When I was a kid growing up in a Phoenix suburb, my friends and I rode our bikes everywhere. They were our source of freedom, adventure and comradeship. There were streets throughout the small city that were wide, lightly-trafficked, and safe. We never thought about “having to exercise”. Hours of unstructured fitness every day was just part of what we loved to do.
Kids naturally love adventure. And as parents we should want to support that natural urge—within safe parameters. The proposed conversion of the U&D corridor to a rail trail, (among the many other benefits that have been widely argued in these pages), can provide that kind of safe parameter for the kids in our area for adventure, freedom and health.
Studies have found that today’s kids spend an average of over 7 hours a day in front of electronic devices. The decline of youth health and activity, reflected in childhood obesity and diabetes rates, is a national health crisis.
Now there are pushes back—initiatives for kids such as the First Lady’s or the NFL”s “60 minutes a day of play”. The “60 minutes of play” is a wonderful target, but in reality the vehicles for that play are built to a great degree around adult-led activities and shrink, especially, as kids become older. The 400 kids that play Biddy League basketball or AYSO soccer or Little League baseball become only 20 slots for modified or JV or varsity (of often over 100 kids who try out) and there is competition for limited fields, and gyms.
But cycling is not like that. No one gets cut from cycling-- everyone rides to their own level of ability. The unlimited access of the trail would provide an opening to continued health and challenge as far as the eye can see. From cross-town visits to friends’ houses by bikes (relieving parents of the inevitable ‘play date’ drives) to commuting to school, to adventure rides all the way up to the swimming lake at Pine Hill and Belleayre Mountain, to links to the wonderful mountain-bike-trail network at Onteora Lake and the Bluestone Wild Forest, the rail trail would provide an unparalleled vehicle for the development of healthy, active lifestyle habits that can last a lifetime.