Priming the pump that turns dollars our way

By Herb Hiller Southeast Region Program Consultant

Jolt, shudder -- and glide.

Florida trails this year are BMX-like leaping ahead institutionally, while also smoothly paving the way for long-distance trails like the East Coast Greenway and companion routes.

Those of us partial to trails would rather get out and ride ‘em than endlessly plan strategies to get others to build ‘em. But for an organization like the Greenway Alliance, hurt like so many more not-for-profits during this recession, the right strategies constitute pump priming that will again pour dollars our way.

Yesterday, Florida’s Greenways and Trails Council unanimously adopted a resolution that calls for the state to make a priority of long-distance, or destination, trails.

That resolution indicates that Florida’s trails community is paying attention to last year’s ill-informed move by Florida’s legislature to zero out the budget for the state’s Office of Greenways and Trails. Now in the state’s second successive year of revenue shortfalls totaling hundreds of million dollars, OGT has wisely chosen to focus on long-distance trails for many reasons but chiefly for their promise of economic development.

We know that when cyclists book trail tours for up to a week at a time that sums flow into regions by up to $2,000 per person. Twenty people? Primary impact of $40,000 with virtually no non-sustainable consumption of infrastructure or revenue offsets from pollution.

Long-distance trails, of course, serve local use the same as visitor use. Locals can tour sections of the trail for recreation. They can themselves tour (and do).The same trails also provide commuter routes and safe routes to markets and schools. They do more, as I pointed out in a preamble to the resolution that OGT asked me to prepare:

*Trails invite green infrastructure and green practice. Such trails invite the rehab of historic buildings for intimate lodgings along their way. In the same way that homeowners along trails install gates that open directly on trails, trails also appeal to businesses that want a more physically active work force.

*The way that factories have traditionally installed rail spurs to their cargo bays, cities today might choose to incentivize workplace choices by helping underwrite the costs of trail spurs that connect to main trails, and so encourage commutes by bike.

*A reduction in car travels can reduce the demand for car parking and thereby result in more productive use of leasable space otherwise needed for parking cars. Showers in the workplace encourage people to commute to work by bike and get onto their bikes or jog during lunchtimes.

I concluded by observing a tendency for people unfamiliar with bicycling and trail use to view the world divided into a majority class of people who drive cars on roads and those few others that oddly ride bikes, paddle and hike in out-of-the-way places.

Yet I pointed out the truth that virtually every cyclist also owns one or more cars that we like everyone else drive on the road. However, these car owners – who also tend to be affluent, I said – know when not to drive their cars and instead leave their cars at home.

Florida’s future becomes more hopeful as we invest more fully in trails. The state altogether, by its new emphasis on long-distance, destination trails positions itself as guide to the Florida future stretching in front of us.

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