Westerville News & Public Opinion

Locals hail Downtown Connector to Alum Creek Trail

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When Columbus City Council approved a connector to the Alum Creek Greenway Trail July 14, Columbus residents weren't the only ones in central Ohio looking forward to pedaling into Downtown.

Westerville bicyclists were among those pleased that the trail, soon to be completed as an uninterrupted pathway between Westerville and Obetz, will get a stub trail south of Interstate 670, heading west into the heart of the Downtown.

Two small connections at separate locations between Easton and Fifth Avenue are now under construction. They will link existing north and south sections of the Alum Creek Trail and complete its 22-mile north-south route from Westerville to Obetz.

The new 1.25-mile Columbus Downtown connector will tie into the Alum Creek Trail, beginning through Ohio Dominican University's campus and passing west between Fifth Avenue and Broad Street. Construction was to begin last week and is expected to be complete in spring 2015.

Shari Heinrich, who works in downtown Columbus and lives in Westerville, said she was thrilled at the news.

"My reaction was, 'Yay! Finally,' " Heinrich said. "The reason I say that is, when I'm doing a commute, I'm doing it for two purposes: I'm a die-hard bicyclist, but I also burn less gas, and it's a day that the car can just stay parked."

Heinrich said her commute along the trail will be about 16 miles in each direction.

And while that may seem like a long ride for some, it's nowhere near the nearly 50 miles roundtrip she has to pedal during her current route, which requires her to take back roads and trips through neighborhoods to avoid places where it would either be illegal or make her uncomfortable to bike.

"There may be some neighborhoods on the trail that I don't feel as safe on," she said. "As a woman traveling solo and bright and early, I'm going to be less likely even if I want to ride."

Michael Hooper, Westerville's parks and recreation development administrator, said the city was happy to see the connector in the works.

"It's a planning thing that's been going on for a long time," he said. "It's been a partnership with Westerville, the city of Columbus and Metro Parks."

Hooper said while Westerville is happy that residents can ride to Columbus to commute or visit, there are other benefits as well.

"It is a positive because it makes (the trail) much longer," he said. "When people train, they're wanting to go a little further each time, so it's very valuable for that point of view, and also increases property value and improves the health of the community."

Bicycle and multiuse trails are one of Westerville Parks and Recreation's priorities in its recently updated Master Plan, and even after the Alum Creek Trail's completion south of town, Hooper said there's plenty more work to do on paths within the city limits.

"That's a nice north-south trail, but getting those east-west connections are important," he said. "It gives people an opportunity to get from work to home or go from shopping or school to home."

Westerville is working on those east-west connections, Hooper said, as well as extending the trail north and adding other connections and paths throughout the city.

Heinrich, however, would prefer that even more was done for bikers throughout central Ohio.

"There needs to be public awareness campaigns," she said. " 'Share the road' signs are great, but more importantly is using different media to remind bicyclists that we are required to follow the same rules of the road that automobiles do, and to let motorists know that cyclists have every right to the road, too.

"I can't tell you the number of times that I've had things thrown at me or yelled at me (by passing motorists)."

But Heinrich, like Westerville, knows that the changing transportation landscape will continue to require more options for those avoiding engines.

"That's how you retain the younger generation of workers," she said. "Anything we can do makes for a more vibrant community."

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