Jeffrey Pratt: Bike trail not a luxury, but a path out of sluggish economy (Gazette)

By By Jeffrey Pratt

Lately, the Reader’s Vent has had quite a few comments concerning the construction of a bike path/lane in Charleston.

Couple the construction of a bike lane with the massive deficits we are expecting in the state budget, and I can see why some people might have a problem spending money on such a project. But honestly, what I see is a true beginning to one form of economic growth for the state and greater health benefits for those that use the bike lane.

Let me explain. I am originally from Columbus. I still have family and contacts in Columbus, so I frequently travel north for visits. When the weather is fair, I take my bike. Why? Because Columbus has an extensive bike trail system throughout the city. And I do mean extensive, probably 50 miles or more.

On the trails, you see other bike riders riding many different types of bikes. The riders are dressed from very casual to your “Tour de France”’ types. Bikes ranging from $100 to many thousands of dollars are everywhere. This is commerce!

There are runners and joggers with their “specialized” equipment. Mothers and fathers pushing single and double strollers made for joggers. People walking their dogs. In-line skaters, power walkers and just plain walkers. What do these people have in common? They are pursuing a healthy lifestyle. They are enjoying the fresh air. They are spending money to “look good” while on the trails. This is commerce.

Charleston is in the initial stages of developing a system of trails that will attract more people to the area, spending time and money, getting healthy and enjoying our wonderful capital city. We are in troubling times, where we must do anything possible to increase revenue. And, believe it or not, bike trails are a positive revenue producing vehicle that might just help West Virginia and its citizens out of this deficit quandary.

On one of my last trips and a great ride on the Olentangy bike trail, I got on the rear wheel of a rider who passed me. For the next 8 miles, we had a tremendous journey and workout through the woods on a 9-foot-wide blacktop path. When we came to the trail’s end, we stopped for a water break and to introduce ourselves. Our stories were similar. We were both from out of town. I was there to watch my granddaughter in a soccer tournament. He was there with his wife. As he rode the trail, she was shopping. They would later meet up and enjoy a fine dinner in one of the great restaurants.

They did this trip monthly. Myself, I would watch my granddaughter play soccer and, before leaving for home, enjoy a wonderful meal and indulge in some shopping. This is what I call creative commerce. This is what Charleston and West Virginia need more of, especially when you consider the long-term health benefits associated with pursuing a healthy lifestyle.

We need to do as much as possible to make West Virginians healthier and more active. We also need incentives to keep our young people in the state. It will be our young people, our young entrepreneurs, who will open a new restaurant or bike shop or another business that will help make Charleston a destination city and a healthier city.

Let me finish with a quote from Iyanla Vansant: “If you don’t have a vision, you remain stuck in what you know! And the only thing you know is what you’ve already seen.”

Jeffrey Pratt lives in Bancroft.

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