Path can be economic asset for Carson City

I walk. I bike. I buy.

That was my reaction to the news a week ago Sunday that the Carson City of Chamber of Commerce board unanimously opposes a multi-use trail in conjunction with the bypass if it could slow freeway construction. The board is asking the Carson City Supervisors to delete the multi-use bicycle/pedestrian paths as proposed and as linked to the bypass construction, fearing that their inclusion could delay the bypass, now under construction.

Let's be clear that the proposed multi-use bicycle/pedestrian paths would be next to and below the freeway in the right-of-way areas, not on the freeway itself.

I was disheartened by the Chamber's reaction and timing. Now that the supervisors are working diligently with the grassroots-based groups GROW and Muscle Powered Citizens and with the Nevada Department of Transportation to establish an affordable multi-use path system, the timing of the Chamber's announcement left me wondering whose team they are playing for.

I also pondered their vision for Carson City. As boosters of the bypass, they are aware that the diversion of trucks from downtown will enhance the experience of visitors to the downtown area. Are they unaware of how a system of paths and trails also enhances quality of life for both residents and visitors, and can improve the bottom line for local businesses?

The statistics related to the economics of bike and pedestrian pathways are impressive. Maryland's North Central Rail trail, a 20-mile corridor through Baltimore County increased from 10,000 visitors to 450,000 between 1984 and 1993. The trail supports about 250 jobs statewide, and is responsible for $3.38 million in commerce.

Pueblo, Colo., decided to use a system of trails and parks to improve the appearance of its community and attract new business. That investment is now credited by city leaders as a key component in turning around economic decline.

Even closer to home is the American River Bike Trail in Sacramento, included as an important outdoor recreation amenity in their Chamber of Commerce's "All About Business" publication.

One drawback of the bypass project is that it will physically bisect the community of Carson City. Having the ability to get from point A to point B is not just about cars and trucks -- it's about people, some of whom drive and some of whom don't. The multi-use path paralleling the bypass addresses that need, and provides potential for linking parks, neighborhoods, open space, and commercial areas.

When I visit a community for the first time, I try to read a tourist guidebook about attractions and special features. If the Chamber has its way, here's an excerpt about Carson City that could be in the tour book of 2010. "Zoom through the capital city in under 10 minutes on your way to or from Reno on Carson City's mini-freeway, with state-of-the-art design features. Don't miss the off-ramp curve for exit two, and when you exit, admire the quarried rock in shades of brown that blend with the desert hues."

Or instead, perhaps the vision of the citizen groups and civic leaders working hard to include the multi-use trail as part of the bypass project. "A highlight of your Carson City trip, in addition to the wonderful museums, historic buildings, vibrant downtown and state capitol, is the greenbelt path system that runs parallel to the city's freeway bypass. Used by people of all ages for recreation and foot propelled transportation, this innovative system of paths ensures that the freeway unites the city rather than dividing it. This is a 'must go and do' attraction for your visit to the capital city."

Whatever your vision for the future, tonight is the time to let the decision makers know your opinions. The Regional Transportation Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission will meet jointly tonight at 6 p.m. in the Sierra Room at the Community Center. The meeting will be chaired by Supervisor Jon Plank who serves on both committees. The topic will be the plan for the final alignment of the multi-use path along the freeway's northern leg. After presentations by the city, the design consultants, NDOT, and staff, the public will get a chance to speak up and ask questions. The meeting will be broadcast on community access television, but remember, they can't hear you from your living room.

Carson City has a chance to be a leader for the future of Nevada by insisting that multi-use paths with substantial community support be part of freeway construction. Some folks are afraid of the precedent it might set while others are imagining possible delays. I hope that city officials, concerned citizens, transportation officials, and even business leaders can work together to make multi-use paths a real part of the bypass project.

Abby Johnson consults on rural community development, grant management and nuclear waste issues. She is married and has one middle school-age child.


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