It's certainly catching on - the idea that rail-trails are incredibly effective ways to improve the functioning of active urban rail systems.
In St. Clair County, Ill., on the outskirts of St. Louis, Mo., the county transit district continues to extend its heralded MetroBikeLink Trail, a paved, multi-use trail that provides a fast and efficient connection from local neighborhoods to the metro stations.
This Thursday, county leaders will cut the ribbon on a new 2.2-mile section (right) connecting the Swansea MetroLink Station and Memorial Hospital Station. The extension compliments the existing 4.7-mile MetroBikeLink Trail (below) between the Swansea MetroLink station and Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.
"This project demonstrates just how effective our multi-modal system is in St. Clair County," county board chairman Mark Kern told the Belleville News Democrat. "We are seeing a diverse group using the trail system. By adding this 2.2-mile segment, we are further opening the system to our residents and visitors alike."
Successful rail-with-trail projects like this one, and similar projects in D.C., Massachusetts, Oregon, California, Connecticut and Texas, are helping correct the misconception that rail-trail development requires and supports the closure of rail service. Rail-with-trail projects combine the benefits of walking and biking with convenient access to urban transit. With the number of abandonments steadily decreasing since the mid-1990s, and cities looking for creative transportation designs for booming populations and diminishing space, rail-with-trail is a cost-effective and efficient solution.
"Cities these days are putting more effort into their pedestrian and bike networks. But at the same time, urban space is getting tight," says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Director of Trail Development, Kelly Pack. "Existing rail lines are natural corridors. More often than not the right-of-way is wide enough to accommodate a trail, they are built at grade, and they are already going where people want to go."
As it becomes a critical element of day-to-travel in the area, the spine of the MetroBikeLink Trail has already spurred the development of connecting trail systems, including one from Southwestern Illinois College into the adjacent neighborhoods.
And the success of this multi-modal system has regional planners thinking big.
"It is our hope that this trail system, with the ability to hop on MetroLink or MetroBus, will link our system to the Missouri side of the river," says one local transit official.