Repurposing Abandoned Railways and Cycling in a Post-Industrial City
Updated: Jun 19, 2018
Studying and living in The Netherlands for a year opened my thinking to the possibilities of cycling becoming a mainstream mode of transportation and practical alternative to car dominated urban growth. Amsterdam has a global reputation for being a cycling friendly city, but what interested me the most was the extension of cycling infrastructure into rural and industrial areas on the periphery of major Dutch cities. Routes that I explored on bikes from Rotterdam to Hook of Holland along the Maas river, between small towns in Zeeland, and throughout the commercial and agricultural environs of the Randstad all revealed a well-planned and maintained trail network separated from automobile traffic even far outside of the city core.
Returning to my hometown, I instantly began to notice the limitations of cycling infrastructure outside of specific geographic areas. In my gentrifying, downtown neighborhood called “the grid”, people can regularly be seen riding bikes for work and recreation. In some newer suburbs dedicated bike paths have been incorporated into master planned communities where they are used primarily by families. But in many of the inner-ring cities built during the middle part of the 20th century streets were designed strictly to accommodate cars and commerce, creating unsafe conditions that deter all but the most daring cyclists.
After making this observation, I was pleased to discover that one of these cities, West Sacramento, had recently taken the initiative to convert an abandoned railroad line into a small but functional cycling path with future opportunities for expansion under a nationally recognized “Rails-to-Trails” program. This program uses existing, linear rights-of-way (ie. easements) to overcome one of the biggest hurdles to trail development – securing access rights from private landowners.
An advisory group had also formed to brainstorm possibilities for placemaking on an open space adjacent to the new bike path, to bring public awareness to the infrastructure improvements. Eager to apply recently acquired perspectives on cycling and urban development, I researched the history and land use of the trail area and joined the group to assist with planning for the site. After several weeks of internal coordination an organization called “Assemble Sacramento” was launched to focus on site activation for underutilized parcels in the region, particularly those with a connection to cycling.
Up until this point the work has revolved around structuring the organization, getting city approval, connecting with potential sponsors and aligning with stakeholder groups and non-profits. The next stage is the fun part; designing a site plan, community outreach, and on-the-ground field work to create a vibrant public space that raises awareness of cycling and sustainability.
The inaugural Clarksburg Trail Rest Station project will build upon some amenities that have been added to the area including a university sponsored urban farm, a local grocery chain and green space. These investments are a good sign for this part of town, which has made strong efforts in recent years to attract the same amenities as cities on the other side of the river. In many ways the city’s industrial character, cultural diversity, and riverfront location within a major delta shares similarities with neighborhoods in Rotterdam like Charlois or Katendrecht, which are also focus areas for community-led improvements.
For me, the project is a great opportunity to stay involved with local planning and development, since my daily work is separated from the community where I live. Work will commence this summer and likely continue throughout the fall and other project areas may soon be on the horizon. A website has been launched to promote the organization and provide regular project updates; www.assemblesac.org
About the author:
Dan Krekelberg is an IHS UMD graduate with interests in social science, urbanism, climate resilience and cycling. When not exploring cities or the outdoors on foot or by bike, Dan works an energy consultant for regional governments and utilities, overseeing programs aimed at reducing GHG emissions through building efficiency and renewable energy technologies.