Trails Transform America
Congress has the potential to deliver an active transportation system for the nation.
Photo: The Ronald Kirk pedestrian bridge (left) and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge over the Trinity Skyline Trail, Dallas, Texas
Congress is currently focused on addressing the direct economic fallout of COVID-19, but is expected to shift its focus in the coming months to strategies that will create jobs and stimulate the economy, which may include investments in infrastructure.
Since the current federal transportation law (the FAST Act) will expire in September, Congress may choose to use stimulus to fund an extension or reauthorization of the FAST Act. When Congress last turned to infrastructure to spur job creation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, trails and active transportation projects were an important piece of the puzzle—these projects generate more jobs per dollar than other types of transportation design, engineering and construction projects.
At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we know that trails and other active transportation infrastructure will play a critical role in getting people back to work while contributing to healthy, safe and equitable communities. RTC is collecting examples from around the country of planned trail and active transportation connections that are ripe to move forward with federal funding, so that we can send a clear message to Congress—the nation needs this investment now and these projects are ready to go.
Featured Priority Projects
Focused investment in connecting trail and active transportation networks—closing key infrastructure gaps within communities and across state lines—has the potential to unlock billions of dollars for the U.S. economy annually. Explore this collection of projects that are waiting on the public funds needed to unlock enormous benefits.
As Congress plans for the country’s economic recovery from COVID-19, RTC is collecting compelling opportunities for trail and active transportation networks to play a critical role in getting people back to work while contributing to healthy, safe and equitable communities. Help us make the case to Congress by submitting your local planned trail or active transportation network project—which will be used to advocate that trails and active transportation must be included in any stimulus package that includes transportation projects.
The Opportunity for Visionary Change
America’s transportation policy has long prioritized the ability to move the maximum number of cars efficiently rather than the greatest number of people safely. While the automobile has been the dominant mode of transportation for the past 70 years, the majority of trips taken in this country are within a 20-minute bike ride or less, and more than one in four trips are within a 20-minute walk or less. To encourage more people to walk or bike and to maximize the benefits of active transportation, we need walking and biking infrastructure that connects to where people want to go and is safe, convenient and comfortable.
Right now, Congress is beginning its work to define the next major federal transportation bill, which will guide how decisions are made about transportation spending—including funding for trails, walking and biking—for years to come. States and local communities are seeking strategic ways to invest public funds so that they deliver myriad transportation, health, equity, environmental and economic outcomes. There are more than 36,000 miles of multi-use trails on the ground nationwide, ready to form seamless networks that connect people and places.
The main federal law—the FAST Act—currently governing funding of America’s surface transportation programs, including the part covering trails, and other pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, is set to expire in September 2020. With the clock ticking down on the FAST Act, now is the time for Congress to take bold steps to transform America with safe, connected trail and active transportation networks.
In order to build a robust, modern transportation system that serves all Americans, federal investment needs to carve out funding designed to create and maintain connected active-transportation networks. Congress has the potential to deliver visionary change and double active transportation funding by:
1Investing in Active Transportation Connectivity
The Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R.5696/S-3391) introduced in the House and the Senate, establishes focused funding for active transportation connectivity—including trails. This proposal would provide $500 million annually for active transportation networks, connecting walking and biking infrastructure so that people can safely travel between home and the places they need to go within their communities, such as jobs, schools, shopping and transit; and active transportation spines, which provide walking and biking routes between communities, regions and states.
2Growing Transportation Alternatives
The “Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act” (H.R. 5231) will grow Transportation Alternatives, the largest federal funding source for trails, walking and biking—and curb transfers from the program so that meaningful opportunities are provided in all states to develop safe places to walk and bike.
3Tripling Funding for the Recreational Trails Program
Tripling funding for the Recreational Trails Program, the only federal funding source that supports trail maintenance, to reflect recreational fuel taxes and ensure good repair as trails age by supporting the RTP Full Funding Act of 2020 (H.R. 5797).
4Funding Active Transportation Projects on Public Lands
Setting aside 5% of the Federal Lands Transportation Program and the Federal Lands Access Program for active transportation through the Active Transportation for Public Lands Act (H.R. 5642) to provide funding for construction, planning and design of walking and biking facilities to accommodate all non-drivers and provide access to points of interest in our Federal Estate.
Show Congress Your Support
We need to show broad support to Congress for taking a visionary approach to reauthorizing the federal transportation bill. In order to provide increased investment in connected infrastructure for walking and biking within and between communities across the country, Representatives Jared Huffman (CA-2), Daniel Lipinski (IL-3) and Chris Pappas (NH-1) have introduced the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R. 5696). This proposal would provide $500 million annually for active transportation networks, providing walking and biking infrastructure so that people can safely travel between home and the places they want to go like jobs, schools, shopping and transit within their communities; and active transportation spines, which provide walking and biking routes between communities, regions and states. This proposal, if included in the next federal transportation bill alongside increased funding for Transportation Alternatives and the Recreational Trails Program, would provide the necessary resources and policy changes to deliver a 21st-century transportation system to the nation.
