The World Is Starting to Do Something Pretty Interesting With Old Train Tracks

​The rise of the rail trail.

In our apocalypse-obsessed culture, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine a better future. But, when you are feeling down, think about the promising future of rail trails—bike paths that use old railroad routes. It’s like topographic recycling, and it’s happening worldwide.

France 24 reports that Germany has just opened the first 5-kilometer (3-mile) stretch of a bicycle highway that will span more than 100 kilometers (62 miles), connecting 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum, and Hamm and mostly running along disused railroad tracks.

Atlanta is creating the Beltline, which is projected to be completed i n 2030 and will connect the downtown with outlying neighborhoods and parks along a 22-mile railroad corridor.

North of New York City, there is the Harlem Valley Rail Trail , two sections totaling 15 paved miles through Dutchess and Columbia counties. Another 13 miles of abandoned rail bed are in different development stages, with ambitions to take the trail from Wassaic all the way to the town of Chatham.

All this is reminiscent of the California Cycleway , a stretch of elevated tracks that ran from Pasadena to the city of Los Angeles in the 1900s and was destroyed with—you guessed it—the advent of the automobile. What’s old is new.