PEC works every day to improve the trails across the Commonwealth and the surrounding region. So when that type of regional work gets recognized on an international level, it is certainly an honor.
That’s exactly what happened earlier this month, as PEC Executive Vice President Patrick Starr and I traveled to Portland, Ore., for the International Trails Symposium at the Oregon Convention Center from May 17-20.
American Trails, a national organization that promotes trails for all types of users, holds the symposium every two years to gather trail planners, builders, managers, and advocates from around the globe in one place and PEC projects were well represented.
As a part of a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy-organized session showcasing large-scale regional projects, Patrick and myself presented on the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition (IHTC) and the Circuit networks. For the IHTC, I focused on the coordination of the six mega-corridors, a process by which the coalition keeps 111 diverse groups pulling in the same direction. Harrisburg to Pittsburgh Mainline Greenway’s Laura Hawkins took part as well in the IHTC discussion to illustrate how the coalition functions to support the goals of local efforts.
Patrick’s presentation was paired with Karl Knoch from Rails-to-Trails, who gave a whirlwind recap of the Philadelphia region’s perceptions of trails and the Circuit. Patrick himself spoke of how the Circuit strategically positioned itself as a transportation infrastructure project within the Delaware Valley to garner support and a successful federal DOT TIGER grant in 2010.
Both of these projects represent nationally significant systems that many areas look to try and emulate. For planners who usually focus on trails at a local scale, the candid discussions of the coalition building to make such projects a success was very beneficial.
AJ Schwartz, PEC’s partner at Environmental Planning and design, also presented GoToTrails.com, the planning website for IHTC and, from the groups’ reaction, one of the most sophisticated GIS tools available in the trails community. The session was standing room only, which speaks volumes about the interest in the next generation of planning tools and how people want to work to realize their trail dreams.
Portland is a fantastic setting for such a conference as its bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is often held up as a model and its public transit system has allowed the city to absorb a large increase in its population without the accompanying sprawl. From bike boxes at intersections to bicycle boulevards that provide arterial transportation routes to the urban core, Portland offers many creative solutions at relatively low infrastructure costs. Best of all, Portland has been able to use these features without losing the local character and the inter-war neighborhood charm that is a calling card of the city.