Trails (copy)

A couple takes a 2-mile hike along the Atlantic and Yadkin Greenway over Lake Brandt in Greensboro.

A highway for humans.

That may be the best way to describe the 4-mile Downtown Greenway, which is taking shape around the center city even as the 44-mile Urban Loop is completes a vast circle around Greensboro for cars and trucks.

The greenway’s eastern segment between Murrow and Gate City boulevards should be finished by October 2020.

Meanwhile, the city has acquired a critical stretch of right of way from the Norfolk Southern Railway. A path that once made way for freight trains now will be converted into the walking, running and bike path that will comprise the western segment of the Downtown Greenway from Spring Garden Street to West Smith Street.

More significantly, the now-inactive railroad route also will enable the Downtown Greenway to connect to an existing pedestrian and bike trail, the Atlantic & Yadkin, which runs behind the Target shopping center on Lawndale Drive ... and keeps going and going.

So, conceivably, in the not-too-distant future, a cyclist or runner will be able to begin a trip in downtown Greensboro and complete it on a trail that extends, uninterrupted, for nine miles into Summerfield — and even farther (feet, knees, heart and lungs willing).

City bond funds, $1.5 million from Action Greensboro and $4.4 million from the state of North Carolina will pay for the latest acquisition. As for the skeptics, count us among them — at least in the beginning.

To be honest, we saw it as a boondoggle when the idea was first broached nearly 20 years ago as a key ingredient of downtown revitalization. But now that people can see and use it, as one section after another has filled in over the years, the concept sells itself — and, in fact, is paying for itself.

All told, the greenway project will cost approximately $43 million, including $30 million in local, state and federal money and $13 million in private donations. We’re talking real money here.

But there are miles of lasting benefits:

Dedicated paths for pedestrians and cyclists should make traveling by foot or bicycle more pleasant and more practical. There may be no more alluring a stretch of greenway than the Atlantic & Yadkin, another former railroad right of way that snakes behind stores and restaurants on Battleground Avenue past Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, makes a hard right at Bur-Mil Park and then bears left across Lake Brandt and into Summerfield. This time of year, there are arched canopies of trees speckled in fall colors and lakes and ponds and an occasional deer along the way. Even the more urban stretches are more interesting than you might suspect, with backstage views of shops and businesses and even “exit ramps” for walkers who might want to peel off for lunch, a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone.

Bike and walking paths create safe buffers from vehicular traffic.

The greenway provides a centerpiece for a larger network of trails that the city has expanded for years. Greensboro’s current portfolio of trails and greenways totals 90 miles.

And, believe it or not, such paths encourage economic growth. The Downtown Greenway website lists $217.5 million (so far) in existing or planned development along the greenway path. Those projects include the Greenway at Fisher Park apartments as well as Deep Roots Market. Local developer Marty Kotis envisions a segment of the greenway as an integral element in the design of a mixed-use project he hopes to build around the Red Cinemas site. Other communities have seen similar benefits from such projects.

So, when the Urban Loop and the Downtown Greenway finally come full circle, both will make it easier to get from Point A to B in Greensboro.

Only, one will do it quietly, with fresh air and shade trees and public art as fringe benefits — as well as the chance for its users to actually have a conversation with the “traffic” in the other lane.

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