How to help make a downtown trail connection

For years bicycle riders have looked forward to a bike path that would create a connection between two dangling ends of the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail. That connection is now under construction.

The connection will be built to be safe for families for those who want to ride downtown with their families and as a way for bike commuters and recreational cyclists alike to get across town.

The newest piece of trail will always be separated from traffic. It will allow people to ride next to the Arcadia Creek, enjoying nature in an urban setting. Trail signage and pavement markings will be used to guide travelers. And it will provide links to medical facilities, businesses, Kalamazoo Valley Museum and Community College, restaurants, breweries, and the Arcadia Festival Site.

Even though work has already commenced, supporters of the path are seeking financial contributions that will help make the path a reality. The one-mile stretch of path through the downtown is expected to cost $1million. So far, $750,000 of that total has been raised through private donations to the Parks Foundation of Kalamazoo County. 

Now the fundraising effort is moving into the public phase. The community is being asked to donate $50,000 through a crowd fundraising campaign on the Patronicity site. At Second Wave’s deadline Sept. 28, $8,000 of the goal has been pledged by 59 patrons with 40 days to go in the campaign, which concludes Nov. 7.

If the goal is reached, those dollars will be matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. 

Those state agencies are interested in promoting bike paths because the paths are known drivers of the local economy. Local businesses benefit from increased biking and pedestrian traffic, especially when the businesses are located near bike racks, reports the Michigan Complete Streets Coalition. 

In Portland, Oregon, the City Club of Portland completed a first-ever cost-benefit study of bicycling investments in a U.S. city and found that for every dollar spent on cycling friendly projects, between $1.20 and $3.80 was returned in health and fuel savings, according to the Complete Streets blog.

They go on to say cyclists riding in the city frequent retailers more often than drivers and spend more money on average. And Realtors often see bike infrastructure as a selling point for properties. In Indianapolis, homes close to the city’s Manon trail are worth 11 percent more than homes a half mile away, with all other variables controlled.

And bicycling to work can also help increase employee productivity, contributing to a more efficient workforce.

Melody Daacon, of the Parks Foundation of Kalamazoo County, says that in 2016 it is expected the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail will be used 250,000 times (up from 228,580 in 2015). With a trail that is connected through the downtown, those bicyclists could be stopping in at local retailers, going to the library, and checking out local restaurants. 

“This is also a big investment in community health,” Daacon says. “The more you ride the more physically fit you are.” 

It might be hard to believe, but the plan for a bike path through the city has been on the books since 1998. The path was added to the city’s master plan but without an advocate the plans never became reality.

Daacon says that with the construction of other parts of the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail the connecting piece through the city became more urgent. 

The project also got a boost when the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation contributed to the construction of the link between the two ends of the path.

“The Kalamazoo Community is incredibly lucky to have a resource like the KRV Trail. We must connect the heart of our community," says Matt Lechel, Kalamazoo County Parks Commissioner on the Patronicity page. "We need this safe route. We need this for a myriad of reasons, the least of which is economic development, the most of which is preserving lives in this community. From recreation to physical fitness, from getting to work to having some fun, the KRV Trail Downtown Connection benefits all of us.” 

Source: Melody Daacon, Parks Foundation of Kalamazoo County