One of the greatest quality of life assets in the Mahoning Valley is the Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway.
The 10-foot-wide, 100-mile-long shared-use path being built on former railroad lines includes the Western Reserve Greenway in Trumbull County and the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway in Mahoning County. The path that connects Lake Erie at Ashtabula Harbor with the Ohio River in East Liverpool is just a few segments from completion.
A recent violent act on the trail in Warren has created a call for safety before thugs ruin the investment placed in creating this amenity. This call for safety should be taken seriously because there are many reasons why the bike trail is important.
The National Park Service has found many examples of bike trails sparking economic development and influencing corporate location decisions. The Mineral Belt Trail in Leadville, Colo., led to a 19 percent increase in sales tax revenues, according to the park service. The Pinellas Trail in downtown Dunedin, Fla., led to storefront occupancy increasing from 65 percent to 100 percent, the park service says.
Ruby Tuesdays Inc. moved its Restaurant Support Center to a site adjacent to the Greenway Trail in Maryville, Tenn. Ruby Tuesdays' CEO said, "I was very impressed with the beauty of the park, which helps provide a sense of community to this area, as well as the many benefits it provides to our more than 300 employees."
Bike trails are being incorporated into urban planning - often now as a requirement. The U.S. Department of Transportation publication "Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel: A Recommended Approach" states, "Bicycling and walking facilities will be incorporated into all transportation projects unless exceptional circumstances exist."
The Ohio Department of Transportation has developed a "complete street" policy for all users including bicyclists. One ODOT change is that new traffic signals provide bicycle detection.
All the potential benefits of a bike trail, including health and fitness for the community and low-cost activities for families, won't materialize without safety. That came into play when Nicholas Baldwin was attacked.
Two males started throwing rocks at him as he approached the bridge near Woodland and Railroad streets at Charles Street. He told police the men knocked him off his bike and beat him. He said his glasses were knocked off during the attack, leaving him unable to identify the attackers.
After getting away to a nearby street, Baldwin was spotted bleeding and lying on the ground by a passing motorist. The motorist called 911, according to reports. Reports indicated that Baldwin had possible internal injuries, severe lacerations and a swollen cheek.
When police arrived, they found him bleeding from the head. He was taken by ambulance to ValleyCare Trumbull Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released.
In the aftermath, public response indicated that many bicyclists planned to avoid the Warren part of the trail. How embarrassing for the city. And how fruitless millions of dollars and years of planning would be if the Warren segment were widely avoided.
About a dozen Warren City police officers have been trained for the department's new bike patrol unit. Warren police Chief Eric Merkel said there are plans under way for the bike patrol to spend some of its time policing the bike trail.
That's a great start toward finding a solution. A highly visible, highly publicized police presence on the trail could provide a powerful crime deterrent.
The police department should also work with private citizens, especially those in the biking community, to establish civilian patrols. Not vigilantism, mind you. We're suggesting pairing a police officer on a bike with a group of civilian bicyclists who can serve as extra eyes and ears, much like a neighborhood block watch, and with a way of communicating when out of visual range.
Warren's police force is already short-handed because of layoffs. An escalation of violent crime is spreading the staff pretty thin. It seems a bit much to expect the city police to add sufficient strength to the bike trail without creating dangerous situations elsewhere in the city.
Civilian assistance adds numbers and helps foster the department's community engagement.