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Health and Fitness: Hit the road

Bicycling is the answer.

Name the problem, and, resoundingly, bicycling is the answer.

“Everybody benefits from a cycling-friendly community,” said Bill Williams, co-owner of Bike West in downtown Suffolk.

Needing more recreational opportunities in the city?

Seeing an increase in teen and child obesity?

Fearing oil and fuel price increases?

Then it’s time to get on the bicycle bandwagon.

“There are lowered health costs, less stress on bridges, roads and tunnels, which means lower infrastructure costs, less air pollution, less carbon monoxide,” Williams said. “People are happier, healthier. Everybody benefits.”

The leadership in the city seemingly agrees.

Currently, the city is in the process of constructing the Seaboard Coastline Trail, which is an 11.5 mile multi-modal path that will reach from the Seaboard train station in downtown Suffolk to the Chesapeake city line at Interstate-664.

“The benefits are endless,” said Helen Gabriel, assistant director of Suffolk Parks and Recreation. “It will become, to me, a recreational tool that will make a positive impact.”

The first phase of the trail, a 1.5-mile stretch between Moore Avenue and Suburban Avenue, has received the $1.5 million in necessary funding, and should go under construction in mid-summer.

There will be a total of four construction phases, but Gabriel said it would be difficult to estimate a timeline for the entire trail to be completed, due to funding and construction issues.

“We are definitely trying to move this forward as quickly as possible,” she said. “If you look at the way our society is trending, with obesity more and more prevalent and the toll of commuting, this path is going to give a lot of help.”

Specifically, Gabriel said the trail would diversify travelers’ and commuters’ options.

“When you look at it simply as a mode of transportation, which this path will allow, it’s tremendous,” she said. “You’re going to have your commuters who will use this path, all year long, 365 days a year. You’ll also have people who will use it recreationally.”

Gabriel added that the recreation department is already planning ways to incorporate the trail into new programs at the schools and recreation centers.

“This path is going to give us opportunities to partner with the elementary schools to introduce some wellness programs and fitness programs,” she said. “We have already talked about what programming we want to begin and create.” She added that the new trail also would inspire local biking clubs and walking/running clubs.

“I’m excited about this trail and what it can do,” Gabriel said.

Williams, who has been cycling since he was 8, also is excited about the new trail.

“This is going to be great, especially in the downtown area, where so many kids need something to do,” he said. “This will be there for them.”

The trail, he added, will help bring about its own success, because it will inevitably draw more people to cycling.

“I’ve been cycling all my life,” Williams said. “The communities that have cycling paths, use them. They are used heavily. I can see that becoming a trend here, once it’s there for people. Once it’s done, it will end up helping Suffolk.”