Capturing Once-in-a-Generation Opportunities for Trails, Walking and Biking
Photo by Eric Kayne/AP Images
After decades of work, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and the trails movement stand at a critical moment for trails and trail networks to be embraced as fundamental … as critical public assets that create joyful, vibrant neighborhoods; promote equitable economic growth; and support mobility, climate resilience and closer community connections.
There is growing recognition that the biggest benefits are realized when trails, sidewalks and protected bike lanes are connected to the places where people want to go—like jobs, stores, schools and other everyday destinations. Plans are in the works nationwide to connect trails and active transportation infrastructure so that everyone can safely walk, bike and be active outside. Equity is being prioritized and centered in powerful ways. In more and more places, the people and communities who can benefit most directly from the opportunities that trail networks uniquely deliver are leading this movement of connectivity.
We’ve known for years that the need and demand for trails—and trail networks—far outpaces the supply. That phenomenon was accelerated by the pandemic when trail use skyrocketed by 50%—growth in participation like we’ve never seen before.
Today, people are continuing to seek more places close to where they live to walk, ride and connect to nature, and they’re making these activities part of their daily lives. At the same time, places across the country are pursuing interconnected trail networks in their communities. Established and well-supported plans for trails and active transportation exist in many states—and communities want to accelerate those plans. Nationwide, billions of dollars are needed to build out these incredible visions, and there is now unprecedented funding to move this work forward.
RTC celebrated with many of you when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) more than doubled dedicated federal funding for trails, walking and biking—exceeding $7 billion dollars. And just as important—critical policy changes and priorities in the BIL now make it possible for this funding to be used in ways that emphasize equity, while delivering resources to connect and maintain trails. With the creation of the new Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program, there will soon be dedicated funding to invest in connected trail and active transportation systems at scale. At the same time, competitive multimodal streams, like the federal RAISE program, are prioritizing projects that create and connect trails and other walking and biking infrastructure like never before.
The demand, funding and participation we’re experiencing is bringing unprecedented momentum to our mission to connect the nation by trail. Alongside our hundreds of partners across the country, we’re collectively moving the needle to a future where trail networks are equitable, inclusive and at the center of vibrant, thriving communities. In the past year, we’ve engaged thousands of people and hundreds of elected officials in our work to ensure that trail networks are prioritized as essential to the well-being of people, communities and the environment. Together, we’re helping to create the infrastructure, programming and culture where people value trails and make them part of their everyday lives.
Nationwide, we have everything we need to fast-track our shared vision of an interconnected national trail system that is accessible and well used by everyone in America. We have tremendous public demand. Places are putting forth big, bold ideas. And public funding is being invested at unprecedented levels.
We are living through a cultural shift in America that can be felt in small towns, big cities and everywhere in between. In all these places, access to safe spaces to walk, bike and be active outside is being valued and celebrated like never before.
This past year was game-changing for trails, walking and biking. What comes next is ours to define, together.