In their 2010 Benchmarking Report on Bicycling and Walking in the US, the Alliance for Biking & Walking
reported Georgia as the ninth most dangerous state for pedestrians and the sixth most dangerous for bicyclists, based on reported fatalities. From 2005 to 2007, an average of 150 pedestrians and 20 bicyclists were killed each year on Georgia roadways.But, you don't need to tell middle school students at the Montessori School of Covington about the safety issues facing those who walk or bike. In the Spring of 2010, tasked with choosing an issue for their civic education program called Project Citizen, these kids decided to tackle the shortage of safe places to bike in Newton County.
They selected this issue after one student was alarmed seeing a bicyclist fall from the bike lane on Floyd Street into passing car traffic.As part of the class project, students conducted a survey of 100 Newton County residents ranging in age from 6 years to over 65. The survey found 77 percent of those surveyed rode a bike at least occasionally, but 88 percent did not feel they had enough safe places to ride. Respondents overwhelming favored building more safe places to bike, including:
- More bike lanes on existing roads (90 %)
- More biking and walking paths (97%)
- Convert the railroad into a riding and walking trail (95%)
to see the full survey results.
The State of Florida is so sold on the economic benefits of trails and greenways, they established a State Office of Greenways & Trails
within the Department of Environmental Protection. Earlier this year, that office reported over 4 million visitors to Florida's trails in 2009 and acknowledged $95 million in economic impact. (Click here
to see the formal resolution.)Most, if not all, cyclists headed to bike Florida trails must pass through Georgia on the way.
(Airlines charge outrageous fees to carry a bicycle as luggage.) In these challenging economic times, Georgia would do well to promote our existing trails -- like the nationally renowned Silver Comet -- and invest in extending those trails to become a destination for outdoor vacationers and adventure cyclists. And, Newton County is perfectly poised to be the east metro link in that chain of connected trails from the Chief Ladiga in Alabama, to the Silver Comet in west Georgia, to the Atlanta BeltLine, through DeKalb and Rockdale, to our community and beyond.We'd better hurry, though. As the resolution clearly states, Florida is moving boldly ahead with hundreds of miles of greenway trails.
We can't afford to keep falling behind.Stay and bike Georgia first!
It's been quite a week. The fact the Newton County Board of Commissioners is poised to approve a list of projects for the 2011 SPLOST that includes zero dollars for trail projects is disappointing. I do not believe that action is consistent with the wishes of the majority of Newton County citizens who showed up in public meeting after public meeting to say trails matter to us.
At the same time, we had good news on many fronts this week. The Harvest Picking at Old Church fundraiser was a huge success, and a harbinger of even better days ahead. The Covington City Council endorsed a study to place a pedestrian bridge between Oxford and Covington over I-20. The Newton County BoC approved requests to seek a grant to build a trail head in Porterdale and a Safe Routes to School grant to make it safer for children to bike and walk to several county schools.
All in all, it wasn't a great week. But, it was a pretty darn good week. Thank you, everyone who has worked hard to ensure our county reaps the significant benefits of a trail and greenway system. As we posted some time back on our Facebook page:
"There is only one thing more powerful than all the armies of the world, that is an idea whose time has come"
Keep the faith. Keep doing what you are doing. Take heart in the 580+ friends you have on our Facebook page. Be buoyed by the 100+ fellow supporters who turned up last weekend at Old Church. Rest assured, you make a difference every day. Ever onward!
On the southwest corner of Dixie Rd and County Highway 213, in the heart of the historic Starrsville community, sits a small rock few have probably noticed. Standing at the edge of an overgrown pecan grove, alongside a busy highway, this small boulder bears a weathered bronze plaque commemorating the site of the Old Starrsville Store. Built in the early 1830s, that building stood until its demolition in 1992. As the plaque placed in 1995 retells the story, the store passed through many operators, was home to a US Post Office, and hosted numerous historic gatherings.
