November 11 2011

Rails-to-Trails Projects Prove Successful in Ithaca, New York

“Rails-to-Trails” is an example of how urban planners and urban designers are repurposing abandoned rail corridors for use as pedestrian and bicycle trails. As of September 2010, there were 19,872 miles of rail-trails in the United States. Ithaca, New York is home to several rails-to-trails projects that offer active recreation opportunities, useful commuting alternatives, and increased neighborhood quality to residents.

The South Hill Recreation Way in autumn

The South Hill Recreation Way in Autumn

In 1916, the peak of the United States railroad expansion, there were more than 275,000 miles of track crisscrossing the country. After the explosion of the private automobile, railroad operators began abandoning thousands of miles of track en masse. The rails-to-trails concept began as a small niche, but this adaptive reuse has steadily gained acceptance as a step toward sustainability among contemporary environmentalists. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, an environmental non-profit that helps manage over 1,600 rails-to-trails projects nationwide, was founded in 1986, and passage of the National Trails System Improvement Act in 1988 gave the issue increased visibility.

The East Ithaca Recreation Way is a 2.4-mile trail built on the bed of the Ithaca & Cortland Railroad, constructed in 1869 and abandoned in 1976. The South Hill Recreation Way is a 3.3-mile trail that mostly uses the bed of the Cayuga & Susquehanna Railroad, originally built in 1849 to ship coal from Pennsylvania to Ithaca and abandoned in 1956. This trail entered development in the 1980s and was opened for use in 1993. Ithaca’s rail-trails are highly valued by the community and heavily used by walkers, joggers, and bikers.

While opponents claim that trails are invasive to property owners and to local flora and fauna, rails-to-trails offer many advantages:

  • Active recreation and transportation opportunities;
  • Livability and preservation of local history;
  • Increased property values and encouraging compact, mixed-use development;
  • Environmentally sustainable maintenance of green space in urban areas;
  • Low-cost, congestion-reducing, and enjoyable transportation options for travelers.

Are there opportunities for rails-to-trails conversions in your community?

Credits: Image and documentation linked to source.

Nina Coveney

Nina Coveney graduated from Cornell University in 2011 with a B.S. in Urban and Regional Studies. When she began as a blogger with Global Site Plans, she worked for the Town of Ithaca, New York Planning Department. She then transitioned - in writing and real life - to New York City where she began working in the Events department of the Bryant Park Corporation. She hopes to eventually pursue a Master’s Degree in urban planning and design. A native of the New York City metro area, she blogged about trends in sustainability, housing, transportation, and adaptive reuse in both Ithaca and the Big Apple until April 2012.

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 11th, 2011 at 12:01 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, History/Preservation, Infrastructure, Land Use, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


4 Responses to “Rails-to-Trails Projects Prove Successful in Ithaca, New York”

  1. Dennis Wong Says:

    I like these novel and simple ideas that result from fresh and creative thinking focused on a very strategic goal, that is renewing and refreshing existing and underutilized assets.

    Thank you Nina for this story.

  2. Jake Lynch Says:

    Hi Nina,
    It is great to see switched-on urban planners recognizing the multi-faceted utility of rail-trails – particularly in our population centers. Thanks for the props!
    We have a strong team of project specialists here at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and encourage anyone interested in a rail-trail project in their community to get in touch.

  3. Nina Coveney Says:

    You’re welcome! Thanks for reading. My hope is that the simple but effective ideas keep on coming. The United States definitely has a lot of infrastructure that can be reused — this should be our first course of action before using more materials to build new construction!

  4. Nina Coveney Says:

    Thanks for reading! I’m a big fan of rails-to-trails projects, and your organization. Keep up your great work!

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