Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beware of Certain Bike/Ped Plans

Understand that I have an avid biker and walker. I live car-free for a good part of the year and have served as a Trustee on a trails organization and advoacted safer pedestrian access everywhere I travel. But as was evident with the City of Portland Maine's transportation Committee and planning department staff this week, sometimes we forget our prioritiies. I am cutting and pasting a commnet I shared with a national organization about a blog on the current Federal Transportation Bill But this relates diecctly to portland consdering a cnversion of our rail corrdors to trails. As Follows:

Well at the known level of risk I take in raising the ire of so many I must lend my 2 cents worth.

Active transportation funding is a problem. Active transportation is a key word that we watch for when we find the Nationally-based, Federal highway-funded RAILS TO TRAILS CONSERVANCY making plans to discontinue more railway corridors for use as recreational trails. Please, before you launch the familiar attacks, spend some time on the history of this group. They may have changed their name to rails with trails, but the intent and outcomes are the same - loss of valuable railway corridors.

TRT was organized around the same legislative era when the railroads were being shut down as American transportation was completing its transformation to the single-occupancy automobile and nearing the end of a era of the most successful transportation system in the world. I won't spend a lot of time here, but from 1946 to 1976 the auto/roads pavement succeeded. Passenger rail transportation was considered a waste of money and an interference for the freight rail operators who were also losing market share to the subsidized road system. Fear of losing railway corridors to abutters led the Federal government to pass legislation to protect the corridors. Enter the RTT group, funded through highway fuel taxes stepping into the picture under the assumption that they would provide "Interim use of the rails" as recreation trails until such time as rail could re-emerge.

Their track record, if you will, has been very successful. Thousands of miles of rail corridors have been converted to trails and less than 1% has been converted back. Once they are in, their is no way to get them out. One might suggest that the corridors should be shared. The greatest engineering feat of the 19th and 20th century designed around a transportation system that was moving thousands of people IN BOTH DIRECTIONS at over 100 miles per hour (yes 100 years ago passenger rail was traveling that fast and faster). Note "both directions". Now transportation planners believe that the corridor is wide enough for joggers and bikes and pushing baby carriages alongside 100 mile an hour trains. But not only is that unrealistic, but in order for commuter rail to work, as rail was originally designed, trains must operate in both directions - there is no room for non-motorized uses. (oh yes, but when you Google design for Rails WITH Trails all the links point to successful systems - all in manuals written by the RTTC and funded with highway dollars) It just ain't so.

The "argument" these days is about our health. But the real debate should be the economic impact. We must consider transportation and the economic malaise we are in in the same policy breath. Roads and cars have not only destroyed the economy, but they are the cause of our poor health and environment. A rail will not only bring great economic opportunity to raise us from this depressed economy, but our environment will improve. Besides, there are plenty of places to jog and bike that are not in railroad corridors!

Before we make policy and finding decisions on such things as trails, or funding organizations that convert railway corridors to recreational trails we need an EIA. Not just an Environmental Impact Analysis (which is one of the costliest burdens of rail investments) but an ECONOMIC IMPACT ANALYSIS. if one were to analyze the return of taxpayer investment on a trail verses railway, the economic impact is significant - and not at all in the favor of trails. The idea that recreational trials brings tourism and economic impact to towns along the route is BS. In maine, where the rail/trail is paved at a cost of $Two Million Dollars a mile, the towns along the way are left with the responsibility of on-going maintenance, and in the winter no users except for lazy, trail and rail destroying oil using snowmobiles who can be elsewhere ( I wasn't showing any prejudice there was I?).

I have to go to work, of which there is not much of these days.

Think hard about "Active Transportation". Is it just one more way for the anti-rail contingent to kill the best solution to our oil crisis? or is it good for our health as we lose our homes?

Tony Donovan

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