When out bicycling through the pastures along Dixie Rd or Hwy 213, I often pause to rest upon that rock. I reflect and imagine what this crossroads might have looked like in the early days of a bustling mercantile business. I think about a time when Starrsville was a thriving community, and I consider how far it must have seemed from the rest of Newton County when travel was by foot or horse-drawn carriage. Today, that busy highway is sadly littered with trash thrown carelessly from windows of passing cars by people in a hurry to get somewhere or another. On my last visit, an empty cigarette pack lay right beneath that marker, and beer cans dotted the grasses. Sitting there, I often wonder who among those hurried passers-by has ever noticed this marker, much less paused to read its message from another time?
That's the beauty of getting around by foot or by bike... You actually get to see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste the places through which you travel. For me, a walking and biking trail is a meaningful way to preserve and protect the rich heritage of places like Starrsville, Hayston, High Point, Almon, Oakhill, and Brick Store. I close my eyes, and I imagine a family from town, a boy scout troop, or visitors from another state or country rolling or hiking through that pristine landscape. I see them pausing to read our markers and wonder. I hear them experiencing our history and our heritage the way our forefathers did: at a slower, less hurried, more reverent pace.
I know for some, a walking/biking trail seems like yet another intrusion of our modern world into this landscape steeped in history. But, to me, it's much the opposite. To experience this land and this heritage not imprisoned in an automobile at 55+ MPH is to experience it the way it was meant to be. And, the way it always will be in the imaginations of those of us who take the time to travel slow and savor the experience.
Newton County Trail Path Foundation, Inc was incorporated in 1997 by a group of people advocating an extensive multi-use trail network through Newton County long before I ever considered this a cause I could champion. Yet, there are those who know I am a cyclist and assume I must be interested in trails and greenways for my own personal use. The truth is, however, I was not a trail proponent until about two years ago.
As a road cyclist, I had little use for off-road biking and walking trails. I had everything I needed on the fantastic country roads stretching across Newton and surrounding Jasper, Morgan, and Walton Counties. This rural landscape is a bicycle rider's dream. That all started to change, though, in the Fall of 2008. That October, I and five fellow cyclists set out on a ride on the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trails, from Mableton to Anniston and back. -- 184 miles, all on trails paved over converted railroad lines..
I'd ridden the Silver Comet twice before, but only on short segments within Cobb County. This was different. Leaving the congestion of Cobb County behind, we made our way through towns like Hiram, Rockmart, Cedartown, Piedmont, and Jacksonville. The scenery was incredible. The mix of users along the trail changed as we went along. From joggers, triathletes, and dog walkers in Cobb, we soon made our way out into the hinterlands. Before long, we were seeing Boy Scout Troops on a weekend hike or bike, couples making a vacation journey, and locals out for a Saturday/Sunday ride. All along the way, we met Georgians in Alabama and folks from Alabama in Georgia.
In Piedmont, AL, we stumble into a Fall street festival, complete with bands, face painting, bake sales, and the like. And there we were, joining right in. We ate a full lunch at Frankie's in Rockmart, and we hit plenty of convenience stores and fast food stops in town after town, fueling us along our journey. Including our overnight stay in Anniston, I figured we spent over $600 in total , or $100 a night per person.
Already a member of the Covington/Newton County Tourism Advisory Committee at the Chamber of Commerce, I was anxious to tell our story. To me, the opportunity was clear. In the months after that journey, I began researching and found community after community where trails and greenways had directly translated into tourism spending, profits for local merchants, and increased revenues for local governments. I even found communities that had landed major new employers by recruiting industries that values walking and biking trails as an amenity to retain employees.
I've been an advocate every since -- solely because of the much needed economic impact. Since that time, as I encourage more and more people of all ages to bicycle, I'm seeing the increased need to provide safe places to bike and walk in Newton County. But, the beauty is we can build these places for our citizens, and generate economic prosperity for local businesses at the same time. It's a win-win.
That firm belief asserted by FDR in his first inaugural address at the height of the Great Depression, has been on my mind of late. Is fear bad? Some would argue it's a healthy thing that stops us from wandering needlessly into harm's way. But, FDR went on to describe the fear he sought to tame: "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." And, it's that idea that keeps coming back to me, as I listen to rail-trail opponents who invoke rumors of crime to frighten citizens.Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror... It's effective. And, sometimes, it's well intentioned. But, while fear can trigger life-preserving behavior, it also has a way of breeding irrational actions that are ultimately counter to our best interests.For examples of irrational fear, I think back to those horrific days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For weeks, months, and even years after seeing planes used as weapons of destruction, many Americans would not fly on a commercial airliner.
