Transformative Trail Advocacy

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As the leading advocacy organization for trails, walking and bicycling in America, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) works with some 600 organizations and hundreds of thousands of grassroots supporters to advocate for the federal, state and local policy changes and vital investments necessary to create, connect and maintain the nation’s multiuse trails.

Since 1986, RTC has shaped the policies that make trails possible while helping to secure billions of dollars for trails and active transportation projects in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

In fiscal year (FY) 2022, more than 7,700 grassroots supporters around the country sent 10,000+ messages to decision-makers in support of trails and active transportation. 

An unprecedented demand for trails in recent years—and the passage of a historic infrastructure bill in late 2021—has presented an opportunity moment for trails, walking and biking, with the potential to create lasting, transformative impact for thousands of communities. We’re leading in this once-in-a-generation moment, elevating and championing innovative funding programs in Congress to accelerate efforts to create, connect and maintain trail and active transportation networks nationwide—and deliver on our goal of making safe walking and biking routes accessible to everyone.  

In the states, we are strengthening partnerships and supporting grassroots advocacy. In FY 2022, that work secured more than a billion dollars in funding for trails and active transportation.

Unprecedented Opportunities for Trails, Walking and Bicycling

Photo courtesy Getty Images
Photo courtesy Getty Images

The adoption by Congress of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) in November 2021—combined with a massive demand for trails, walking and bicycling—has ushered in opportunities like never before to build out America’s active transportation networks.

In 2022, we elevated transformative programs we championed in the BIL. This includes championing support in Congress for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program (ATIIP)—a unique initiative, authorized in the BIL at $200 million per year—that will specifically fund the planning and construction of connected trail networks.

We also shared expertise and technical support with hundreds of communities—through webinar trainings and the sharing of curated information and alerts on relevant opportunitiesto empower them to take advantage of the groundbreaking funding now available through transformative federal programs such as:

  • Transportation Alternatives (TA), which grew by 70% (from 2018 to 2020) to $1.44 billion annually (2022 to 2026);
  • the new Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A Program), which provides $10 billion through 2026 to support local initiatives aimed at preventing serious injuries and fatalities on our nation’s roadways—in support of the first-of-its-kind National Roadway Safety Strategy by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT); and,
  • the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program (RCP), which invests $1 billion over five years to reconnect communities and eliminate historic barriers to equitable mobility and access, as well as economic development—with a focus on low-income communities and Communities of Color.

To date, $22 billion+ has been invested in 40,400+ trails and walking and bicycling projects through Transportation Alternatives (TA) and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP)—together the largest federal funding source for trails and active transportation in America.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), passed in 2021, included unprecedented investments in trails, walking and biking, and significant policy changes to increase investment in connecting trails, including:

  • A nearly 70% increase for the legacy TA program (includes RTP) to an average of $1.44 billion per year
  • Authorization of the innovative Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program at $200 million per year
  • New safety- and climate-planning requirements that could lead to additional funding for trails where they contribute to addressing these issues

Learn about the new and innovative funding opportunities available for trails and active transportation on RTC's federal funding page.

RELATED: 18 Months In: What's the Impact of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for Trails, Walking and Biking?

Heritage Trail in Manchester, New Hampshire | Photo by TrailLink user sc302
Heritage Trail in Manchester, New Hampshire | Photo by TrailLink user sc302

2022 RAISE Grants Underscore Urgency to Invest in Active Transportation Infrastructure

Through the competitive RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) program, the USDOT has demonstrated its recognition of trails, walking and biking as fundamental to transformative and equitable community design. In FY 2022, RTC supported communities across the nation in accessing resources and developing successful strategies that resulted in unprecedented funding for trails and active transportation in two separate rounds of awards.

The first round in November 2021 marked incredible success for trails, which received $183 million in funding and 19% of the total funds granted, and complete Streets safety measures received another 21% of the total (for a combined 40% of the total amount granted). Then in August 2022, the USDOT awarded $2.2 billion to 166 planning and capital investment projects—with a majority of projects accounting for the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians. The awards underscore the demand for trails and safe walking and bicycling routes that connect people to day-to-day destinations. 

RELATED: Federal Grants RAISE the Bar for Active Transportation Investments

RELATED: USDOT’s Current RAISE Funding Opportunity Is Best Chance Yet to Secure Big Investments in Connected, Safe Walking and Biking Routes

Billions of Dollars for Trails in the States 

California's Bayshore Bikeway | Photo by Laura Stark
California's Bayshore Bikeway | Photo by Laura Stark

At the state level there was much to celebrate in FY 2022, as RTC and trail advocates helped secure nearly $1.3 billion in new and renewed funding for trails—surpassing FY 2021 funding.

California saw an historic victory, with the state dedicating a massive $1 billion+ investment for trails, walking and bicycling for the 2023 fiscal year. This record-level funding commitment, made possible by joint advocacy from RTC and partners statewide, will have a massive impact on building and connecting the state’s trails and walking and biking facilities.

