A few months ago I lathered a heap of praise upon Hammond and its robust trail network. However, long before Hammond officials “caught religion” on this matter, Valparaiso was leading the way in developing a series of intercity trails and wide sidewalks. These efforts were duly recognized last month by the Greenways Foundation of Indiana with the award of Outstanding Local Government.
The reasons behind this award are many, so I’d like to both congratulate Valparaiso for this honor and highlight how the city deserved it.
Upfront, city leaders must be recognized for their role in championing the vision. They include longtime City Councilman Jan Dick and members of the Valparaiso Pathways committee for spearheading efforts to get off-road trails built in the city. Their hard work has inspired both Mayor Jon Costas and Parks Director John Seibert to pursue an aggressive plan to improve the accessibility and safety of the walking and biking public.
Their combined efforts have paid off handsomely. Unlike Hammond, with miles of abandoned railroads to convert, Valparaiso has only active rail lines. A creative approach for nonmotorized facilities was needed from the outset.
Instead of the usual rails-to-trails approach, Valpo officials began with their streets and identified those most suitable for wide sidewalks, or sidepaths, to accommodate both pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Painted bike lanes on roadways were also considered.
This detailed work culminated with the release of the 2005 Pathways & Greenways Master Plan (and 2010 update), which proposed more than 52 miles of routes that included sidepaths, bike lanes and off-road trails. Only six of these miles where proposed off a roadway corridor, highlighting the city’s lack of clear linear greenways.
Soon after, work began in earnest. As of 2013, the city has installed 12 miles of pathways, with another two miles planned by 2015. A number of roads have also been restriped with bike lanes.
A crowning achievement for the city was the recent opening of the Vale Park Bridge over Ind. 49. Included in this project was a 10-foot-wide sidepath along the entire project scope and a separated lane on the bridge itself, providing a safe means for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross over.
Clearly, Valparaiso is deserving of its accolades as it continues to seek expansion of its popular pathways network.