Linear Trails: Connecting People to Places and Each Other
[stag_intro]The article below from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven explores the off-road, “linear trails” that are beginning to get lots of people moving again, while also bringing value to the economy, the environment and the community.
Over the past half-century, development patterns have prioritized automotive travel, making it increasingly difficult for people to safely walk, bike, or otherwise move about without a car. Increased health problems related to physical inactivity, a loss of public open space, rising air pollution, traffic congestion and limited opportunities for social interaction are just some of the consequences of this built-up environment.
In Greater New Haven and north through the state’s central corridor, off-road linear trails are getting lots of people moving again, while also bringing value to the economy, the environment and the community1.
Often built on abandoned railroad beds and following rivers or other natural features, linear trails are usually paved and handicapped accessible. They are making important connections within and between cities, suburbs and town centers. They offer commuters a healthy and less-expensive alternative to car travel. They provide natural corridors for birds and wildlife. They connect residents and visitors alike to parks, historic sites and other special places. And they connect people with each other.
If You Build It They Will Come
One of the oldest examples in the country of an urban linear park is Boston’s Emerald Necklace. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in the late 19th century, the Necklace winds through the city, connecting Boston’s Public Garden to Franklin Park. Though never fully realized, the Necklace now consists of 1,200 acres of linked parks through Boston and Brookline.
In Greater New Haven, several long-term projects are making exciting connections. The longest is the 84-mile Farmington Canal Heritage Trail from New Haven to Northampton, MA. The trail follows the route of a canal built in the 1800s to connect New Haven Harbor with upland manufacturers. After the canal company went bankrupt, the route was converted to railroad tracks which remained in use until the early 1980s.
The land sat unused until being rediscovered by a citizens group that came together to protest the building of a mall on Dixwell Avenue in Hamden. The state owned the right-of-way and was about to sell it to a private developer when the group intervened and successfully petitioned to keep the land in the public domain. Soon after, a local group formed the Farmington Canal Rail to Trail Association, began working with cities and towns along its southern sections and applied for state and federal funds to build the trail.
Two-and a half decades later, the trail is 75-percent complete, much of it paid for with federal transportation funds. It includes an unbroken 14.5 mile stretch from downtown New Haven to Cheshire, and nearly the entire length from Farmington to the Massachusetts border. The Farmington section also connects to the Farmington River Trail, creating a 29.5 mile loop through five towns.
Health and Recreation
By offering free and accessible places to walk, run and bike separate from unsafe automotive traffic, linear trails help address public health issues related to inactivity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, however, only one in five adults meet the recommended minimum guidelines for physical activity3. While obesity rates are slightly lower in New Haven County than the U.S., they remain too high. In 2012, 66% of the adults in Greater New Haven were overweight or obese4.
In addition to helping control weight, the CDC recommends physical activity to help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
In the lower Naugatuck Valley, the Derby Greenway Trail (DGT) was an instant hit with walkers and joggers from the moment it opened in 2006. Anchoring a route that is planned to continue along the Naugatuck River Greenway all the way to Torrington, the Derby section is so well-used that a special plow was purchased to keep it open during winter.
A Safe and Equitable Transportation Alternative
Accessible trails are also a matter of equity for people whose only options for transportation are walking, biking or the bus. In low-income New Haven neighborhoods like Newhallville, for example, less than half (42%) of the residents have ready access to a car6.
Linking People to Places and Each Other
By linking people to parks, historic sites, and other important places linear trails contribute to a sense of place. The Shoreline Greenway Trail, which starts at the historic Lighthouse Point in New Haven, will eventually be a 25-mile route to Hammonasset Beach State Park. When complete, the trail will connect parks, schools, town centers, train stations and hiking trails in East Haven, Branford, Guilford and Madison.
Linear Trails in Greater New Haven
The Derby Greenway
Opened in 2006, the trail along the banks of the Housatonic and Naugatuck Rivers runs between Division Street and Main Street, and is part of the Naugatuck River Greenway.
Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
The 84-mile trail starts in New Haven and will eventually connect to Northampton, Massachusetts. The Farmington Canal Rail to Trail Association coordinates work on the southern sections of the trail and the Farmington Valley Trails Council works on the northern sections.
Shelton Trails Network
Shelton has an extensive trails network, as well as a Riverwalk path along Canal Street. Access points vary.
Quinnipiac River Linear Trail
The Linear Trail offers recreational access to all citizens – young and old, by foot, bike, skates, canoes, strollers and wheelchairs.Trail access: Lakeside Park: Hall Ave. and River Rd. in Wallingford.
Shoreline Greenway Trail
The Shoreline Greenway Trail offers bike riding paths, marsh views and bird watching. Trail access: Hammonasset Beach State Park.
What the Community Foundation is Doing
Several linear trail projects in the region have received support from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven’s unrestricted funds, as well as donor advised funds such as The Quinnipiac River Fund.
- Shoreline Greenway Trail: The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has granted $60,000 toward the creation of a 25-mile recreational trail.
- Quinnipiac River Linear Trail: The Quinnipiac River Fund has supported construction of a pedestrian bridge and information kiosks on Fireworks Island.
- Housatonic River Valley: The Community Foundation and its partner in philanthropy in the lower Naugatuck Valley (the Valley Community Foundation) have supported efforts by the Housatonic Valley Association for greenway construction and raising public awareness about conservation along the Housatonic and Naugatuck Rivers and Estuary.
- North Haven Trail Association: The Quinnipiac River Fund is supporting the clearing, cleaning up and maintenance of the Blue Trail along the Quinnipiac River’s west bank in the Quinnipiac River State Park.
References & Further Reading:
4. Abraham, M, et al. (2013). Greater New Haven Community Index 2013, p. 51. DataHaven.
5. Morris, Hugh. Trails and Greenways: Advancing the Smart Growth Agenda. Rails to Trails Conservancy, Sept. 2002.
6. Levy, Don. Greater New Haven Community Wellbeing Survey 2012: Report on Preliminary Results, p. 24. Siena Research Institute.
The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
© April 2015
Original Source: http://www.cfgnh.org/UnderstandingOurRegion/ViewArticle/tabid/161/ArticleId/268/Linear-Trails-Connecting-People-to-Places-and-Each-Other.aspx