Rails to Trails: Railroad Lines to Be Bike Paths Linking Downtown Cincinnati to Lake Erie

August 19, 2021 12:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
By Chris Mayhew

Part of the first railroad line to enter Cincinnati prior to the Civil War is closer to becoming a biking and walking path tying into a web of urban and rural trails connecting all the way to Lake Erie.

The framework to construct a final agreement was agreed upon in March by the city, the line's owners, and the railroad that has rights to operate on it.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority owns the unused north track and a south track used by the railroad for freight operations and for a seasonal passenger dinner train operation. The city, cyclists and railroad officials all refer to the trail path and tracks as part of the Oasis Line, a name that dates back to a former brick railroad switching station built in the 1960s near where the trail will begin.

Cleveland cycling attorney and cyclist Ken Knabe has ridden the entire 336-mile trail network south to dip his tires in the Ohio River after starting on the shore of Lake Erie.

Cyclists have a tradition of dipping their bike's front tire in the water to ceremoniously mark the start and the end of the trip on traveling all of the Ohio to Erie trail.

The last leg of the journey, now completed by riding on Riverside Drive in Cincinnati, will be safer when the Oasis trail opens than having cars pass close by at 25 mph or more, Knabe said.

Knabe said the cycling trip south took three days with stops in hotels in Millersburg, Columbus and Yellow Springs before arriving in Cincinnati.

"It creates a lifelong connection and friendship of the people that you ride with and then you have the historic towns along the way," he said of the journey.

In Cleveland, it took three phases to create a seamless trail that isn't on roads. The last portion required building a bridge for the trail over an active rail line to get to Wendy Park. It opened in June.

About 12% of the 326 miles of trail still require going over a street or road, he said. The rest are paved or crushed gravel trails restricted to pedestrians and cyclists.

One of the not-to-miss features of the trail system on the northern end is the journey on the former canal towpath through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, he said.

"My ride of choice is the towpath because every time I go on it I see a heron, I see a huge turtle, It’s just relaxing," Knabe said.

Genesee and Wyoming Inc., through its property Indiana and Ohio Railway, owns rights to use the tree stump- and weed-filled north track from the transit authority that will become a trail. The section of the northernmost part of the former Little Miami Railroad tracks will join much of the other parts of the former railroad line that are already a bike and walking trail.

The five-mile multi-use path will start near the Montgomery Inn Boathouse and stretch east to Carrel Street to connect to trails around Lunken Airport.

Bike-trail advocates credit Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley with brokering the agreement the city has in place now with Genesee and Wyoming Inc. The transit authority owns the north track.

The city's agreement promises $3 million through the authority to the railroad company to buy its rights to use the north track. A provision in the agreement to erect a chain-link fence or another barrier between the eventual path and remaining active tracks is one of the key reasons city and trail officials say the railroad relented on earlier objections to the trail. The freight railroad continues to serve Cincinnati Barge and Rail Terminal just east of T.M. Berry International Friendship Park, and part of the seasonal Cincinnati Dinner Train uses the south Oasis Line track that will remain after the trail is created.

"First, as safety is our first priority, it’s always our goal to keep people and rail lines as far apart and physically separated as is feasible," said Michael E. Williams, a spokesman for Genessee & Wyoming Railroad Services. "That’s always our position on the subject of trails."

All parties in the ongoing discussions with the city and railroad are working well together, Williams said. The discussions remain active, he said.

"This has been the breakthrough we’ve been waiting to happen for 10 to 15 years," said Wade Johnston, a cyclist and director of Tri-State Trails for Green Umbrella. "The mayor made this a priority."

This will be a continuation of the experience people have on the existing Little Miami Scenic Trail, Johnston said. People can bicycle on Riverside Drive, but it's not ideal for novice cyclists or families with small children, he said.

The ongoing Beechmont Bridge Connection Project scheduled to open in summer 2022, will connect the existing Little Miami Scenic Trail to trails around Lunken Airport.

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