American bicycle superhighways

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.


  1. Also worth a mention is the Great Allegheny Passage and the C & O canal towpath. I guess the C & O isn’t technically rails-to-trails, but the concept seems similar, and the two paths combined total over 300 miles, largely off-road, as I understand it, going from Pittsburgh to D.C.. I’ve been waiting for the stars to align to make that trip possible for me, and it’s only a matter of time with occasional family reunions in Pittsburgh and my home being easily accessible by Amtrak from D.C..

  2. Long distance bike trails are fantastic. But for those of us who have no desire to ride 50+ miles, I think I’d rather the money be spent on urban and suburban infrastructure.  I can wish, can’t I?

  3. One of the most memorable rides of my life was on a cobbled path along the North Sea between Amsterdam and Den Haag. The paving stones were well set and I was riding very fast (I had to-there was a ferry to catch) and in a setting verging on paradise. I still have pictures of that somewhere. We need more of that stuff, but we also need all the rest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.