OHIO RIVER TRAIL COUNCIL

History & Background

  

French explorer Rene Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle was so taken with the Ohio River when he first laid eyes on it in 1669 that he christened it La Belle Riviere: The Beautiful River.  Ohio is an Indian name which traditionally is interpreted to mean "beautiful river", agreeing with the opinion of the French.  The Ohio flows 981 miles from Pittsburgh, Pa to the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois and winds some twenty-four miles through Beaver County, Pa reaching its northernmost point at Rochester, Pa.  The Ohio River forms the boundaries of twenty-five different communities just in Beaver County.  In the early days, the Ohio River was the primary way west for early settlers of the frontier.  Later, with the coming of the steamboat, the Ohio River became the center of transportation and the Industrial Revolution.  

During the Industrial Revolution, coal, transported via the Ohio River from West Virginia mines, powered the transformation of the United States from an agrarian society into one of largest industrial powers in the world.  Beaver County grew rapidly after 1900 with the establishment of steel mills along the Ohio River, and much of the working force was engaged in steel production until the contraction of the steel industry in the late 1970s and early 1980’s.  Although some structural steel is still produced, most of the steel making operations have been dismantled.  Today, the Ohio River continues to transport the region's coal to a series of coal-fired generating plants located throughout the Ohio Valley.  In addition, the Ohio is fortunately widely used for outdoor recreational activities. The Ohio is one of the most economically significant rivers in the world, and probably is why most of us live in Allegheny and Beaver County today.  

Over the past 150 years, however, the Ohio River could have been more aptly defined as La Belle Couseuse: The Beautiful Sewer.  However, clean stream laws over the past 50 years have helped the river make a comeback with reduced water pollution.  Since the quality the water has improved in recent years, aquatic life such as Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Walleye, Shad, Channel Catfish, Bullheads, Carp, Stripers, and Trout have returned to the Ohio River with anglers crowding the banks.

The railroads played an important role in the development of our young nation.  They crossed rivers, like the Ohio, and penetrated mountain ranges, facilitating increased trade and westward expansion.  Beaver County was home to the Pennsylvania Railroad, the "Standard Railroad of the World".  Conway Yard that stretched almost four miles along the Ohio River was completed in 1957.  This was the world’s largest and most up to date automatic freight classification yard. 

Nevertheless, the railroad economy declined in 1960’s forcing the consolidation of the rail industry.  The economic decline led to the closure of a number of uneconomical branch lines and many of these were simply abandoned.  Beginning with a few lines in the Midwestern United States, the unused industrial relics were turned into ecological areas functioning as linear parks or community space, but mainly as recreation corridors.  This was the birth of the Rail Trails. 

By the 1970s, even some main lines were being sold or abandoned. This was especially true when regional rail lines merged and streamlined their operations.  As both the supply of potential trails increased and awareness of the possibilities rose, state governments, municipalities, conservation authorities and private organizations bought the rail corridors to create, expand or link greenspaces.  The first abandoned rail corridor in the United States converted into a recreational trail was the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin, which opened in 1965. 

The invention of the bicycle had a revolutionary impact around the world.  Considered the first democratic means of transportation, the bicycle eliminated dependence on the horse and carriage and allowed people to transport themselves faster and more efficiently.  Today, the bicycle has regained its popularity as a transportation tool.  Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and Bureau of Transportation Statistics indicate that nearly half (46%) of the driving-age adults (16 years or older) have access to a bicycle, and 54% with access used it the month immediately preceding the survey. 

The American League of Bicyclists has reported that according to the National Sporting Goods Association, consumers bought 18.5 million bicycles in 2003.  “Americans of all ages and backgrounds enjoy bicycling. Some 42.5 million Americans ride bicycles, according to the National Sporting Goods Association’s 2000 study. This is more than the numbers that participate in other leading sports (29.4 million basketball players, 27.5 million golfers, 22.5 million runners, 13.2 million soccer players, 11.2 million tennis players, and 7.7 million downhill skiers).”   There are more cyclists in the United States than golfers, skiers, and tennis players combined!         

