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Run, Bike, Hike: Capital Region Trails Summit

New York state and local leaders joined recreation enthusiasts at the capitol Thursday to recognize the area’s biking, hiking and walking trails and call for more options. 

Officials say across New York it's easier than ever to get from Point A to Point B on two feet or two wheels thanks to initiatives to expand and connect multi-use hiking and biking trails.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

The Capital Region Trails Summit highlighted numerous projects including the Empire State Trail and the Albany County Rail Trail.

Democratic Assemblymember Pat Fahy calls Albany "the epicenter of trails."    "Biking, hiking, walking, any of those. This is not just about what's good for our health. This is a serious economic development issue, with tourism directly tied to it, as well as even business recruitment, talent recruitment. We know, that when businesses are scouting locations, they also need to be concerned about attracting the millennials. And they're looking for these types of extras. It's tied to the salability if you will of an entire region, that there is this interconnectivness, there are these opportunities."

Jonathan Jones, Albany’s Commissioner of Recreation, Youth & Workforce Services, says the city's new skatepark and playgrounds are attracting more visitors as they become links along popular bike trails. "We see a uptick not only because people need to get away from phones and realize that a sedentary lifestyle doesn't really lead to a happy lifestyle: it's a way to engage with other people, and now more than ever there's a need to be around positive energy, ans so we're seeing people who've never been together before, collaborate. We're seeing partnerships that's never happened before, all because health is wealth and people are starting to live better."

Jones expects in-the-works attractions like the Skyway and waterfront will be accessible by trail.

Proponents of trails say they are essential for connecting communities, attracting new residents and stimulating local economies. Albany area rail trails added amenities like benches, sunscreen dispensers and bike fixing stations. CDTA and CDPHP were recognized for being bike-friendly. CDTA's CEO Carm Basile says the authority understands the link between transportation and the economy.  "We move people. It's up to us to develop a wider and deeper menu of options for people. Not just one way to get around but several ways to get around, and then to ensure that they're all connected."

State officials say by 2020, 750 miles of connected trails linking New York City to the Canadian border and west to Buffalo under the moniker "Empire State Trail Plan" will be the nation's longest.

Another run, bike,  hike component is "complete streets.” Leah Golby is board president of the New York Bicycling Coalition and a former Albany Common Councilwoman. She sees the state’s Complete Streets program as another pathway to improve movement in Albany. "Complete streets are important for everybody. For people who walk, people who drive, for people with disabilities. It includes simple things like sidewalks, and you'd be surprised, even in some of our urban cores in New York state areas that don't currently have sidewalks. Here in the city of Albany there are streets in the more walkable parts of the city where suddenly...there’s no sidewalk.”

Fahy represents a large portion of Albany County, which is leading the Run, Bike Hike effort upstate. Nevertheless, there are several challenges going forward.  "Some are just physical challenges of widening the road to accommodate bikes and pedestrians. Financial challenges include just getting the funding. Putting in sidewalks is expensive when they have not been there before, let alone widening streets or adding in lanes. Some of it is legislative and regulatory. Authorizing electric bikes so that baby boomers or the disabled or those that wanna be more ambitious can get those bikes as well as the 'complete streets' that you heard about, to make sure that we're doing this right when construction projects go on."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.