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Dubuque On Path to Extensive Trail System
Aim is to Use the System for Transportation and Recreation

Craig Reber

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

May 21, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

From Sioux City to Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids and Ames in between, it seems like every metropolitan Iowa city has a bicycle trail system. Some systems are more extensive and developed than others.

A goal to walk, run or bike on a trail system in Dubuque made the Envision 2010 wish list of the top 10 projects to be completed in the next five years.

The ongoing project was a recurring theme culled from more than 2,300 ideas turned in by the community late last summer that made the final cut announced in January.

"I was really excited," said Brian Walsh, an avid bicyclist who owns Free Flight, a Dubuque bicycle, ski and fitness equipment business.

For years, Walsh has kept track of or been involved in trying to get more venues to ride bikes and hike.

"That it made the Top 10 list gives credibility that the community understands that this is a great place to live and involves these trails," he said.

Walsh is one of several committee members tracking implementation of a trail system. He cites Madison, Wis., for its reputation as a bicycle- and walker-friendly city. The March 2006 issue of Bicycling Magazine tapped Madison as the No. 1 city (population 200,00-500,000) for cycling. In and around Madison, nearly 100 miles of scenic biking and hiking trails are available for enthusiasts.

Dubuque isn't in Madison's league - yet - but it's on the right path. Laura Carstens, Dubuque's Planning Services manager, points out planning has been under way for the Heritage Trail for more than 10 years. The 35-mile trail connects the famed Field of Dreams in Dyersville to the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area through the Port of Dubuque. There is also a biking system, many on-street routes, within Dubuque.

Dubuque's comprehensive plan includes the Heritage Trail as both a transportation element and a recreation element.

"We view it as an alternative transportation mode," Carstens said. "It fits with things like 'Bike to Work Week' as well as for the recreational and wellness benefits."

There is more. Officials seek public input for the planning component. The Heritage Trail, with its riverfront system, is the matrix, a hub of sorts with spokes extending west, south and north.

"We want a trail system that is acceptable to the mom with two kids who feel comfortable on a bike trail to get them downtown, to a park, and other destinations in town," said Nicole Turpin, committee chairwoman and planner for the East Central Intergovernmental Association.

Turpin is facilitating the group and Chandra Ravada, ECIA's co-director of transportation and planning, is overlooking the process.

Ravada said the group is more like a citizen participation group, which will take into consideration the existing plans and past public input. It will come out with a more efficient trail system in the area by coordinating with the city, county and ECIA staff.

Ravada said the goal is to ensure all local interests are taken into consideration in the planning and design process. Safety, bicycle compatibility, traffic volume, speed limits, the slope/gradient of an area are all factored into the plan.

"At the end of the day, the public decides what it wants," Ravada said.

Any kind of system costs money, lots of it. That's where the lobbying effort, as well as a vision, is crucial.

"A senator or house representative might ask, 'What is the future of trail? Is it going to connect anywhere? Is it catering to the needs of everyone? What is the big picture?'" Ravada said. "The plan will clearly address those questions."

The goal is to complete the planning document by next year and begin writing grants for the funding. Officials work with the Iowa Department of Transportation and the federal highway administration.

"It's a lengthy process," said Brian Preston, Dubuque County Conservation Board executive director, which oversees the Heritage Trail outside the city limits.

But worth it.

Committee member Chris Fry moved to Dubuque from Cedar Rapids about two years ago. He wanted to get involved in the community. He thought the Envision 2010 projects were a good way. Fry enjoys outdoor activities, including running and bicycling.

"It's more enjoyable on a trail than on a street or a sidewalk," he said. "It's nice to have an alternative."

Fry recalled attending one of the first committee meetings that included ECIA staff. Ideas ranged from a trail system focusing on transportation "to get around town," to another focusing on recreational purposes.

"I hope it comes to be," Fry said. "It will be a great thing for the community."

Fellow committee member Paul Pfohl found the meetings interesting.

"There are a lot of great ideas out there," he said. "Funding is the big challenge."

Adding biking and hiking trails will continue to enhance the "positive changes" the city has enjoyed in recent years, Pfohl added.

As gasoline prices rise, Walsh thinks more people will use bicycles as a form of transportation. What can be done, he added, is when it comes time to refurbish or build new streets, the city should make space for bicycles. And install street signs emphasizing compatibility with bicyclists.

"We're not looking for a four-foot lane," said Parrish Marugg, who has attended the meetings, "just a couple of feet-wide shoulder to ride on off the white line."

Rick Schmitt, owner of The Bike Shack in Dubuque, said bicycling is the most efficient form of transportation available. He would like to see Dubuque become a mini-Madison.

"It's been a leader for years in bicycle commuting," he said of Madison.

The system is all about accommodating every interest - both transportation and recreation.

"When I'm out with the kids, I'm looking to ride to a green place," Walsh said. "Those trails need to be family friendly and not just transportation friendly."