Monday, December 2, 2013

Great Reasons to Increase Trail Funding

The only thing within walking distance:
 3,000 homes just like yours.
Where are the parks and stores?
In communities across our country, for much of the last seventy years, transportation planning
decisions have placed a high priority on the automobile; typically with little or no thought (or funding) going to alternative forms of transportation including feet, bikes, buses, and rail. This shortsightedness lead to massive sprawled out, low-density cities whose residents are dependent on cars to get groceries, visit friends, and get to work.

This form of city structure is not common in Europe or Asia and makes the United States particularly vulnerable to spikes in the price of crude oil and gasoline. It also ensures that most Americans get little exercise when going about their daily routines.

Walkable Neighborhood via OpticosDesign
In recent years, demand for trails and walkable communities has grown as people tire of spending
hours stuck in traffic during their commute or having to drive 20 minutes to get to a restaurant or grocery store. While Arkansas has been slower than places like California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, and New York to adopt a higher priority for active/alternative forms of transportation, cities like Fayetteville, Bentonville, and Little Rock have put some impressive trail infrastructure in place and are starting to see the benefits.

 Here are some big reasons Arkansas should boost funding for trails and place alternative forms of transportation on the same priority level as cars and highways:

1. People are driving less. This is particularly true for younger people who are waiting longer to get a license and are looking to live in locations that don't require as much driving. More proof that per capita driving is dropping lies in the fact that per capita gasoline consumption is dropping as well.

2. People are walking and biking more.  Data collected from the RiverTrail in Little Rock and the Scull Creek/Frisco trail in Fayetteville show steadily climbing usage numbers over the last 5 years.  It is clear that adding and connecting trails has helped boost numbers as more people have access to trails that take them more places.  The bridge to Two Rivers park off of the River Trail has boosted traffic both on the trails in Two Rivers and along the River Trail.  The extensions of the Scull Creek/Frisco/Mud Creek/Lake Fayetteville trail have increased traffic by connecting more and more residential areas, shopping centers, and parks.  When complete in 2014, the Razorback Greenway, and the trails networks connected to it, will provide a viable transportation alternative for large numbers of area commuters and shoppers in addition to the thousands of recreational bikers, joggers, and strollers that already make use of the currently completed sections of trail every day.

3.  People want walkable, livable communities and see trails as a big part of that.  Sprawl in the Fayetteville area has largely been on hold since 2008, while the last five years have seen an explosion in large apartment complexes near the University and The Square.  These complexes also happen to be on or near trails or planned trail corridors.  In fact, proximity to trails plays a role in LEED certification, something developers of new apartments and office buildings are increasingly seeking.

4.  As mentioned elsewhere on this site, trails get people outside and improve our mental and physical health; lowering our medical bills and improving our quality of life.  Arkansas is the least active state and one of the least healthy with one of the highest rates of obesity.  Spending money prioritizing active transportation and recreation will save our state money on health costs and improve the quality of life of our citizens.

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