With a lot of unused railway lines across the country, rail trail and rail with trail projects are becoming more common. These initiatives take unused railways, often through the heart of urban areas, and adds pedestrian and bike friendly pathways to the existing transportation corridor. The national Rails to Trails Conservancy counts nearly 23,600 miles of rail trails already completed across the United States and over 8500 miles of trails under development.
Rails with Trails and the Push for Active Transportation
Part of the reason behind the increase in rail with trail projects has been the push to promote active transportation as a way to increase health, improve quality of life and reduce pollution, among other benefits. Accordingly, cities across the country are looking at ways to make walking and biking more appealing as part of their master transportation plans.
One example of a city moving forward with active transportation infrastructure is Ukiah, California. Nestled in the heart of northern California’s wine country, the city has been steadily increasing its network of multi-use trails in alignment with its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and in partnership with a number of local and state organizations.
One of the most significant of these trails is a stretch that runs parallel to a now unused tract of railway spanning the northern and southern edges of the city. The pathway, the first phase of which opened in 2015, is part of a much larger vision across Mendocino county and California to convert unused rail lines into infrastructure for walking and biking.
Modernizing a Transportation Corridor
In addition to a paved multi-use trail stretching parallel to the center of town, the project also included pedestrian scale lighting to improve accessibility and safety. The city specified any lighting systems should “direct light to prescribed areas with limited scatter” and lights “should avoid unnecessary glare, night sky pollution, light trespass on neighboring properties and energy waste.”
To meet these requirements, the city chose to illuminate the pathway with over 90 of First Light’s IPL series solar area lights.
In addition to meeting the light performance requirements, opting for solar lighting offered a number of advantages for the project. The most important was a significant reduction in install costs by avoiding the need to trench and lay wires to each light. This saves up to half the install cost while also avoiding ongoing risks with wire erosion and theft. The self-contained and visually appealing fixture is also vandal resistant and there are minimal ongoing costs.
Strong Community Support
Grassroots support for the trail has been strong and there have even been petitions launched by community members to accelerate the construction of future rail with trail phases. The city recently approved work for phase 3 of the trail with more First Light IPL luminaries specified. The 3/10 mile section includes a class 1 bike path, a pedestrian bridge over a creek, two pocket parks and a healing garden.
Rail with Trail State Grant Funding
To help fund this latest phase, the city was able to get funding from the Urban Green Grant from the California Natural Resources Agency. The grant is funded by California’s cap and trade revenues and “supports projects that reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHG), by enhancing, expanding and creating neighborhood parks, provide greening of public lands, mitigating urban heat islands, or developing non-motorized urban trails that provide safe routes to travel between residences, workplaces, commercial centers and schools.”
With funding support available and strong community backing, Ukiah and other cities are poised to continue to lead in the modernization of transportation corridors for pedestrian scale applications like rail with trails. We look forward to seeing more of these kinds of projects in the future.