Advocating for Trails
RTC is the nation’s leading advocacy voice for trails and active transportation. We seek to grow and safeguard public funding for trails, walking and bicycling at every level—federal, state and local—and ensure the investments needed to create a transformative 21st-century active transportation system in America.
In Pursuit of Visionary Federal Transportation Reauthorization
Investing in the Transportation System America Needs
The extremely high demand for trails brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recognized disparities in trail access for many communities, are examples of the outsized need across the United States for safe walking and bicycling infrastructure.
In FY 2020, RTC collaborated with key partners and our champions in Congress to define the components of a visionary bill for transportation reauthorization that would support investments to help meet this growing demand. This trio of bills includes:
- The Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act—Investing in active transportation connectivity through an innovative grant program that will provide $500 million per year to help communities and regions accelerate the buildout of connected active transportation systems
- The Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act—Growing and reforming Transportation Alternatives, which—along with the Recreational Trails Program—comprises the largest source of federal funding for trails, walking and biking
- The Recreational Trails Full Funding Act—Tripling funding for the Recreational Trails Program, the nation’s only federal funding source that supports trail maintenance
In July, we celebrated a triple win for active transportation with the passing by the U.S. House of Representatives of H.R.2, the Moving Forward Act, which included many of the provisions laid out in this transformative policy vision. As America plans for, and moves toward, economic recovery, this visionary funding package could do much to elevate trails as essential community assets while creating jobs and providing transportation choice to every American, whether or not they drive.
Active Transportation Investments Could Mean Billions of Dollars for Trails
In October of 2019, RTC released findings of “Active Transportation Transforms America,” the nation’s most comprehensive analysis to date of the quantifiable impact of trails, walking and biking on the places we live. The study found that active transportation infrastructure currently contributes more than $34.1 billion to the U.S. economy annually—but has the potential to increase to more than $138.5 billion each year with the buildout and improved connectivity of the nation’s trails and walking and bicycling infrastructure.
RTC’s TrADE database is the nation’s go-to information sources about the implementation of the federal Transportation Alternatives (TA) program, tracking TA spending since the program’s inception. Key findings from our 2020 report (analyzing FY 2019): Multiuse trails, rail-trails and related active-transportation infrastructure accounted for 64.6% of all TA funding from the program's inception in 1992 to FY 2019.
Although states actively obligated $795 million in TA funding in FY 2019, $241 was lost to lapsing and transfers. Approximately $222 million was transferred out of the program, while lapsed funds increased from $3.5 million in FY 2018 to $19 million.
These lapsed and transferred funds underscore the need for policy reforms embedded in RTC’s visionary federal transportation policy agenda. The report is increasingly being used by our coalitions and advocacy networks to promote the smart and efficient use of these funds at the individual state level.
A State Advocacy Voice for Trails
Heading into 2020, typical state legislative functions were upended by the onset of the pandemic. Some state legislatures adjourned abruptly, while others pulled funding bills due to the fiscal uncertainty states were facing. While RTC’s state policy team was prepared to defend against cuts to trail and active transportation, those threats were limited and we were able to instead focus our energy to capitalize on the wave of increased popularity in outdoor recreation and trails to make the case for funding them—including expanding state legislative trails caucuses and statewide trail plans. By the end of the year, the financial situation in many states was improving and voters around the country overwhelmingly approved more funding for ballot initiatives that supported active transportation, parks (including trails, open space and land conservation) and climate change measures.
Positive Gains for State Walking and Biking Legislation
California Legislation Will Help Expedite Walking, Biking and Transit Projects
In September 2020, legislation passed (S.B. 288) in California that exempts certain pedestrian, bicycling and transit projects from lengthy California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reviews, thereby reducing the time and cost of delivering transit and sustainable transportation projects. Supported by RTC’s Western team, this could accelerate high-priority trail projects across the state, including those within the 2,700-mile Bay Area Trails Collaborative footprint.
Maryland Bikeways Funding Nearly Doubles
Gov. Larry Hogan announced, in December 2019, an increase to Maryland’s Bikeways Program from $2 million to $3.8 million annually. This program, administered through the Maryland Department of Transportation, supports bicycle safety and access improvements for projects across the state, which could have a positive impact on RTC’s Capital Trails Coalition efforts to create an 800-mile interconnected trail system across Maryland, Virginia and D.C.
State Legislative Trails Caucuses Make Progress for Midwestern Trail Networks
State trails caucuses have proven to be essential tools in generating legislative enthusiasm and momentum for trail networks. These bipartisan groups—supported by RTC staff and local partners—involve state elected officials committing to create statewide trail networks to connect people, places and opportunities, supporting improvements in existing trails and ensuring smart planning for future recreational trail and active transportation systems. Caucuses have been established in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, with others being explored.
- In Indiana, the bipartisan caucus was established in March 2020, comprising more than 30 members from both legislative chambers with a commitment to creating a statewide trails network that provides significant health, economic and other quality of life benefits for its residents.
- In Ohio, caucus members are focused on delivering the political leadership necessary to complete the state’s trail networks outlined in the Ohio Trails Vision, including support to hasten completion of the Great American Rail-Trail’s 335-mile route through Ohio.
- In Wisconsin, RTC laid the groundwork in collaboration with the bipartisan co-chairs of the Wisconsin Legislative Trails Caucus for a Wisconsin Trails Partnership, a coalition of motorized and non-motorized trail stakeholders to support education and advocacy efforts focused on increased funding to complete and maintain trails and active transportation networks across the state—including the Route of the Badger, a developing 700-miles-plus regional trail system in southeast Wisconsin.
IMPACT REPORT FY 2020 SECTIONS
President's Message • Building a Nation Connected by Trail • Creating Safe Outdoor Space for Everyone • Connecting America’s Trail Networks • Advancing a Great American Icon • TrailLink • Advocating for Trails • Supporting Our Nation’s Trail Experts • Protecting Trails in Our Courts • Celebrating Our Trail Champions • Elevating and Expanding the Movement • Finances • Team RTC