Active Transportation Transforms America

by Dennis Hickethier

As we all look forward to a healthier new year, we know that active living, including walking and bicycling, can help us improve our health and fitness. You don’t need to be a fitness junkie to benefit from the simple pleasure of walking more and possibly bicycling. However, having safe places to walk and bicycle is critical to doing these more often.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) recently published a report titled, “Active Transportation Transforms America: The Case for Increased Public Investment in Walking and Biking Connectivity.” I am going to highlight some major findings from the report and explain how they apply to us in Adams County. Additionally, you can view the full report by clicking here.

I’m starting with the conclusion found on page 51. It states, “A modest public investment in completing trail and active transportation networks within and between communities will deliver myriad benefits to individuals and society and an annual economic return to the tune of $73.8 billion (nationwide). These benefits include access to safe and seamless walking and biking routes; improved health and social connectivity; new opportunities for economic growth; and access to jobs, education and culture.”  

In Adams County, we need more connecting trails. The North Gettysburg Trail which runs alongside Old Harrisburg Road from East Broadway, north to the Gettysburg High School, is a wonderful trail and gets lots of use. How great it would be to connect it with another trail that would run alongside Boyds School Road from the high school all the way to Biglerville Road (PA 34). It would provide access to the Adams County Human Resource Building, St Francis Xavier school, Gettysburg Place apartments and other neighborhoods and businesses in the area! Think of the safe opportunities for walking and bicycling for employees and residents in the area.  

The Gettysburg Inner Loop (GIL) trail system is an effort to connect many key destinations in Gettysburg for safer walking and bicycling. The recent negotiation of a trail easement along property occupied by the South-Central Community Action Program and Spectra-Kote Corporation, will help develop more of the GIL. Still, we need to develop the trail from the Post Office to downtown and that will require some difficult decisions but the anticipated benefits should be foremost in our decision making. The GIL will eventually provide a much-needed safe walking and biking route between the Visitor Center of the Gettysburg National Military Park and downtown. It will also link up with the proposed Grand History Trail, which would provide a walking and biking route to the Eisenhower National Historic Site and Sachs Covered Bridge, then south to the Maryland border.  

Some economic benefits of trails come from visitors to “trail towns,” who spend money on food, lodging, and incidentals. Studies have shown that businesses along the nearby York Heritage Rail Trail, bring in $3-4 million annually. Yes, millions!  Healthier residents also save themselves and their employers a variety of health-care costs, which can become significant. Studies have proven that overweight adolescents who participate in bicycling three to four days per week are 85% more likely to become normal-weight adults. Since the Lefever Street trail went in a couple years ago, there has been a very visible increase in middle school kids bicycling to school, with filled bicycle racks. We want our kids to grow up healthy, and active transportation helps to do that.  

According to the RTC report, “The results of a recently published study by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico found that cities that invested in protected and separated bicycle infrastructure experienced the highest reduction in fatalities for all users (motorists as well as pedestrians and bicyclists), due to the traffic-calming effects of these facilities.” Even in Gettysburg and surrounding communities, we need to make this investment for the safety of our residents and visitors.  

Most of the money for this infrastructure will come from state and federal grants, but often we need local matching funds of some level. Please support efforts to create safe trails where you live! More information from the RTC report will be discussed in future articles.

Dennis Hickethier, current board member and past President of Healthy Adams Bicycle/Pedestrian, Inc., has lived in Adams County for 27 years and has enjoyed leisurely bicycle riding nearly all his life.