Creating a robust bike-trail system is not a new goal for Canton, but it is a goal that has become increasingly important.
On June 29, a Repository editorial asked “ ‘City Bikes’ in Canton? Why Not?” It was followed by the July 3 guest column “Want more bike traffic? Then increase safety.” They challenged the city to become more bike-friendly.
The truth is, the city recognizes the importance of achieving the goal of becoming more bike-friendly, and we have been aggressively working toward creating a safe, accessible bike-trail system.
Creating a robust bike-trail system is not a new goal for Canton. For years, bicyclists have utilized city parks and neighborhood streets. At one time, this approach satisfied the traditional view of bicycling as primarily a recreational activity.
But bicycles are now used as a mode of transportation and for exercise. In addition, they are viewed as an element of a “green” community and offer economic development opportunities. Bike/trail systems are seen as a key aspect of a vibrant, growing, healthy community, making Canton more attractive to businesses and helping to reverse “brain drain.” Bikes and a well-developed bike-trail system are much more than recreation.
This is the philosophy that is shared by Mayor William J. Healy II, City Council, our Park and Recreation Commissions and Canton’s many partners, such as Stark Parks, which co-manages many of the trails in Canton and is the regional trail champion.
This philosophy can trace its genesis to documents such as the Stark Parks Trail and Greenway Master Plan and the Canton Downtown Master Plan. They were developed with the input of multiple community groups and individuals and have established the framework for how Canton and Stark County as a whole will develop its network of bike and trail systems.
Canton’s founding fathers left us with a legacy, excellent infrastructure and environmental amenities that few communities can boast about. We have outstanding water, sewer, roadway and park systems. We, as stewards of the city, strive to maintain and upgrade these systems for future generations. It is these same systems that we now tap to construct the bike-trail system.
How so? Well, first, Canton was constructed around the Nimishillen Creek watershed (West, Middle and East branches). Our forefathers had the insight to protect most of these waterways by surrounding them with parks or water fields. It is in these areas that we are building the backbone of the trail system.
Similar to the interstate highway system, these trails link us to our neighbors and downtown. These off-road north-south trails include the completed Electric Railway Trail along Mahoning Road, the West Side Parks Trail that is now nearly complete, and the East Side Parks Trail that is under design.
Page 2 of 3 - The next tier in the system is the connection between those major trails. These trails are typically east-west trails that will share the road or widened sidewalks. They include the proposed Downtown Loop Trail, which will connect the East Side and West Side Parks Trails and encircle the core of downtown, and the 12th Street North Trail, which will run from Monument Park to Nimisilla Park.
The third tier of the system includes trails that provide a key link for access from residential neighborhoods. These trails may be on the shoulder of low-volume streets or along utility easements. Some of these trails may even link into neighborhood parks or natural areas such as the Fairhope Nature Preserve.
With an undertaking of this magnitude, the challenges are great, but the opportunities for success are greater.
Let’s take funding, which can provide both a challenge and an opportunity. Certain types of funding can be used only for certain activities.
For instance, Clean Ohio Trail Funds can be used only for trails. Canton and Stark Parks won one of these grants from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the West Side Parks Trail. This grant was supplemented by Canton and Stark Parks capital funds. None of these funding sources can be used for other governmental functions.
Another example of seizing an opportunity is the strategic purchasing of properties. Creation of the Fairhope Nature Preserve, including its trails and other amenities, is an outcome of an important infrastructure and flood-prevention project. For an additional investment by Canton of about $150,000 (just over 4 percent of the infrastructure project), we were able to secure a piece of property for passive recreation in much the same way as our original park system was developed.
As a bonus, now that Canton owns this formerly vacant site and it is frequented by law enforcement and other city personnel, it is already better secured than in the past. With good planning and proper management, this property will require only limited maintenance but will provide many positive environmental, recreational, educational, and infrastructure benefits. What a great destination along the bike/trail system.
One trail at a time. With an undertaking of this magnitude, we are breaking up the construction into manageable parts, and prioritizing them based on available grant funding, available land, overlapping infrastructure projects and so on.
Canton expects the system to come together in the next five years. I look forward to seeing you on the trails and at the numerous exciting destinations that Canton has to offer along the way, so ride safely. The trail ahead looks clear.
What’s the plan for Downtown Loop Trail?
The Downtown Loop Trail in Canton will include using one lane of McKinley and Walnut avenues for two-way bike traffic. A curblike barrier will separate bikes from other traffic.
Page 3 of 3 - Unlike trails in the parks, the on-street bike trails will require the city to modify traffic signals and the roadway. Plans also call for replacing curbs and sidewalks and installing “streetscape” elements such as lights, trees and brick pavers.
The city is seeking federal transportation funds for the project.
About the author
Daniel J. Moeglin is Canton city engineer. A professional engineer and surveyor intern, he lives in Canton and plans to bike to work when the East Side Parks Trail opens.