Many cities, counties and states have developed comprehensive plans that outline long-term community development goals and projects regarding transportation, utilities, land use, recreation and housing in a given region. Including language about trails in these plans is an important way to establish continued support for trail systems in the community. It can also help trail advocates leverage funding for the maintenance of existing trails and raise money to extend and connect fragmented trails.
There are several different areas within a comprehensive plan where trail language can be included. Some plans contain language aimed at supporting specific local trails, while others have broader language aimed at supporting trail systems in general. Each jurisdiction's comprehensive plan is structured differently, so determining the best place to incorporate trail language will require some knowledge about your region’s policies and current comprehensive plan.
In Pennsylvania, most counties have incorporated an open space and greenways plan as a stand-alone amendment to their county comprehensive plan. These are usually detailed plans for future trails, including their expenses, locations, amenities, funding options and priority. Most often, however, trail language is incorporated as part of another section within the comprehensive plan, such as transportation or parks.
Washington County, Pa., has a stand-alone greenway plan within its comprehensive plan. The plan outlines what greenways are and their benefits, an inventory of current trails, and a plan for future trail systems and how to implement them. Washington County also asserts its support for the development of trails on abandoned rail corridors within the plan.
Some urban areas have also created separate “bike plans” for the region. These plans include existing and future trails for the area, as well as proposals for how to accommodate the growing number of cyclists and needs of the trail system.
Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO)
In addition, every urban area with more than 50,000 residents is federally mandated to have a metropolitan planning organization (MPO). The MPO oversees the region’s transportation system, facilitating collaboration between governments, interested parties and residents in the planning process. Each MPO creates a regional transportation plan—a long-term outline specifying and evaluating the needs of the regional transportation system.
For instance, the plan produced by the MPO for Black Hawk County, Iowa, in 2013 comprehensively integrates the area’s growing trail system with broader regional transportation needs. There are similar benefits to advocating for the inclusion of trails in a regional transportation plan as there are for comprehensive plans; these documents can provide support for future trail systems and assist trail advocates in finding funding for the construction and maintenance of trails.