The timely award came on the heels of the January 2022 release by RTC and the Bay Area Trails Collaborative of a comprehensive map outlining the region’s vision to connect 2,600 miles of trails across nine counties. An RTC TrailNation™ project, the Bay Area regional trail network will increase safe bike-ped access for millions of people and could generate as much as $6.6 billion annually for the California economy.

In collaboration with our grassroots supporters, RTC engaged in state-level advocacy in 18 states in 2022—resulting in huge funding wins and strengthened coalition building to achieve our strategic long-term funding goals.

Major victories were seen in Virginia, which allocated $79 million in state funds for trails and active transportation, and in Florida, where $70 million was allocated for trails, walking and bicycling. Investments were made to the Department of Transportation’s SUN Trail Program and from the State Transportation Trust Fund.

We aided the Circuit Trails Coalition in successfully securing $23 million for trails through the New Jersey state legislature, and helped lead successful grassroots outreach efforts in Nebraska that induced the legislature to restore funding for a trail project between Omaha and Lincoln—a key gap in Nebraska’s portion of the Great American Rail-Trail®.

RELATED: Record-Breaking Investments in California's Trails Amid Major Demand

Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail in Massillon | Photo by Richard T. Bower

Expanding State Legislative Support for Trails Across the US

Conceptualized by RTC, the bipartisan Legislative Trails Caucus is an innovative policy model that’s growing support for trail funding and programming in state legislatures. In Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin—established trails caucuses are moving the dial for both regional and statewide trail network development.

West Virginia, California and Michigan are pursuing similar models and exploring how this policy advancement can raise the bar for walking and bicycling programs and generate increased economic, health, environmental and active transportation benefits.

Rep. Carey Hamilton on the Fall Creek Trail in Indiana | Photo courtesy Rep. Carey Hamilton
Rep. Carey Hamilton on the Fall Creek Trail in Indiana | Photo courtesy Rep. Carey Hamilton

“I am really excited about the opportunity we have now to build out the … Great American Rail-Trail. I hope that will be at the top of the caucus’ agenda this year. And I think it will be prominent in the Statehouse … as we go into a budget cycle and look to start to fill in those sections that we still need to complete, that 50%.”

—Indiana State Rep. Carey Hamilton (D-87)

Gov. Holcomb at the 2020 opening of the 1.9-mile Discovery Trail in Clarksville, Indiana | Courtesy Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Gov. Holcomb at the 2020 opening of the 1.9-mile Discovery Trail in Clarksville, Indiana | Courtesy Indiana Department of Natural Resources

In the fall of 2021, Gov. Eric Holcomb declared 2021–2022 “Indiana’s Year of the Trails,” recognizing that a statewide trail system could be a “powerful tool for economic and community development.” Gov. Holcomb and the Indiana Legislative Trails Caucus, spearheaded by RTC and the Greenways Foundation of Indiana, are galvanizing support statewide for trails and the recommendations laid out in the 2021 Indiana State Trails Plan.

In 2021 and 2022, RTC recognized Gov. Holcomb and Rep. Carey Hamilton, respectively, as Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions for their leadership in championing trail development and the Great American Rail-Trail as an economic and tourism driver in the Hoosier State.

North Carolina's Neuse River Trail | Photo by Ned Boyle
North Carolina's Neuse River Trail | Photo by Ned Boyle

North Carolina Declares 2023 “Year of the Trail”

Using Indiana’s and Ohio’s enacting legislation as models, RTC’s coalition partners in North Carolina successfully prompted the General Assembly to pass a bill decreeing 2023 as North Carolina’s Year of the Trail. The Great Trails State Coalition is using this designation as a springboard to promote, and pursue new funding for, trails across the Tar Heel State.

Missouri's Rock Island Trail State Park as seen from the Katy Trail bridge in Windsor | Photo courtesy Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc.
Missouri's Rock Island Trail State Park as seen from the Katy Trail bridge in Windsor | Photo courtesy Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc.

Missouri Celebrates Historic Railbanking of the Rock Island Corridor

In December 2021, Gov. Mike Parson momentously announced that the state of Missouri would officially take ownership of the 144-mile Rock Island Railroad corridor between Windsor and Beaufort for transformation into a multiuse trail—a project long championed by RTC and partners. The governor’s announcement marks the final step in railbanking the corridor, which—when developed—could have an economic impact on the 23 communities along the route.

An RTC analysis found that trails in Missouri contribute $507 million in economic activity annually—which could grow to $1.05 billion annually as trail connectivity improves. The planned Rock Island Trail will eventually intersect with the 240-mile Katy Trail and the 47-mile Rock Island Spur to create a nearly 400-mile cross-state trail loop between Kansas City and St. Louis.

RELATED: Breaking News: The Rock Island Trail Is a 144-Mile on Track to Be Game-Changer for Missouri