Have you ever ridden your bike on a trail that used to be a railroad? There is one such trail in OKC named the Katy Trail. It is fairly short, just 2.5 miles, running from NE 4th and MLK to the Railroad Museum on NE 36th and Grand Blvd. Tulsa has one that is 7 miles long. There is also a Katy trail in Missouri – but it is 237 miles long, and brings in millions of dollars in tourism spending for Missouri. When a state converts unused railroad tracks into bike trails, it is called “Rails to Trails”.
So why does Oklahoma not have more rails to trails facilities? One of the issues that the state law does not promote converting unused rails to become public recreational trails. There is a rule that states when a railroad line is abandoned, the adjacent landowners get to inherit that land. What is needed is a way for a railroad line to be “temporarily” set aside for recreational use, even if that duration is for many years.
This year the state bike club; Oklahoma Bicycling Coalition ( OBS ) decided to do something about changing the state law to make it easier for railroad companies and cities to convert unused rail lines to bike trails. Research was done on the current laws in Oklahoma, and comparing them with other states that have a favorable set of laws for Rails-to-Trails conversions.
The hope would be the creation of a network of rail/trails that would span the state with beautiful, safe and fun trails for citizens and tourists to enjoy.
Cycling advocates worked with Rep. Lewis Moore ( Arcadia, OK ) to draft a bill to implement those changes. Here is a summary:
HB1725 permits railroads to cease operations on a line without abandonment, and allows temporary recreational trail use of the rights-of-way. The bill specifies how the trails will be established and maintained, permitted and prohibited uses, and liability protections for railroads, trail managers, adjacent landowners. A feature of the bill will permit “rails with trails” use if a railroad wishes to allow it.
The bill was introduced to the legislature and began its typical convoluted trip to being approved or denied by the house and senate. During that trip the legislators may tweak the wording to improve its appeal and effectiveness.
However, along the way, that tweaking action resulted in the entire text of the bill to be replaced with an entirely different bill, one that moves the financial responsibility of a train crossing at an intersection from the railroad company to the county or city. So, we have a bill that went from helping cyclists get more bike trails, to a bill that self serves the railroad company at the expense of the citizens of the state.
Does that concern you? Does it concern you enough to send an email to your congressperson with your opinion? If so, here are the links to find the name and email of your representative and senator:
find your representative:http://www.okhouse.gov/FindMyLegislature.aspx?State=OK
find your Senator:http://www.oksenate.gov/FindMyLegislature.aspx
If you want to see the “Before” and “After” text of House Bill 2017-1725, check these links:
Original bill introduced:http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/cf_pdf/2017-18%20INT/hB/HB1725%20INT.PDF
You may feel that your influence is too small to get anything changed, but if everyone that reads this were to contact their representative and senator, there is a good chance that this replacement could be reversed and we would get a solution that serves the citizens of the state.