Bicyclists riding in areas without bike paths or lanes are nearly twice as likely to feel endangered (mostly by motorists) as bicyclists with paths or lanes, and more than four times as likely to be dissatisfied with how their community is designed for making biking safe.  On October 8, 2008 U.S. President George Bush signed the “Bicycle Commuter Benefits Act” into law.  Congressman Blumenauer of Oregon included a bike commuter benefit provision in HR1424, the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package.  “We are delighted that the bicycle commuter benefits act has passed after a lengthy and persistent campaign spearheaded by Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR),” said League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke. “Bicycle commuters will now be extended similar benefits to people who take transit and drive to work – it’s an equitable and sensible incentive to encourage greater energy independence, improve air quality and health, and even help tackle climate change.” The benefit -- up to $20 per month -- begins in 2009.  Employers may reimburse employees, tax free, for "reasonable" expenses related to their bike commute, including equipment purchases, bike purchases, repairs, and storage if the bicycle is used as a "substantial part" of the commuter's trip to work for the month.  However, commuting by bicycle requires safe trails and bike paths.   

 The following are morbid statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding cyclists based on their most recent study conducted in 2007. 

1.       More than 52,000 pedalcyclists have died in traffic crashes in the United States since 1932 — the first year in which estimates of pedalcyclist fatalities were recorded.

2.       In 2007, 698 pedalcyclists were killed and an additional 44,000 were injured in traffic crashes.

3.       Pedalcyclist deaths accounted for 2 percent of all traffic fatalities and pedalcyclists made up 2 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year.

4.       The number of pedalcyclist fatalities in 2007 is 14 percent lower than the 814 fatalities reported in 1997.

5.       The highest number of pedalcyclist fatalities ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) was 1,003 in 1975. 

6.       Pedalcyclists accounted for 13 percent of all non-occupant traffic fatalities in 2007.

7.       Pedalcyclist fatalities occurred more frequently in urban areas (72%), at non-intersection locations (64%), between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m. (26%), and during the months of June (11%) and September (11%).

8.       In 1997, the average age of pedalcyclists killed in traffic crashes was 31; in 2007 the average age of those killed was 40.

9.       In contrast, in 1997 the average age of those injured was 24 and the average age of those injured in 2007 was 30.

10.   Pedalcyclists under age 16 accounted for 15 percent of all pedalcyclists killed and 29 percent of those injured in traffic crashes in 2007.

11.   By comparison, pedalcyclists under age 16 accounted for 31 percent of all those killed and 44 percent of those injured in 1997.

12.   Pedalcyclists age 25 and older have made up an increasing proportion of all pedalcyclist deaths since 1997.

13.   The proportion of pedalcyclist fatalities age 25 to 64 was 1.4 times higher in 2007 as in 1997 (64% and 46%, respectively).

14.   One-seventh (15%) of the pedalcyclists killed in traffic crashes in 2007 were between 5 and 15 years old.

15.   The pedalcyclist fatality rate for this age group in 2007 was 2.40 per million population — about 4 percent higher than the rate for all pedalcyclists (2.31 per million population).

16.   The injury rate for this age group was 281 per million population, compared with 144.2 per million population for pedalcyclists of all ages.

17.   Alcohol involvement — for either the driver or the pedalcyclist— was reported in more than one-third of the traffic crashes that resulted in pedalcyclist fatalities in 2007.

18.   In 33 percent of the crashes, either the driver or the cyclist was reported to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher.

19.   Lower alcohol levels (BAC .01 to .07 g/dL) were reported in an additional 10 percent of crashes. Over one-fourth (31%) of the pedalcyclists killed had a BAC of .01 g/dL or higher, and nearly one-fourth (25%) had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher.

20.   Most of the pedalcyclists killed or injured in 2007 were males (88% and 83%, respectively), and most were between the ages of 5 and 44 (55% and 79%, respectively).

21.   In 2007, the pedalcyclist fatality rate per capita was eight times higher for males than for females, and the injury rate per capita was more than five times higher for males.

