Do we have the nation’s largest paved trail network?

“The Nation’s Largest Paved Trail Network.”

The folks who manage and help fund our trails have been saying this about our 330-mile network for at least a year now.

It’s printed right there on the 2014 edition of the Miami Valley Ohio Bikeways Guide Map, although in a slightly different wording.

It was proudly announced at last weeks Miami Valley Cycling Summit in Piqua.

And it’s there several times in the new draft 2015 Bikeways Plan Update. Both the map and the update are put out by the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, which funnels federal transportation dollars to specific projects in the area.

“Our Region is home to the nation’s largest paved trail network, a local asset and a tourist attraction, which results in an estimates $10-$13 million in local economic impact each year,” the draft report, states on Page 6.

But are we really? How do we know?

It turns out that Bob Steinbach, the MVRPC’s director of sustainable solutions and transportation alternatives, has spent quite a bit of time on the question.

How confident is he?

“If you say it correctly, real darned confident,” Steinbach said.

Steinbach — whom you may recognize as the “Director, Grandpa” on the new Bike Miami Valley “Travel with Care” posters and ads — has been researching this subject for several years.

He’s had ongoing conversations with the Rails to Trails Conservancy, the American Trails Foundation and other bicycling folks, and nobody could come up with a network of paved, connected, off-street trails that was longer than our 330 miles.

Denver, for example, claims to have 800 miles of bike facilities, but when Steinbach inquired, he found that only 80 miles of that is paved.

“The rest of it is mountain bike trails, or it’s on-road signed routes or a bunch of different things,” Steinbach said. “But that’s why I think what we have is so unique. It’s a paved network of trails: The nation’s largest paved trail network.”

Another contender is the Circuit, which is being developed in the Philadelphia region. Look it up on the website, and you’ll see it have “more than 300 miles” of trail constructed.

And – look out Miami Valley! – they’re planning to build 750 miles when it’s all said and done.

But of those 300 miles, close to 150 are not paved, they’re crushed rock. And 20 miles are on road bike lanes. And those 300 miles are scattered all over a nine-county region – unconnected.

For example, the region has remnants of a 19th century canal system and 50 or so unbroken miles of that are now a state park and trail, said Christopher Linn, of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. But it’s not paved.

“Some of it’s a nice cinder surface, and it’s flat so it’s pretty bikeable,” Linn said. “But none of it’s paved.”

And there’s another 30 or so miles of unpaved, crushed stone, converted railroad trails, he said.

But the goal is for all the trails to be paved and connected – by 2040.

“Some trails are just off by themselves, they’re not in any network,” Linn said. “But every trail that’s conceived as part of the system has a pretty good opportunity to connect into another trail.”

And, he said, the region has a huge coalition of agencies in two states, nine county governments, private foundations, and close to 60 non-profit organizations lined up behind the Circuit.

“We have the identity and the brand, the Circuit, and the media and the messaging campaign,” he said. “And we’ve been getting good funding from federal and state sources.”

So, look out Miami Valley. Philadelphia’s coming.

Even the cycling mecca Portland, which has the highest share of bike commuters of any major metropolitan city in the county at 6.1 percent, doesn’t have what we have.

True, Portland has a very complete network in the urban area. The network totals 309 miles, according to the Portland Bicycle Plan 2030, but only 75 miles are trails. The rest are bike lanes, bike boulevards, signed trails and the like.

In the meantime, though, Eric Oberg, Midwest director of trail development for the Rails to Trails Conservancy, said it’s safe to brag.

Oberg, who just relocated to Yellow Springs, said he’s “100 percent confident” that we have the nation’s largest paved trail network.

“There are certainly places that want to do more,” Oberg said, “but there’s nobody that done more.”

He called the Circuit “a wonderful network and a great project” Oberg said. But it’s not like ours.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy – the nation’s largest trail organization – has been working to create off-road trails for the last 30 years for a good reason.

People are just more comfortable riding bikes there.

“Nobody can refute any more that more people go out onto off-road or protected facilities than they do on-road or signed facilities,” Oberg said. “That’s just the reality of it.”

There’s a large segment of the population who describe themselves in surveys as “interested, but concerned” about bicycling.

Those folks, especially, aren’t going to ride on the streets, he said. At least, not in the beginning.

“They want to get out, but they’re not diving in with just a bike lane or a signed bike route,” he said. “They need that extra level of comfort that some physical separation gives them.”

And if Philadelphia wants to catch us, they’re going to have to work hard.

The MVRPC doesn’t count, for example, the 17 miles of unpaved trail that just opened up from Urbana to Bellfountain, Steinbach said. But as soon as it’s paved they will.

“So now you’re close to 350,” he said. “And every year that number goes up a little bit. Jurisdictions connect local trails to it. At some point in time we hope the Great Miami Trail connects all the way down to Cincinnati, as well as the Little Miami Trail.

“All of those things will just increase the value of the whole network.”

So, brag away: The nation’s largest paved trail network.

Ken McCall is the database reporter for the Dayton Daily News and an avid cyclist. He is a member of Bike Miami Valley, where he serves as co-chairman of the Regional Advocacy Committee; the Dayton Cycling Club; the Ohio Bike Federation; and the League of American Bicyclists. If you have any story ideas or bike news, contact him at ken.mccall@coxinc.com or call (937) 225-2393.


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