And, yet, among the 2,977 victims killed that terrible day, only 246 died on airplanes. The vast majority -- 2,731 people -- were killed doing something most of us do every day... putting in a days work... in a high-rise office tower, at the police or fire department, or at the Pentagon. And, yet, no one spoke openly about fearing to go back to work. It was the idea of air travel that gave us pause.I'll never criticize anyone for being afraid. It's not a reaction we can easily control. But, because it is often irrational, it serves us well to question fear. And, when it comes to opposing a walking or biking trail because of crime concerns, that is an irrational fear.
Consider the sad story of Jennifer Ewing, a 54-year-old woman murdered on the Silver Comet Trail in Paulding County in 2006. News coverage of that incident sent shock waves through the community of trail users in that area. It was a sobering reminder bad things can happen. But they can happen anywhere. That murder was on a bike trail. But, there were 600 other homicides committed in Georgia that same year: They happened in mall parking lots, on the streets, and very often in homes. In our own community, in 2006, we had a tragic murder in a fast food parking lot. But we, knew the cause of that tragedy was a madman behind the wheel of a car, not the place where the crime occurred.In a world where evil doers exist, caution is a must. But, irrational fear puts us in greater danger, not less. Some are afraid to walk or bike on a trail, and yet we:
Worse than any of these, though, is when we let fear convince us not to walk or bike at all. Consider these findings based on causes of death reported by the Centers for Disease Control in 2005:
- Get into a car and drive on Georgia's streets and highways where 7,842 people have died in crashes over the past five years.
- Walk alongside and across Georgia roads where 749 pedestrians were killed in automobile crashes over those same five years.
- Bicycle on busy roadways where an average of 20 Georgia cyclists are killed in car collisions each year.
- Heart disease, cancer, and stroke accounted for 67% of all deaths.
- Accidents accounted for less than 6%.
- Assault and homicide were the cause of less than 1%.
- The average American is 82 times more likely to die from a medical condition such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, or respiratory ailments, than by assault or homicide. And, the majority of these medical conditions can be mitigated by regular exercise.
When we allow an irrational fear to discourage us from building better places to exercise, we actually put ourselves and our children at greater risk of an early death. With our state ranking the second worst for childhood obesity rates, and our county being among the worst in Georgia, there is a trend here we must reverse.
Children born today will likely be the first generation of Americans to live shorter lives than their parents.To borrow the words of FDR, we cannot let "
nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror paralyze needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
By now, you've probably seen a "Derail the Trail" sign around the county -- possibly in the yard of a friend or neighbor. Maybe you have one in your yard. (We even had one in ours for a night, put there obviously by someone who thought that would be funny.)
Many trail supporters say they'd gladly pay for signs to counter. I appreciate the offer, and the passionate support, but, we won't be putting up signs of our own. It's tempting to play the numbers game... "We have xxx people putting up signs opposing a rail-trail... "Oh yeah, well, we have almost 600 supporters on Facebook..." And, so it goes... But, the problem with counting heads to make your point is neither side tries to understand the other. Signs can't talk, and signs can't listen.
I believe building a trail system in Newton County -- including a rail-trail -- is a sane, responsible act that will benefit our entire community. Considering the facts, it makes good economic sense, even in these times. I know many fellow citizens who agree, but I also know there are a significant number who do not. I respect that.
On this website, we spell out why Newton Trails expects multi-use trails will benefit Newton County as a public health and an economic development asset. Regardless of your views, I encourage you to take ime to read the materials referenced here. Supporters, please us this information to explain your position to doubters. Skeptics, please also take the time to review the case studies and research we have cited. Of course, I hope it will change your mind. But, more important, I want you to see that we have studied this carefully and reached conclusions based on facts and experience. This organization, Newton Trails, has been in existence for over 22 years; we do not act rashly or without due diligence.
No matter how you feel, I would love to talk as neighbors should of your hopes and mine for our community and our prospects for better days ahead. I'll gladly meet with anyone interested in having such conversation.