A promising project to link two of the Mahoning Valley’s finest assets – Mill Creek MetroParks and downtown Youngstown – via a bike trail has so many positives going for it that state grant evaluators should give the plan’s $500,000 request a green light for funding.
The proposed $890,000 Center City to Mill Creek Connector Trail deserves to remain strongly in the running for approval among this year’s myriad funding proposals to the Clean Ohio Trails Fund. Its construction would roll out a variety of health, economic and environmental improvements for our community.
The wheels already are in motion toward making the trail a reality. Last Wednesday, Youngstown City Council authorized $218,250 as a local share of the project and directed the city’s Board of Control to formally apply for up to the maximum $500,000 in state funding through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Clean Ohio Trails Fund and Recreational Trails program.
The program is part of the larger Clean Ohio Fund, from which the Mahoning Valley has benefited to the tune of millions of dollars in brownfields-development aid over the past decade.
On Thursday last week, Dominic C. Marchionda, a planner for the Regional Economic Development Initiative, outlined details of the project at a public meeting about it at the Covelli Centre downtown.
The tentative path of the trail would begin at South Avenue downtown near the Covelli arena, cross the Mahoning River to Mahoning Avenue via the Spring Common Bridge, proceed north on North West Street, then west on Tod Avenue to the Mill Creek Park entrance on Mahoning. From there, cyclists of all skill levels easily could transfer to any of a number of biking and hiking trails within the nearly 3,000 acres of the urban natural park.
Reaction to the proposal was largely favorable among members of the Valley’s Outspokin’ Wheelmen bicycle club. Some did, however, express concerns about the safety of bidirectional traffic patterns, and others encouraged development of an educational component to teach motor-vehicle drivers that bicycles have as many rights as gasoline-powered cars and trucks. Project planners should take those concerns to heart.
But when taking in the totality of the proposal and its overriding goals, what’s not to like?
From the vantage point of personal health, bike trails bring an assortment of perks. Documented health benefits of biking include increased cardiovascular fitness, greater muscle strength and flexibility, improved joint mobility, stronger bones and decreased levels of stress.
From the vantage point of economic viability, heightened foot and pedal traffic downtown would stand to stimulate businesses along and near the trail route.
And from the vantage point of environmental amenities, lures to promote biking pave the way for sizable gains in the very air we breathe. Increasing by a mere 3 percent the number of people who bike routinely in the U.S. would lead to fuel savings of about 3.8 billion gallons of gasoline a year and cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by 33 million tons per year, according to a study titled “Active Transportation for America” by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
In addition, the Center City to Mill Creek Park Connector Trail clearly satisfies the goals and requirements of the grant program. Those goals, as cited on the Clean Ohio website, include providing links in urban areas to support commuter access and to provide economic benefit, linking population centers with outdoor recreation areas and facilities and connecting with other trails already in place to create a larger regional network of such pathways.
The Youngstown proposal also meets eligibility requirements in that 25 percent of the required matching funding has already been authorized and that the trail’s completion, projected for May 2018, would fall well within the program’s required 15-month time line from start to finish.
With so much good riding on this project’s success, decision-makers at Clean Ohio Trails should carefully study and promptly approve full or near-full funding for this important community link.
The proposed trail promises to lead all who travel on it in the direction of an enhanced quality of life in the heart of the Mahoning Valley.