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    Spending More Green for Bike Paths
The growing market

In a 2001 National Household Travel Survey report, researchers reported 65% of all trips under a mile were taken by automobile. Narrowing down to metro areas, the same report discovered that 50% of all trips were less than three miles in length, and 28% were less than a mile.

Fueled by a public's desire for upgraded biking and hiking trails, and the economic need to reduce our use of gasoline, increased funding for alternative paths has gained acceptance.

Federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects could reach $3.5 billion in the next four years, according to America Bikes, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit corporation, which led a collaborative effort of leading bicycling enthusiasts to advocate for increased funding in the SAFETEA-LU transportation bill. They reported that the bill included funding to provide safer routes to schools, transportation enhancements, and recreational trails. The bill contained 745 bicycling improvement projects in all.

All producers benefit from these types of construction projects. For example, County Materials, a precaster in Marathon, Wis., provided box culverts to many sections of the Madison County (Illinois) bike trail. Engineers from Oates Associates, a Collinsville, Ill., engineering firm, have found these culverts useful in creating underground pathways to eliminate on-grade crossings. The engineers also found the culverts eliminated the need for expensive bridges.

Concrete has even provided a decorative element. Artist Linda Patterson, a concrete artist/designer in Newark, Calif., recently designed a set of murals that were used in the construction of the San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail in Santa Clara, Calif.

This $22 million project links neighborhoods and open spaces near San Francisco. Her designs were inset into formliners that transformed the cast-in-place concrete from drab retaining walls into virtual lessons on the diverse ecosystem that can be found along the trail.

Fighting for a fair share

While creating a bike path is appealing, it takes a local effort to bring results. When states find it hard to find enough matching funds to build roads with transportation funds, one easy alternative is to return the funds for projects that have been previously allocated.

That's what the Illinois Department of Transportation did in 2005. Faced with a shortage of state matching funds, the state sent back to the federal government 46% of its Transportation Enhancement funds, or almost $12 million, and 23% of its Coalition Mitigation and Air Quality program funds, or about $19 million. This compares to a return rate of 4.6% of all other transportation funding.

The main problem in building more bike paths is that engineering these projects takes so long. Unlike a repaving or new project, bike paths include a great deal of sitework. By the time the project is ready to let, the funds have been returned.

Starting early in the process

To counter this loss, producers need to focus on potential upgrades early in the development process. But this is easier than ever before.

The renewed interest in trail development has brought together a host of national interest groups. These include America Bikes, America Walks, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Planning Association, Institute of Transportation Engineers, the League of American Bicyclists, the National Parks Conservation Association, Smart Growth America, and a host of others.