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Originally published Thursday, November 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Burn calories, not carbon

American obesity is at a shocking all-time high. Global climate change is occurring with increasing rapidity. What can help solve both these...

Special to The Times

American obesity is at a shocking all-time high. Global climate change is occurring with increasing rapidity. What can help solve both these crises at once? More decisions like the one by the Port of Seattle Commission to invest in the quality of citizens' lives by agreeing to purchase a 42-mile BNSF Railway rail corridor for rail-trail conversion.

In keeping this corridor in public ownership, the people of the Greater Seattle region will have access to not just a trail, but to an interconnected system of transportation and recreation that will help more people burn calories, not carbon — a walking-and-biking solution good for the health of the public and our planet.

This decision affects tens of thousands of lives, stretching far beyond 42 miles of trail. The Eastside corridor will connect to 130 additional miles of trails, then on to sidewalks and streets, and beyond that, businesses, schools, homes and public places.

Families, friends, children, students, neighbors, tourists and business owners all will reap the rewards of a safe, easily accessible trail network that improves the region's mobility, health and economic vitality. Plus, protecting the line through the federal railbanking statute allows for the preservation of the corridor, its history and its future potential as rail-with-trail, accommodating walking, biking and transit.

Because of this forward-thinking initiative, King County and the Port have become a model for a national movement driven by the public's desire for more safe places to walk and bike; more ways to get around in their daily lives without dependence on automobiles; more opportunities to move about.

And, never has that need been greater. We may be raising the first generation of Americans who don't live as long as their parents, due, in large part, to the younger generation's sedentary lifestyle. Transforming the Eastside corridor into a trail is a step toward eliminating this frightening possibility for King County.

Consider this: Nearly half of all trips people take are less than three miles in distance. The vast majority of those trips are taken by automobile. In many cases, these are walkable, bikeable journeys — ripe opportunities for incorporating the surgeon general's recommendation of 30 minutes of activity into our daily lives.

Access to a trail within the Eastside corridor will make this kind of trip safer and more pleasant while helping cultivate the active and environmentally responsible lifestyle the Seattle region is admired for nationwide.

Keith Laughlin is president of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, www.railstotrails.org, based in Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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