Rahall Responds, Says His Transpo Record Is About More Than Just Highways

Earlier this month, we reported that Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) was in the running for Ranking Member on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in the House. We mentioned our alarm that his ideas about transportation seemed limited and road-centric – specifically, that his website’s issue page on Transportation mentioned only highways, water, and broadband. Got us wondering what he thought about bike-ped access and transit.

The Greenbrier River Trail, the longest rail-trail in West Virginia. Looks beautiful, but we're guessing it's not a high-traffic commuter corridor. Photo by ##http://www.wunderground.com/blog/HeyBoyHowdy/comment.html?entrynum=11##shbknits##
The Greenbrier River Trail, the longest rail-trail in West Virginia. Looks beautiful, but we're guessing it's not a high-traffic commuter corridor. Photo by ##http://www.wunderground.com/blog/HeyBoyHowdy/comment.html?entrynum=11##shbknits##

We were glad to see today that reporter Taylor Kuykendall from the local Register-Herald newspaper asked Rahall about those omissions.

Rahall said he understands those concerns, and admits they aren’t featured prominently on his website, but that doesn’t mean he ignores those issues.

“I don’t give them much play on my website, because while important, they don’t play as prominent a role in the way we move our coal, our goods and our people,” Rahall said. “We don’t benefit as much in West Virginia from all of those categories, but we do have some. Rails-to-trails, for example, and we have bikeways and scenic byways. We have several of those right here in southern West Virginia.”

Now, I like a scenic byway as much as the next lady, but it’s not quite the trailblazing reform that advocates were looking for.

The Rails-to-Trails website lists dozens of trails in West Virginia, and we’re all for that. But Rails-to-Trails’ manager of trail development, Kelly Pack, says those trails get very little commuter use. Rahall is right that his district offers great recreational opportunities to pedestrians and cyclists, but according to Pack, “With the geography and social norms there, people don’t think of bicycling as a form of transportation anywhere in the state.”

Pack herself grew up in Charleston and then lived for seven years in Morgantown, where she commuted by foot on a rail-trail.

Meanwhile, another local West Virginia paper, the State Journal, featured a story yesterday titled, “Public Transportation Flourishes in Rural West Virginia Counties.” It highlights the rural transit authority that carries “more than 55,000 passenger trips per year.”

That’s about 15 minutes worth of work for the New York subway, but this isn’t New York we’re talking about. It’s worth noting that West Virginians are using transit at a scale that works for their wide-open spaces and decentralized population centers. In fact, the article mentions that a new operations facility opened yesterday in Hamlin – in Rep. Rahall’s district.

  • Clutch J

    Good reporting! Sounds like it’s time for bike-ped advocates to get organized in WVA.

  • mcas

    It would have been far more encouraging if he’d said ‘Highways were featured because they cost about 10 times more per traveler than bike/ped infrastructure. The funding differences make building highways a battle– since it’s such a poor use of public funds, unlike the cost-effective bike lanes and sidewalks.’

    Hey, one can dream, right…?

  • Rails-to-trails is a scam. If someone proposed to take low-performing highways and turn them into hiking trails permanently, we probably wouldn’t be viewing it as an investment in transportation. We’d view it as reduction in car capacity and in highway spending, but not as a meaningful form of high-volume transportation.

  • spokker

    Rails to trails is cheap as hell and it ensures that those commie trains won’t be able to operate.

    Rails to trails is a fucking joke if you actually care about our transportation network.

  • Doug

    Counter-example:

    Here in the Boston area, there is a major rail trail, the Minuteman Bike Trail, which runs twelve miles from the burbs and runs past several subway stops (including the end of the line). There’s work to get it extended all the way downtown. If you ride it any day of the week, you’ll find it is quite well trafficked by commuters.

    There’s also a rails-with-trails project in downtown Cambridge to build another off-street, cross-river trail at Grand Junction that would be ideal for traffic-intolerant commuters.

    In another era, the Hudson river bike path on the West side of Manhattan would have been called a “Rail with Trail” as well, since it runs parallel to Metro North all the way from 59th street. Construction of that park entailed (at least below 125th street) decking over the tracks, at no small expense.

    Rail trails provide a great way to build a bicycle highway where they’re possible. Also, a lot of the rail trails that aren’t from abandoned track get “rail banked” so those commie trains can take back the right of way in the future.

