The KXL Pipeline Trail is a cross-country bike path that would run along the same route as the Keystone XL pipeline.

The designers imagine families taking summer trips along the path, stopping at oft-overlooked cultural and natural heritage sites and spending much-needed tourist dollars along the way.

The trail would generate development by increasing local tourism.

You could interpret the plan as cynical, but the designers see it as a way to explore multi-modal infrastructure.

A map showing the diversity of ethnicities that exist in the areas through which the pipeline will travel.

As well as the diversity of ecology and climate.

Another map shows how many pipelines already exist in the U.S.--and how the trail could be implemented elsewhere.

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What If The Keystone XL Pipeline Was A Bike Path?

This tongue-in-cheek proposal would turn the 5,000-mile pipeline into an opportunity for localized development.

Let’s pretend that it’s 2014, and the Keystone XL Pipeline has just been approved, despite protests from millions of Americans. According to a group of landscape architects at SWA Group, the time to start planning for that day is now. "The environment it will create isn’t beautiful, useful, or necessarily safe. If we’re not thinking about how to make it better for people, that’s a problem," says SWA principal Kinder Baumgardner. "It’s time to set a precedent for imagining infrastructure that folds into the reality of our everyday lives."

SWA Group’s work has been described by one critic as "transforming blight into destination." In Houston, where Baumgardner and his team are based, the firm recently rehabbed an abandoned patch of marshy land under the highway into the city’s most successful public park. The Keystone XL Pipeline, should it come to pass, will present a similar problem—on a monumental scale. So as part of an internal exercise, the SWA Group is imagining how public amenities could be woven into the 5,000-mile stretch of crude oil pipeline.

They call their plan the KXL Pipeline Trail: a cross-country bike path that would run along the same route as the pipeline. They imagine families taking summer trips along the path, stopping at oft-overlooked cultural and natural heritage sites and spending much-needed tourist dollars along the way. As a design element, it’d be fairly inexpensive to build. The real point, explains Baumgardner, is to generate development by increasing local tourism. "There are hundreds of small towns that won’t benefit from the Oil Sands once the Pipeline is built," he says. "What we’re talking about is an opportunity to make it into an amenity managed at a local scale."

On the surface, SWA’s proposal is incredibly cynical. A bike path next to an oil pipeline is the environmental equivalent of a bandaid on a mortal wound. As such, their plan stands to suffer from public criticism, mostly because emotions are running high about the as-of-yet unapproved pipeline. But Baumgardner is quick to point out that their idea is applicable across a whole cadre of similar (if less high profile) pipeline infrastructure projects in the U.S. right now. "We call it mixed-use infrastructure," he adds. "It’s not a black and white issue. Like infrastructure, it’s a little bit grey."

In an era of sequestration, there’s definitely no money to build and maintain a massive public bike path. Theoretically, such a project could be funded and kept by the private companies financing the pipeline, as a kind of trade-off for administration approval. For now, it’s just a think piece—and an appeal for increased discussion about what should happen if Keystone XL actually comes to pass.

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  • Floralgables

    Though I own my share of motor vehicles, in the back of my mind I actually think we should be putting the oil back in the ground and put our efforts into figuring out how to live petroleum free.  This is the long term solution.  If you think putting in a pipe line has a protest base you should see the protesters that come out when you propose a bike trail.  I've seen railroad bridges burned and dead animals placed on proposed rail corridors prior to fundraising walks to promote rail to trail conversions.  This all happened in Nebraska and Iowa in the early days of trail development.  Yes we have successful trails in Nebraska and Iowa but that process took 20 years of promoting and building.  And if you think this is a rural vs urban issue, think again. .  In Omaha, Nebraska we had a local railroad abandonment that was being considered for acquisition for trail use.  Ironically for a state that is the home of Arbor Day, some adjacent landowners cut down trees along the right of way to make the route less desirable.  Our city council still voted to develop the trail. Out of this first 1.7 mile segment grew an 80 plus mile network that now has connections across the Missouri River into Iowa.  It is a great addition to the metropolitan area of over a million people.  

  • A Step

    Sugarcoated compromise. As always been done. So what was the topic of the article while it said so much about touist attraction? Weather the pipeline comes true or not? Very political.
    The bike trail along the pipeline is nonsense anyway! Let's start building kid's playgrounds on gas station lots! There are pros asnd cons to it... Absolutely!
    What a shame: keep making same mistakes collectively over and over again like history has never happened. 

  • D Hosler

    A variation of Rails to Trails.  If every pipeline was a trail, how many miles would that be...Hmmmmm!

  • Robert C Gray

    Its tough to tell if Mghk is telling us an April Fool's tale, is facetious, or is serious. People driving thousands of miles to "see it" just sucks up more petro energy.  Bad unintended result. The photo above includes a rail line with what appears to be a tank car.  Transporting crude by rail has an order of magnitude more spills per million gallons shipped than pipelines.  Again a possible not so good unintended result. Where are the non-hypocritical pipeline protesters who are walking the talk?  Where are those who arrive in something other than petro based transportation?  Who are not wearing petro based clothing? Who have given up food raised with petro based fertilizers, and transported to them without petroleum? Who have rejected technology with petro based insulation or petro based plastic cases?  They would be protesters who have truly connected the dots and earned my respect.  The rest, not so much.