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Eddy Gilmore: Moving from car ails to bike trails

Some of you may remember that I sold my commuting car a few months ago, because it sat idle 23.5 hours per day. This type of use does not necessitate owning a 3,000-pound gas-guzzling, stress-inducing headache.

Some of you may remember that I sold my commuting car a few months ago, because it sat idle 23.5 hours per day. This type of use does not necessitate owning a 3,000-pound gas-guzzling, stress-inducing headache.

Anyway, the bike has been a marvelous improvement in getting to work. I don't have time to exercise simply for the sake of exercising, but adding a small amount of time to my commute has caused me to be in the best shape I've been in years. I feel great, but still have a ways to go. There are a lot of guys in their mid-40s who buzz by me occasionally with enormous calves about ready to split their skin open.

That being said, Duluth would greatly benefit from a better network of bike trails, bike lanes and an ambitious bicycle plan to promote this viable form of transportation in this small city where most things are fairly closely located. Far more people would bike for transportation if the only connections to various points in the city weren't busy streets that lack adequate shoulders.

For instance, I ride Arrowhead Road every day in its busiest section, and the cars do get a wee bit close at times. I understand why many people aren't comfortable with this, but, from my home in Lakeside, this near-highway is my only option.

This dilemma is common throughout the city.

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In Madison, Wis., a solid 10 percent of the city's population commutes by walking or biking due to an extensive system of more than 100 miles of bikeways.

Currently, Duluth clearly has significant budget problems, which would necessitate creatively tapping into state and federal funding, businesses, foundations and individual donations. I'm confident U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who is an enthusiastic bicyclist himself, would wholeheartedly seek funding in Washington to help

support an ambitious plan.

An excellent model to work from is the example of the Superior Hiking Trail Association, which just started in 1986. That is when they made their first proposal for state funding to create the beginning of the Superior Hiking Trail. Now more than 200 miles of trail have been built through volunteer efforts.

Soon the trail will extend unbroken from Jay Cooke State Park to the Canadian border. This is incredible for a trail that is just 20 years old. The fact that readers of the magazine Backpacker have ranked it as the second best trail in the country is a tribute to the dedication of scores of volunteers.

I believe we could accomplish similar results within city limits.

Back to the cost involved, a recent study demonstrated that for every $1 invested in trails there is nearly a $3 health benefit realized. With the levels of obesity reaching epidemic proportions in recent years we need to think out of the box, or rather, out of the car. This would greatly increase exercise opportunities, boost tourism, decrease traffic congestion and promote the general well-being, among other things.

Interestingly, trails also increase property values.

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A 2002 survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors among recent homebuyers surprisingly showed that trails ranked second out of a list of 18 community amenities.

Just look at our love for the Lakewalk. It has truly increased our quality of life and tourism, and it's almost impossible to imagine Duluth without it.

The current plan to extend the Lakewalk through Lakeside is an amazing development that will provide a vital link to this tremendous asset and to the downtown area. Yes, this is good for tourism. More importantly, it's good for the hard-working people of Duluth.

I believe we need to take this much further and provide trails linking the rest of our city. We have a great deal of green space that could be tapped for this, and, of course, bike lanes along existing roadways could fill in the gaps.

I've recently learned that a group has coalesced as the Duluth Area Trails Alliance (DATA) to promote and maintain trails. They promote all forms of trails and green corridors, and have been very active in working with the city to include trails in the planning process.

The group's Web site, datadirt.wordpress.com, shows a surprising level of ambition for a group that has been around for only a year.

On a whim, after being exposed to the Web site, I called Andy Holak, the executive director of the group.

He is a man with big ideas and says that bike commuting is a huge priority for the DATA, but it sounds like they currently have a lot of irons in the fire.

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More of us need to get involved to work toward promoting bicycling as a viable commuting option.

I will start by getting off my couch (formerly owned by Bob Dylan's family, but that's another story) to attend their next meeting in September.

Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins, and husband of one. He can be reached via e-mail at eddyg_123@

yahoo.com. Gilmore writes once a month for the Budgeteer.

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