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Area organizations give Allen County residents incentive to get on their bikes and ride
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
If there’s one thing Fort Wayne residents love more than their restaurants, it’s their cars. We drive everywhere — two miles to the store to pick up a loaf of bread, a mile to school to pick the kids up, half-a-mile to go to a friend’s house… This reliance on cars is one of the reasons traffic congestion and gas prices are favorite topics of conversation around town. It’s also one of the reason’s the Center for Disease Control ranks Fort Wayne in the top five of the country’s fattest cities.
But, to be fair, Fort Wayne, like a lot of cities across the US, is hardly conducive to any other mode of transportation besides automobiles. “The way Fort Wayne grew up was that it expanded into separate housing developments,” says Dianne Hoover, Fort Wayne’s Director of Parks and Recreation. “Everyone lives in a housing development that’s separate from the next one. So, you’re forced to get in your car and drive to do anything.” In other words, even if you were inclined to get a little exercise, you’d still have to drive to a gym, or a park, or a bike path. And if you wanted to combine physical fitness with saving some gas money by walking or biking to the convenience store… well, forget it.
Besides, on many area roads, it’s just too dangerous to walk or ride a bike. As even outlying areas of Fort Wayne add more neighborhoods and expand, sharing the road has become increasingly hazardous.
The death of Ron Repka in 2001 while cycling with friends was part of the inspiration behind Aboite New Trails, an organization working to establish a network of bike and pedestrian trails throughout Aboite township. They’re joined in their efforts by several other organizations across the city, including the Parks and Recreation Department, with the ultimate goal of creating a system of paths crisscrossing the entire county, from Aboite Township to New Haven, Shoaff Park to the Southtown area, with links to all the major population centers and parks in between.
Lynn Reecer, president and co-founder (along with Stephanie Schultz) of Aboite New Trails, says that like a lot of residents of Aboite Township, she enjoys the Indiana Trails Park that houses the Three Rivers Junction Playground and the Jourgensen YMCA. The problem? “The only way to get to the parks was to get in your car and drive. That’s ridiculous.”
Aboite New Trails is beginning work on what they hope will be over 50+ miles of multi-use trails for bicyclers, walkers, runners, in-line skaters, even cross-country skiers in the winter. “52 miles is our goal, our wish list,” says Reecer. “We’re trying to prioritize, do sections at a time.”
The trails would link neighborhoods to schools, parks, and retail areas. “They’re not just for recreation,” says Reecer. “It’s a destination trail system. You can get on from your neighborhood and actually go somewhere. This really sets us apart from a lot of the trail systems around the country. Many places now have recreational trails, but you have to get in your car or on your bike and go there.” The Aboite trials would let walkers, bicyclers, skaters, etc. just access the paths from their neighborhood, with no extra car trip required.
One of the plans is to hook-up with the city’s already existing (and currently expanding) River Greenway system. “We’re not limiting the expansion to just the city limits, we’re very interested in getting trails going throughout the whole community,” says Dianne Hoover. “My interest is in connecting all our major parks with the Greenway system, so that kids would be able to go from park to park without having to get on a busy street.”
As if safety weren’t reason enough to push the project forward, there are numerous other benefits to having such a large system of bike/pedestrian trails throughout the city. Countless studies show that if people are provided with a free, easily accessible means of exercise, they’ll use it, improving the overall health of the region. If you’re able to walk, bicycle, or skate to the next neighborhood or to a local retail area, you don’t need to use your car for short trips, lessening traffic and saving you a little gas money. There’s also an often overlooked economic benefit: not only do amenities like safe, well-maintained bike/pedestrian paths attract other people to the area, but they generate their own economic mini-boom with bike shops, refreshment stands, and other businesses.
Dan Avery of the Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council works with groups like Aboite New Trails, Northwest Allen Trails, the Greenway Consortium and others to help them plan and coordinate their various projects. A factor of many of these projects is incorporating their construction into already existing roadway projects. “One of the things the NIRCC does is combine where the road improvements are going to occur with the planned bike/pedestrian map,” says Avery. That might include a path to the side of the road, with a verge separating it from the automobile road, or a wider shoulder with a designated bike/pedestrian lane. “It could be just sidewalks, it could be a multi-use trail,” says Avery. “It’s something that we’re now just getting a good grip on. We’ve got the areas and the corridors where we think their should be some kind of treatment, and now we’re getting into identifying which type of treatment is appropriate for the various roadways.”
Whether all these projects will turn Fort Wayne into a city of walkers and bikers, at least during the warmer months, remains to be seen, but studies done in cities that have bike and pedestrian paths indicate that if you make the system convenient, and make it safe, people will use it.
Aboite New Trails is currently looking for volunteers for several positions with the organization, including retired engineers who might want to help with the project. Call 705-PATH for more information.