This USA Today story on bicycle infrastructure and the MAP-21 transportation bill that recently passed the U.S. Senate (and which still contains the mandatory sidepath on Federal lands provision) leads off with the Georgia Silver Comet Trail, a paved, mostly grade separated multiuse trail that connects Smyrna, Georgia with the state of Alabama. At the Alabama state line, the Silver Comet Trail connects with the 33 mile long Chief Ladiga Trail, a paved path that terminates in Weaver, Alabama.
20,000 miles of these rail-trails exist in the United States. The Rails-To-Trails Conservancy lists 109 rail trails just in the state of California, ranging from several short trails to the 38 mile San Gabriel River Trail in Los Angeles and the 130 miles of paths lining San Francisco Bay. The longest rail trail in the Unites States is Missouri’s Katy Trail at 225 miles. When completed, Nebraska’s Cowboy Trail (currently 195 miles long) will be the longest in the world at 321 miles.
While parts of northern Europe excel with urban bike facilities, the United States has been building these long distance recreational rail trails since the 1970s. Some are more super than others, but these long distance greenways are the equivalent of some of the “bicycle superhighways” we’ve been hearing about in Europe over the past year, especially this proposed rail trail in southern Sweden to connect the cities of Malmo and Lund.
In the United States, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy buys up abandoned rail right of way to convert to a trail, usually donating the property to a local or state government who converts the property into a trail. They’ll also foster agreements between rail operators and local agencies for “railbanking.” Railbanking allows the local government to use the trail right of way, but allows the railroad to convert it back to rail if it’s ever needed again.