Rails-to-Trails and other Insights

By NMA Member Art Delagrange

I retired at 55.  Now approaching 80, I haven’t been able to cycle the last few years, but before that, I spent much time cycling, mostly on rail/canal trails.  I have operated locomotives on rails that later became a trail and a shared rail & trail.  I think rails to trails are one of the best ideas ever.  The trails, of course, also allow hiking, and some even allow disabled persons to operate their powered wheelchairs.

I am generally against government takings but abandoned rail roadbeds are a national treasure that should be preserved. I am aware that many original roadbed deeds specified that if the railroad abandoned them, they would revert to their original owner. We need a way around this, possibly legal proceedings to make sure that we still can use the rail bed for everyone.

With trails next to rails, there was initially some concern about having locomotives next to cyclists. The only problems I know of are people trying to beat the locomotive to a crossing (a problem with cars, too; don’t try it), and cyclists for some strange reason seem to like to stop between the rails (a great view, but generally a bad idea).

I live near Montgomery County, Maryland, which is known for several things, all bad. There are two-lane roads with bumper-to-bumper rush hours, having signs stating bicyclists are entitled to an entire lane.  Double stupid.  #1, with a decent shoulder, they don’t need it.  #2, if any bicyclist actually did this (I haven’t seen it yet), it would cause a monumental traffic jam. Bicycles cannot keep up with cars in anything less.

I understand some places are removing cars from specified lanes altogether. How is this supposed to make commuting better blows the mind? The number of people cycling to work is almost zero while the number of folks here in Maryland (and nearly every other place in the country) commutes to work in a vehicle for whatever reason.  I have cycled in rain and snow, and I know why very few cyclists want to ride in bad weather. Not fun for most of us.

Some of the more capable cyclists don’t want a level course because it is a challenge to push yourself further. I understand. At least once a year a race is run on the country road by my house, which has some steep hills and sharp curves.  Auto traffic is not stopped; motorists are simply warned ahead of time, and there doesn’t seem to be a problem.  In the only accident I’m aware of—cyclists ran into each other.

Bicyclists, just like cars, should pay for the road. Currently, the percentage of infrastructure funding that bicyclists pay for is zero, and that should change since cities all over are spending our gas tax money on bicycle lanes that many don’t use when it’s cold out, or the weather is bad. Rails to trails, though is a great idea, and everyone should get on board wherever it is feasible.

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