Greenways are non-motorized transport corridors, built using the decommissioned railway lines. There are more than 300km of Greenways lines in Latvia currently.
Greenways are a relatively new initiative in Latvia to develop the former railway lines for the use for hiking and cycling as low-carbon, non-motorised transport corridors.
Greenways are accessible for visitors with different levels of mobility: the elderly, young children, the disabled, as the routes rarely involve slopes steeper than 3%, since most of them follow the routes of disused railway lines. Thus Greenways provide for Accessible Tourism, further contributing towards a Smart Destination.
Greenways development have shown that it is possible to transfer the visitors from the main cities and make them interested to visit remote areas and spend time and finances in the rural areas. Hence, Greenways support sustainable tourism mobility.
For creating diverse experience, many recreational areas on the route are installed, improvements of nearby culture or nature objects (including former stations), making the course accessible (including route marking using former railway sleepers), connections with existing infrastructure and creating the restriction for motorized transport, where necessary.
The routes have been promoted via electronic, as well as printed materials (maps)
Numerous agreements were made with the private and public landowners to use the land for the routes.
Significant work for communicating with the residents as well as building the knowledge for the local policymakers, nature heritage managers, tourism specialists and local authorities took place.
Depending of route condition, 1 km of route development into Greenways could cost as little as 250 EUR to about 25 000 EUR or more, if bridge reconstructions are required.
In Latvia, more than 1 million euros have been invested in the Greenways development since 2016 from various funding sources.
Evidence of success
Greenways network in Latvia has received the 9th European Greenways Award: 1st Prize of Excellence (by the European Greenways Association).
The award is a result of the joint Green Railways network cross-border activity between North-Latvia and South-Estonia municipalities.
As per the visitor counters, set-up at various locations on the Greenways since autumn 2018, when automatic visitor counting started, more than 357 000 visits have been recorded.
One of the most significant challenge was to conclude agreements with the private landowners, but also Latvian Railways, that allows using their lands for the greenway’s purposes.
Potential for learning or transfer
Historically, almost all European countries and regions have faced the situation of increasingly discontinued use of railways, leaving a lot of former narrow and regular-gauge lines abandoned and forgotten.
The Good Practice can be used in regions rich with former railway heritage, lacking long-distance hiking and cycling routes. A cross-border network between regions and/or countries offer the visitors more diverse experience.
An important aspect is the stakeholder involvement from the very beginning via experience exchange and field visits, assessing their needs, as well as clear definition of the target groups. Selection of funding sources for construction and maintenance afterwards also have to be clearly defined.
The practice can be customized or adapted as required to suit the specific regions’ needs. There is high potential for learning by practitioners and policy-makers, also for transfer to other destinations interested in sustainable tourism mobility and accessibility.
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