Rail-trails are abandoned railroad corridors that have been preserved and redeveloped for walking, jogging, bicycling, horseback riding, or other forms of transportation and recreation. The over one hundred-year old natural landscape is preserved along the corridor. Rail-trails provide nonpolluting forms of transportation, add needed open space to urban areas, protect plant and animal species, an outdoor classroom, and a natural buffer between land uses.
The negative effects of motorized vehicle use are well documented. Although the automobile provides mobility and convenience, it is at the cost of air pollution, urban congestion, petroleum consumption, and accidents inflicting a significant toll in death, injury, and property damage.
A rail-trail offers a safer, environmentally friendly alternative to motorized vehicles. Bicycle commuting alone could be a material contribution to a larger environmental strategy. A comprehensive plan for Minnesota stated that every automobile mile displaced by bicycling or walking saves between five and 22 cents in reduced pollution, oil import and congestion costs.
The environmental cost of vehicle use is quite high.
Gasoline and diesel engines emit half of the carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides generated from all fossil fuel combustion worldwide. ( Walsh, "The Global Importance of Motor Vehicles in the Climate Modification Problem," International Environmental Reporter, May 1989)
Ground level ozone reduced crop yields between 5 and 10 percent, at an annual cost of about $5 billion in the US alone. (MacKenzie and El-Ashry, "Ill Winds: Air Pollution's Toll on Trees and Crops," Technology Review, April 1989)
Half of all commuting trips in the U.S. are five miles or less. A car that runs a short distance and is started often produces the greatest amount of toxins. As shown by the following chart, most trips are for other than work.
Table: Distribution of Auto Trips by Purpose and Gender
|Purpose of Trip||
|Family and personal||
|Social and recreational||
|Civic, educational, religious||
Source: Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (1990),
Surface Transportation Policy Project
The economic costs of excessive dependence on motor vehicles are heavy. A significant fraction of the US foreign trade deficit is attributable to oil imports. Transportation uses 63 percent of total US petroleum consumption (source: US Dept. of Energy, Energy Information Administration).
In 1995 only about 20% of Hendricks County residents worked in the county. This continues to reflect a pattern in which Hendricks County functions as a bedroom community for Marion County. (1998 Hendricks County Comprehensive Plan). Congestion is also an economic burden. In 1990, nearly 80 percent of Indianapolis commutes were accomplished with one-occupant autos (US Census Bureau, 1990). According to Texas Transportation Institute study of cities, Indianapolis area drivers spend 52 hours in 1997 sitting in traffic. Indianapolis ranks 12th highest of 68 cities studied. Annually the average Indianapolis driver wastes 79 gallons of fuel. Collectively drivers in Indianapolis waste 61 million gallons.
Rail-trails in general, and B&O Trail potentially, are an inexpensive and low technology alternative to motor vehicle use, and need to be developed to maximum extent practicable. As such, they represent a major alternative to automobile-based commuting during periods of suitable weather.
The B&O Trail will provide a nonpolluting transportation artery from the state's largest population center, the Indianapolis metropolitan area, to west central Indiana. The main western highways that connect Hendricks County to Indianapolis are Interstates 70 and 74, US Routes 36, 40, and 136. The B&O Trail, which closely parallels US 136 two or three miles north, will also provide an east-west route.
The B&O Trail will link many rural areas of west central Indiana with urban areas where people normally drive to work, shop, or recreation. The transportation significance, and hence, the pollution offsets made possible by the B&O Trail, will likely become more pronounced as population densities increase, as resources become more scarce, and as people's attitudes toward environmental preservation strengthen.
A 1991 Louis Harris poll found that 20% of American adults (32.9 million people) would commute to work by bicycle if there were more bike trails and safe lanes on roadways. If only half of these people did as they said, $1 billion less fuel would be burned.
According to a study titled, The Commuting Market, conducted by Elliot Gluskin, reported in the December 7, 1997 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, as many as 29 million Americans would use a bicycle frequently for commuting to work or school. Preserving railroad corridors, especially those that go into Marion County, will give west central Indiana residents a transportation option. Clearer air, improved health and fitness, and less congestion are the obvious benefits.
Trails improve air quality by protecting the plants that naturally create oxygen and filter out air pollutants such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. We do not have to sacrifice the environment to provide mobility for commuting.
Since the first national park was created in 1872, America has invested enormous sums of money in our federal and state parks, forests, and preserves. While we have the finest national park system in the world, most of these parks tend to be far from where people live and are limited in their ability to meet the growing diversity of America's recreation and conservation needs. The demand for outdoor recreation close to home is increasing. This led President Reagan's 1987 Commission on Americans Outdoors to recommend establishment of a national "network of greenways to provide people with open spaces close to where they live, and link together the rural and urban open space in the American landscape. The time for trails is now. …We can realize the vision of a system of trails, connecting people and communities. This can be the era of the recreational interstate system-with a trail within 15 minutes of most of our homes."
