“Little Miami Trail has 910,000 users in 2015,” Ohio Department of Natural Resources @Ohiodnr Tweeted on February 2.
ODNR has reason to tout the trail—they say it’s part of the largest, off-road paved bike network in the country.
Miami Valley bikeways cover 330 miles—from Cincinnati near King’s Island through scenic countryside towns of Xenia, Yellow Springs and Bellefontaine in Logan (six counties away). A paved, multi-use path hugs the meandering valley of the Little Miami River, and it spiderwebs to connect four National Parks, a National Aviation Heritage area, cultural stops like the National Afro-American Museum and a second leg along the Great Miami River with Dayton at its center.
The agency sewing it together is the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission. Their vision is to meld recreation with a network that provides daily transportation where rural meets urban and conservative meets progressive areas of the state.
Bikes networks like the Miami Valley’s have long been a destination of cross-country touring aficionados. And this region has a long history of “multi modal” travel. A 1914 photo of The City of West Carrollton illustrates how five modes of travel—river, canal boat, interurban train, car, and airplane—converged here. The Miami Valley would like to build on that.
In 2008, MVRPC released the Miami Valley Bike Plan with far reaching goals that encourage biking. Updated in 2015, it calls for safer, on-road connections—including separated bike lanes—and goals like a “shift” from driving to alternative modes. It even includes a target: for 5% of area residents to commute by bike within ten years. It will realistically take years, if not decades, of steady investment and focus, says MVRPC Regional Planner, Kjirsten Frank Hoppe.
“That goal was a challenge from our original plan, written in 2008, and is very aspirational,” she says. “We are just now developing the ability to conduct on-street counts of cyclists, and our park districts have only recently added automated trail counters to their trails, so we’ll see how this mode shift plays out in the next 20 years.”
Similarly, Cleveland Metroparks have recently secured automated trail counters. Examples of how urban trail networks are helping shift modes can be found in nearby Indianapolis—with its fully separated Cultural Trail weaving through downtown and sparking ridership. Cincinnati and Columbus also installed barrier-protected bike lanes last year. Cleveland Planning Commission recently approved the design of its first—a “raised trail” like Indy’s—that would be built over a lane devoted to automobiles on Lorain Avenue.
MVRPC realizes it will require change; all of which could not happen without greater cooperation between local, regional and state officials and the advent of policies like complete streets.
“The (MVRPC) complete streets policy has probably made the most difference to the shape of our long range plan and to multi-modal projects proposed in our region,” says Frank Hoppe. “Our trails/bikeways network is an important element in our transportation planning, and the region is making good progress each year to fill in the gaps and expand the network.”
Bike lane projects are starting to roll in as a result. Xenia, for example, is planning to replace a section of the Little Miami Scenic Trail with protected bike lanes through their downtown.
“Since we adopted the Complete Streets policy in 2011, most of the projects submitted by local jurisdictions have included bike, pedestrian, and/or transit infrastructure elements,” Frank Hoppe says. “There are very few—highway projects, for instance—that seek some kind of exemption for Complete Streets. We consider it very successful in implementing a multi-modal mindset for the region.”
The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission’s complete streets policy was rated the best among MPOs in 2012 by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America.