This week, our East Coast Greenway began to move from a solely grassroots initiative to a project also backed by the most important transportation institution in the country. We have great relationships with many of the state Departments of Transportation (DOTs), but achieving federal partnership interest will effect a huge leap in our ability to make our route safe and accessible to all.
It all started last week when our Mid-Atlantic Trail Coordinator Mike Oliva emailed a note to US DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari. The note congratulated the Deputy Secretary on his appointment by Obama and mentioned that we would love to discuss our project with him. Deputy Secretary Porcari served as Secretary of the Maryland DOT before his federal appointment, so he had familiarity with our project and even worked with our Boardmember David Dionne in the state.
Porcari emailed us back the next day with an interest to meet. He saw the potential of the DOT supporting the East Coast Greenway as a pilot for establishing an interstate trail network nationwide. This past Monday, I got a call during a work trip in Rhode Island that the meeting was set for the next day, from 2:45-3:15 in the afternoon. The meeting grew to include Assistant Secretary of Policy, Polly Trottenberg, as well as DOT Chief Economist, Jack Wells.
Mike Oliva and I raced down to Washington Tuesday morning in our suits, enjoying the East Coast Greenway signs along The Mall on our way to the DOT West Building, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE. Once in the building, we were escorted up to the Deputy Secretary’s conference room.
Since Porcari had familiarity with sections of the East Coast Greenway in Maryland and of our overarching vision, he asked for an update on our progress and then we jumped into a brainstorming session on how the US DOT can get involved to ensure success for the project. This was inspiring. Obama had clearly hired a great crop of transportation leaders. They understand our transportation system must play its role in reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions, lowering our expensive dependence on foreign oil, and decreasing obesity rates that are hurting our people’s health.
They want to know what stretches of the East Coast Greenway would especially benefit from federal attention. They are also interested in highlighting instances of Stimulus funds improving and extending the East Coast Greenway. While our federal designation as a Millennial Trail under Clinton was a great start (thank you Advisory Board member Jeff Olson), we are excited that current DOT leaders sound ready to step up in a more active way. A safe and accessible East Coast Greenway that enhances the livability of our eastern communities is within our grasp. By 2012, we can make our whole corridor either greenway or bike lanes and sharrow-marked route so that everyone from children to the elderly can enjoy it for daily commutes, a relaxing walk in the woods, and long-distance travel.
Porcari, Trottenberg, and Wells all agreed that we have to engage more than the DOT. We need the active partnership of our leaders in Congress and the Department of Interior as well (so look out for blog posts in the months ahead on other trips to Washington). Combining the power of our growing grassroots with stakeholders from the local to the federal level will drive strong progress in the months ahead.
Together, we can build an Eisenhower Interstate System 2.0 – one that integrates safe, healthy and green transportation into America’s mix and helps drive a strong economic recovery in the years ahead.