Posts Tagged ‘Rails with Trails’

More on the Royal Oak Rail-with-Trail proposal

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

C and G Newspapers ran a recent article on the rail-with-trail proposal in Royal Oak:

City officials have begun to look into the possibility of a recreational trail along the railroad lines that run through the city and into the downtown. The administration was tasked at looking at the issue after Commissioner Jim Rasor brought it forward at the Jan. 25 meeting. Any potential trail would run alongside the existing railway, where there is a large amount of open area.

“This would really enhance recreation possibilities for Royal Oak and the region,” Rasor said.

Rasor said he would like to see the trail constructed from the downtown area to the northern Royal Oak boarder, which is a length of approximately four miles.

A long-range goal, Rasor said, would be to eventually link up to the Clinton River Trail in Pontiac, which runs from Pontiac to Rochester Hills and eventually dumps into the Macomb Orchard Trail, which goes 26 miles to Richmond.

Since this article was published, I’ve met with city of Royal Oak staff to discuss next steps — which is basically information gathering. I’ve also kept the Active Transportation Alliance, the organization that will create Royal Oak’s non-motorized plan, in the loop.

There was a question about whether a feasibility study was the next step. In speaking with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy they asked. “Is it being used now?” The answer is sure. They said that if people are already using the pathway next to the rail lines then it’s feasible.

Below is a link from a 1932 article discussing the history of this rail right-of-way. “All cuts and fills were constructed for four tracks, but at present only two tracks have been laid.” Two of the lines were intended for suburban train service while the other pair for freight. As noted earlier, the third and fourth line were never added, which leaves room for a non-motorized trail.

Link: Grand Trunk Relocation on Detroit-Pontiac Line, Engineering News-Record, October 21, 1932

Interestingly enough, the original plan was to build an “elevated motor speedway” above the rail lines. It was to be a toll road allowing motorists to travel between Pontiac and Detroit in under 30 minutes.

This was the vision of Joseph A. Bower and he had a good reason to build a highway to downtown.

He’d just built and opened the Ambassador Bridge.

Rail with trail in Royal Oak?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The Detroit Free Press recently ran this article on trail development throughout Metro Detroit.

“Look at this. There’s so much potential,” Royal Oak City Commissioner Jim Rasor said, as he strode Wednesday in Royal Oak beside railroad tracks where he envisions a hiking-biking trail.

Tonight, the Royal Oak City Commission is to discuss Rasor’s hope to turn 8.5 miles of unused land next to the Canadian National Railway tracks — from Royal Oak to Bloomfield Township — into a public trail, tying south Oakland’s bike lanes to north Oakland’s wooded paths.

I recently gave the following public comment on the rail-with-trail concept at Monday’s City Commission meeting:

I encourage the City Commission to explore a rail with trail along the Grand Trunk right-of-way.

Originally this rail line headed northwest out of Royal Oak following Sherman before meeting up with and paralleling Woodward. When the state of Michigan wanted to widen Woodward, they bought land and re-routed the railroad to its current location.

The plan was to build four parallel rail lines, but only two were ever built. The result is there is unused space along the right-of-way which is now a two-track dirt path.

It seems that unused space could accommodate a non-motorized trail.

And wouldn’t this be a great way to bring people into our Downtown?

This would not be the first rail-with-trail. They exist throughout the United States, including ones in Ann Arbor and Traverse City. Nationwide, rails-with-Trails have a perfect safety record. They have a much better safety record than roads and sidewalks.

As someone who lives within eyesight of the railroad and who has had their home appraised, I know how it reduces my property value. Creating a rail-with-trail would increase property values throughout the city, but especially for those of us living close to the rail line.

The response from the commission was mixed. Some wanted to punt this to the county. In fact, Commissioner Drinkwine said the Paint Creek Trail had been spearheaded by the county — it wasn’t. It was spearheaded by grassroots efforts and local governments. The county does not provide leadership on trail projects outside of their own parks.

Nonetheless, I am meeting with Royal Oak city staff this week to provide more information on next steps, especially as it relates to the non-motorized planning process which is expected to begin in February or March.

MATAG Conference: Rails with Trails

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

The Mid-America Trails and Greenways Conference is underway in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It’s a well-attended event and a great chance to hear how others are developing trails throughout the Midwest.

Yesterday’s sessions included one very interesting topic: Rails-with-Trails (RWT).

Rails-to-Trails are more common. A railroad abandons a rail line, the tracks are removed, a public agency purchases the rail corridor, and resurfaces it for trail use.

But sometimes it’s feasible having a trail alongside an active rail line. Sometimes it’s the only option.

There isn’t a one-sized solution for implementing RWT. The variables include how wide the right-of-way is and the speed/frequency of the trains.

One possible RWT in Southest Michigan would be the Grand Trunk/CN line between downtown Royal Oak and Bloomfield Hills. Two parallel tracks were built with plans to add two more. The Great Depression stopped plans for the latter (as well as plans for an overhead expressway built on top of the railline for autos.)

While there is spare room alongside the Grand Trunk line, it’s not clear how one would propose separating the rail from the trail. Some RWT examples use walls and fences.

Of course the big issue is getting the railroad to grant an easement. Putting people near an active line takes convincing, especially with respect to safety. But RWTs have a great safety record across the U.S. And one also has to consider the alternative. RWTs have a greater safety record than riding on roads.

We’ve tried pushing this issue in the past with no success. With the non-motorized planning for both Royal Oak and the Woodward Corridor, it’s probably worth revisiting.