A national treasure is developing - quickly. Largely under the radar during its first major decade of development, the East Coast Greenway (ECG) now has a 2,900-mile route stretching from Maine's border with Canada to Key West, Florida. It is the urban sister to the Appalachian Trail, yet only a fraction of the public know about it. The hundreds of thousand people that enjoy its segments are often more familiar with their local greenways than the whole ECG system. But all that began to change in 2010.
What appeared to many as an insurmountable dream a decade ago is quickly becoming a reality. The steadfast few people in the mid-1990s who took on the visionary task of linking eastern cities by non-motorized, multi-use trail would likely be considered unrealistic by reasonable observers. At the end of 1999, only 2.5% of the corridor was designated, a mere 73 out of 2,900 miles.
However, fast-forward to today, and the ECG as a safe and accessible route for all is becoming nearly inevitable. The hard work of thousands of volunteers and a few staff of the support organization, the East Coast Greenway Alliance, has driven strong greenway growth. Almost 600 miles have now been designated and completed trail makes up more than 25% of the route today. The speed of greenway growth has accelerated from 7% per year in 2006 to 21% in 2010. Broken down by miles designated, growth increased from 21 new miles four years ago to over 100 in 2010. And a similar increase is possible during the year ahead thanks to strong partnerships with local and state institutions.
This progress bodes well for our country's ability to foster economic recovery, a healthy public, and a thriving natural environment. US addiction to oil imports costs us over $1 billion per day and is rising quickly these days. Rampant obesity and its ill effects cost our people over $100 billion every year. And tens of billions of dollars are lost annually from current levels of pollution in the US. The potential for biking and walking to reduce these costs is tremendous. Currently, the main impediment to increased active transport is a lack of safe and convenient routes between neighborhoods and destinations such as school and work.
That's where the East Coast Greenway comes in. The ECG spine route through the heart of major eastern cities holding over 40 million people is helping increase the number of trips by bicycle and by foot. Since 1990, active transport trips have more than doubled. They now make up more than 10% of all US trips, a share that we can triple in the next decade and a half to match our healthier counterparts in much of Western Europe. A $400 million federal investment is needed to upgrade the safety of the whole ECG route for everyone from 8 to 80 years old, a fifth the cost of a recent I-95 bridge over the Potomac River. The investment would quickly pay off through returns of improved public health, higher quality of life, and reduced transport costs.
After record growth in 2010, the East Coast Greenway is ready for prime time in 2011. Look for more ECG signs popping up throughout eastern cities and helping them rival active transport meccas from Portland, OR, out west to Amsterdam across the pond. The most effective method to reduce pollution, lower the American cost of living, and foster a healthy environment has arrived.
For more details on the East Coast Greenway and how you can get involved, go to greenway.org
Follow Dennis Markatos on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ECgreenway