The B&O Trail will be within 15 minutes of many residents of Hendricks and west Marion counties. By its linear design, it will provide easy and convenient access for people.
"The fact is the wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity." Gaylord Nelson said, founder of Earth Day, former US senator, counselor of The Wilderness Society in Washington Urban sprawl is overtaking much of eastern Hendricks County.
Urban sprawl is overtaking much of eastern Hendricks County. Urban sprawl, which by design makes people drive everywhere, can be the greatest threat to a close-knit community. If the abandoned B&O railroad corridor is not developed, it will likely succumb to commercial and residential development pressures. However, if this ribbon of green is developed into a trail, it will lessen the negative effects of urban sprawl by preserving greenspace, and the opportunity to link neighborhoods to other neighborhoods, work locations, parks, shopping areas, and other trails. The last crop on greenspace is asphalt caused by development.
Hendricks County is on the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' critical list for lack of recreational facilities. This designation is based on the amount of available recreation land in the county and the growth rate of the population within the county. (Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan 2000-2004). Hendricks County needs to preserve greenspace now before it is replaced by development and, therefore, gone forever. Though Marion County is not on the critical list, it does not meet local or regional standards for recreational land.
According to an August, 2000 poll by Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation, more than 80 percent of voters "feel a sense of urgency about protecting land, water, wildlife, and other natural rsources for future generations." Another 67 percent agreed that "we need to do something about it now."
A comprehensive 1994 report of Maryland's greenspace system and of their North Central Rail Trail (NCRT) in particular reached the following conclusion:
The primary motivation for most people to use the NCRT is the lack of enjoyable and safe locations to walk, run, and bicycle. Changes in land use patterns to higher densities and an increased acceptance of the automobile as the primary consideration of roadway engineering have made residents feel unsafe to walk or bicycle for health and recreation purposes on or along road corridors. Less than two percent of respondents to the NCRT survey felt unsafe on the trail. (Analysis of the Economic Impacts of the North Central Rail Trail, PKF Consulting, Alexandria VA, 1994.)
While there is some justification for concern about environmental implications of the development that greenways represent, both in theory and in practice, it seems true that greenways are overwhelmingly a friend rather than a foe of the environment. For example: greenways, by literally bringing the environment into urban neighborhoods, provide the awareness and motivation needed to restore and protect urban natural areas.
Presently the abandoned B&O corridor is a dumping ground for old appliances, dry wall-everything including the kitchen sink. Cleaning up the corridor, when it is developed into a trail, will remove an eyesore in the county. Planting desirable trees and plants will enhance the corridor and greatly improve the esthetics of the surrounding area.
The B&O Trail could be used as an outdoor-environmental classroom. The benefit of an outdoor classroom would be to educate the youth of our county and increase the overall public awareness of biodiversity, which naturally exist in the wild. Trees, shrubs, wetland plants, grasses, etc. are just a few possible species of plants that outdoor classrooms can study. Another such benefit would be to provide to educators and groups with public access to these areas.
WILDLIFE AND PLANTS
In rural areas rail corridors frequently harbor the last remaining remnants of original prairie plants and grasses. The B&O Trail would preserve the natural growth that has been undisturbed since this railroad line began over 100 years ago. The plant cover provided by the B&O Trail would provide wildlife transit routes, shelter, food sources, and nesting sites year round. The B&O Trail can help preserve biodiversity and wildlife areas by protecting environmentally sensitive land along rivers, streams and wetlands.
Due to exploding development in eastern Hendricks County, there are only "islands" of habitat, which dot the landscape, isolating wildlife and plant species. The Trail would provide the linkage between these islands and increase the land available to many species in urban settings.
Road development generally fragments the environmental setting which it traverses. This fragmentation inhibits wildlife migration, animal foraging and reproduction, among other deleterious wildlife effects. By developing the corridor trail with native grasses, shrubs and trees, existing habitats along the corridor would become less fragmented. When the B&O Trail is developed, other parks, trails, and nature viewing areas will link to the B&O Trail, thereby reducing future fragmentation or loss of wildlife habitat.
LAND USE BUFFER
Buffers protect soil and water. Railroad corridors have acted as buffers for farmers for over 100 years. The corridors have helped eliminate serious water pollution and related environmental problems from farms. The B&O corridor has served as a drainage way since 1879. The vegetation growth on the corridor protects farmsteads and livestock from strong winds and snow, as well as reduce wind erosion across open fields. Preserving these buffers by converting them to greenways can beautify the countryside, dampen noise, reduce dust, soften and direct urban growth, and provide outdoor classrooms-a way to get school children into nature.