridors into public walking and biking pathways to solve a number of pressing transportation and connectivity issues.
"Cities that are doing well in this economy have put a premium on liveability. When you get down to it, liveability (is about) places where you can walk, bike and be active," our man in the Midwest, Eric Oberg, is quoted in the article.
Luckily for the people of Terre Haute, they appear to have city leadership that understands the ability of active transportation options to address the economic, environmental and health-related concerns that are challenging many American communities. Spurred on by the popularity of the National Road Heritage Trail, a rail-trail that runs through the heart of the downtown area, planners and residents alike are pushing for the reuse of more neglected rail corridors as public pathways.
"Recreational purposes are important for this city, given the sedentary lifestyles that are predominated and the rise of childhood obesity," says Terre Haute City Planner Pat Martin. "We are highly cognizant that we need more recreational activities and we are very aggressively pursuing those areas."
At one time Terre Haute was a hub of rail activity, so there are now a number of rail lines and corridors that are underutilized as transportation assets. One of those opportunities is a disused rail line on First Street from Spruce Street to Farrington Street.
"If we could have that rail line removed, we could completely re-do that connectivity between downtown Terre Haute and the Riverscape," Martin says.
It was especially interesting to read in the article the thoughts of the local residents who helped pay for the National Road Heritage Trail and now treasure it as a public asset.
"It is unique, in that a lot of money that could be spent in the community might benefit only a certain group of people," says Terre Haute resident Patricia Fenio-Campbell. "What better use of money than to have a system like this where people of all ages and athletic abilities can use it?"
Way to go, Terre Haute.