    Note: I’m not a member of the rails to trails conservancy. 🙂

  • DK

    I love the W&OD trail here in Northern Virginia (suburban D.C.), but the trail conversion in the early 70’s robbed us of a rail ROW that would have been a good Commuter Rail or Metrorail corridor.

  • Kelly Pack

    As Doug points out, there are many rail-trails that are preserved as public right-of-ways for future rail use under the federal railbanking statute. For 25 years, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has defended railbanking to ensure that these segments of our national rail system remain in tact for public use. For more information, visit our website: http://www.railstotrails.org

    In my conversation with Tanya, I explained that most of the rail-trails in WV are in rural areas – there are several in the beautiful Monongahela National Forest – but a few, like the Mon River Trail system and the Greater Wheeling Trail can and do serve some local ped/bike commuters. When I left Morgantown in 2006, I noticed more people commuting by bike (including a few of my professors and classmates), using the rail-trail as a preferred route.

    I misspoke when I said that people don’t think of bicycling as a form of transportation anywhere in the state – there are a handful of groups that are dedicated to the issue and are effecting change. Although much of West Virginia’s geography and infrastructure make it a difficult place to commute by bike, local advocates are working toward better conditions and facilities. There are some places in the state where people choose to travel by foot or bike and rail-trails, like the one in Morgantown, encourage more people to consider non-motorized transportation because of their gentle grades and separation from traffic.

  • Chris L

    @DK

    Spot on. And now that the trail is there, Arlington and Fairfax residents will defend it to the death. It could have been the Silver line.

  • JJJ

    Doug, while in theory these trails are available to take back as rail ROW….NIMBYs would never let it happen.

    “YOU’RE GOING TOD DESTROY OUR TRAIL FOR A BIG NOISY TRAIN!?!?”

    The minuteman trail used to offer commuter rail service to Arlington and Lexington. And considering the 77 bus which runs parallel to it (on mass ave) is one of the busiest bus lines in the system, there is obviously demand for better transit.

    I like the trail, but it would help more people as a train.

  • How many rail-trails have been converted back to rail in the US?

  • Brandi

    I’ve seen a few former commuter rail lines ripped out here and turned into trails. The press releases always say it’s just for ten or twenty years until they restart the service. Now there’s a joke. The NIMBYs even fight the trails saying they will bring marauding teenagers. You really think a NIMBY is going to allow some gross noisy train with a bunch of poor people? I think bike trails are a great thing and I’m all for cycling. I don’t know if they should always be built by removing usable rail lines that happen to be dormant.

  • Alan

    I rode on a few WV rail trails in the course of a cross-country tour. Some are useful; many are awfully maintained, to the point of degenrating into singletrack. But spectacular, with tons of tunnels. WV (and US rural areas in general) have a lot of rail lines built long ago to support industries that aren’t there anymore that convert well to tail lines.

    Pittsburgh’s main bike commuter artery to downtown is a rail trail that supported long-gone steel mills. So, yes, rail trails replacing commuter rail are bad news.

  • While it’s true that rail-trails are heavily used for recreation, they also make great commuter trails. Sometimes it only takes minor changes/additions to a trail to make it into a functional commuter trail. For example, a trail that runs along the outskirts of town can be extended to the center of town. The extra mile or so can make big differences when it comes to the type and number of users.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

In West Virginia, T&I Committee Kicks Off Field Hearings on Long-term Bill

|
Before crafting their $556 billion transportation proposal, Obama administration officials toured the country, holding a series of listening sessions to hear what people wanted in a long-term transportation bill. Now, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is doing the same thing — but don’t expect committee Republicans to come to the same conclusions as the […]

Rahall Confirmed as Top Dem, Mica Names New GOP Members of T & I

|
Update: We just learned that Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) has been confirmed as the new Ranking Member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure just got a bunch of new members. Incoming Chair John Mica (R-FL) announced the Republican picks today. “The Committee and its new Republican Members will be […]

UPDATE: Reminder: Amtrak Subsidies Pale in Comparison to Highway Subsidies

|
UPDATED 9/24 with chart. House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica continued his “holy jihad” against Amtrak yesterday, holding the third full-committee hearing in a series on “Reviewing Amtrak’s Operations.” He’s planning at least three more hearings during the lame duck session after the election. Mica went after subsidies in this one, and he clearly thinks […]