The $787 billion “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” signed into law on February 17, 2009 by U.S. President Barack Obama will create green jobs.   The economic recovery package contains $825 million in funding for Transportation Enhancements.  Transportation Enhancements (TE) is the nation's largest federal funding source for trails, walking and bicycling and a long-standing program that has historically enjoyed bi-partisan support.  Its place within the stimulus package, however, heralds a transition in thinking among elected leaders who once viewed active transportation projects as niceties.  Conventional wisdom in Washington, DC has changed, and policy makers now know transportation projects to be necessities for a balanced transportation system and a robust economy.” 

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a nonprofit organization with more than 100,000 members and supporters, applauds Congress for its foresight in recognizing the job creation benefits of building bicycling and walking infrastructure, including trails.  While representing less than two percent of transportation funding in the bill, this investment could create tens of thousands of jobs and critical active transportation connections that communities need.  "We are very pleased with Congress for recognizing the wisdom of investing in active transportation," says Kevin Mills, RTC vice president of policy. "The immediate job creation will also deliver long-term benefits for communities by reducing traffic congestion, climate emissions, oil dependence and obesity rates."  RTC documented this strategy and its implications in its "Active Transportation for America" report, released last October. According to the report, moderate investments in active transportation can yield substantial economic benefits, making bicycling and walking a highly cost-effective choice for policy-makers.  "Americans are seeking opportunities to walk and bike more, and drive less, particularly for short trips," says Keith Laughlin, RTC president. "With this funding, more Americans will be able to make that choice."  RTC will track the progress communities make in implementing hundreds of ready-to-go projects that will be aided by this recovery funding.”

In addition to the Transportation Enhancements, there is long list of green initiatives found in the President's stimulus package.  The act specifically includes $7.22 billion for projects and programs administered by the EPA.  These programs will protect and promote both green jobs and a healthier environment, Jackson said.  Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has estimated that the recovery package will save or create 3.5 million jobs over the next two years.  Jackson says many of those will be jobs that protect and enhance public health and the environment.  "EPA's portion of the plan will create good, sustainable jobs that help produce cleaner drinking water, purer air, environmentally friendly urban and rural re-development, and reduced greenhouse gases," said Jackson. "This is a perfect example of economic growth and environmental protection working hand in hand to the benefit of all Americans."

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund will receive a total of $6 billion - of that total $4 billion will be used help communities with water quality and wastewater infrastructure needs and $2 billion will be spent on drinking water infrastructure needs.  Of the total, $1.2 billion, or 20 percent, must be used for green infrastructure, such as storm water mitigation, water or energy efficiency improvements or other environmentally innovative activities.  "This is an unprecedented amount of money for clean water and rivers," said Betsy Otto, vice president of strategic partnerships for the nonprofit organization American Rivers. "It's a real investment in more sustainable water infrastructure for the future, and it will boost health, safety and quality of life in communities across the country."   "The clean water, drinking water, and river restoration provisions in the bill will create jobs, improve the nation's rivers and clean water supplies, and save communities money.  This kind of investment represents a change, which will ensure that the nation is better prepared to meet the water challenges of the 21st Century. These provisions are a down payment on a better future and will improve the lives of all Americans."

The stimulus package contains $100 million for competitive grants to evaluate and clean up former industrial and commercial sites called brownfields.  In addition, $27.5 billion is available for road and highway construction funds, much of which will be used to repair infrastructure and not on building new highways.  The stimulus measure also contains $830 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a portion of which will be used for river restoration projects.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to receive $115 million for priority construction, repair, habitat restoration and other activities on public lands the agency governs.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also receive $165 million for priority critical deferred maintenance, capital improvements, habitat restoration and other activities on Service properties.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service will get $290 million for structural and nonstructural watershed infrastructure improvements, including purchase and restoration of floodplain easements.  Moreover, the U.S. Forest Service will receive $650 million for priority road, bridge and trail maintenance, including related watershed restoration and ecosystem enhancements projects.

Authored by Dr. Vincent Troia, January 2009.