Organization’s Supporting the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act
- Active Southern West Virginia
- Alaska Trails
- Allegheny Trail Alliance
- Anchorage Park Foundation
- Anchorage Trails
- Appalachian Mountain Club
- Bergamo Center for Lifelong Learning
- Bike Buckeye Lake
- Bike to the sea
- Blue Ridge Bicycle Club
- Broad Top Township
- Centerville City Utah
- Chenango Greenway Conservancy
- Chesterfield Parks, Recreation & Arts
- City of Valley
- Civil War Rail Trail-Promotion
- Coffman Studio
- Cowboy Trail West, Inc
- Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail
- Dekalb County Forest Preserve District
- Detroit Greenways Coalition
- East Haven Shoreline Greenway Trail
- Edison GreenN/Aways Group
- Elkin Valley Trails
- Florida Bicycle Association
- Foresthill Trails Alliance
- Friends of Eastside Trails
- Friends of Mariner Trail
- Friends of Pathways
- Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail
- Friends of the Cumberland River Bicenten
- Friends of the Manhan Rail Trail
- Friends of the Yamhelas westsider Trail
- Gateway East Trails
- Grassroots Alexandria
- Green Mobility Network
- Green Party of Bay County
- Greene County Soil & Water Conservation
- Groundwork Jacksonville, Inc.
- Headwaters Trail System
- Humboldt Trails Council
- Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
- Ironton Rail-Trail
- Kingston Land Trust
- Live Healthy DeKalb County, Active Trans
- Maria C. Cruz
- Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club
- Mid-South Trails Association
- Missouri Rock Island Trail
- Montana Trails Coalition
- Municipality of Anchorage
- Naples Pathways Coalition
- Nebraska Trails Foundation
- New Covenant Church
- NH RAIL TRAIL COALITION
- Noble Trails, Inc.
- North Florida Bicycle Club
- Northeast Texas Trail
- Ohio Public Health Association
- Old Stone Arch Nature Trail
- Park to Park Bike Path Committee
- Parks & Trails New York
- PedNet Coalition
- Platte PEER Group
- Polly Ann Trailway Management Council
- Portland (CT) Air Line Trail Committee
- Presumpscot Regional Land Trust
- Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern PA, I
- Rails to Trails of NW Montana
- Red Line Parkway Initiative
- Regional Trail Corporation
- River Region Trails
- Sandusky County Park District
- Sebastopol TrailMakers
- Slate Valley Trails
- Southern Tier Bicycle Club
- St. John Lutheran School
- Steffey Trail Connections
- Summit Parkline Foundation
- Tahoe-Pyramid Trail
- The Buckeye Lake Region Corporation
- The Friends of the Panhandle Pathway
- Tidewater Trails Alliance
- Town of Dryden, New York
- UICO LLC
- Wabash Trace Nature Trail
- West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coaliti
- Windham Area Recreation Foundation
- Wolfe City Are Parks & Recreation
- Wyoming Pathways
Now Is the Time
Across America, demand for trails, walking and biking continues to grow. Trail and active transportation networks are emerging, and communities are seeking to maximize the benefits that this type of connectivity can bring.
RTC’s newest research proves that this work is changing our communities—urban, suburban and rural—for the better. As the connectivity of trail networks improves, so does the health of people and places. One example can be seen in the current economic return on investment, with combined health, climate and economic benefits currently delivering more than $34.1 billion annually. A return that can be doubled, and even quadrupled, as connectivity spreads to more places in America.
The evidence is on our side. Investing public funds in trail and active transportation projects delivers powerful outcomes, which are multiplied as the connectivity of the infrastructure improves. Active transportation is already transforming America. Its benefits are far-reaching and bring powerful outcomes to every type of community. RTC’s newest study, “Active Transportation Transforms America,” is the nation’s most comprehensive analysis of the quantifiable impact of trails, walking and biking on the places we live. Use it to help you make the case for public investment in trails and active transportation.
With more than 36,000 miles of multiuse trails on the ground, now is the time to demand transformative change by targeting investments that weave together existing trails and other active transportation infrastructure into networks that connect within communities, and spines that connect between states—just as our road and rail systems are designed.
How You Can Impact the Next Federal Transportation Bill
Feb. 26, 2020
Learn about the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act, the Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act, the Recreational Trails Program Full Funding Act of 2020 and the Active Transportation for Public Lands Act; explore why these bills are important for trails and active transportation; and find out how you can help make sure they are included in the reauthorization package.
Connecting America's Active Transportation Systems Act
Jan. 28, 2020
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy hosts a Q&A to answer your questions about the newly introduced "Connecting America's Active Transportation Systems Act," co-sponsored by Reps. Daniel Lipinski (Ill.-3), Jared Huffman (Calif.-2) and Chris Pappas (N.H.-1), will provide $500 million in direct funding to help communities and regions across the country build connected active-transportation systems to ensure people can get where they want to go safely by foot, bike or wheelchair.
The Path Forward: America’s Active Transportation Investment
October 15, 2019
Trail networks are as fundamental to America’s transportation systems as roads and rail lines and deserve robust federal investment. The webinar discussion explored the return on investment that flows from policies that prioritize active transportation infrastructure and greenways to make walking and biking more seamless for more people.
By Editorial Board—04/20/20
By Kevin Mills—02/08/20
By Carter Williams—02/07/20
By Douglas Clark—02/04/20
By Bill Lucia—02/03/20
By Julie Huss—02/03/20
The Citizen's Voice
By Paul Golias—02/02/20
As we work together to provide the evidence to Congress and elected officials in states and communities nationwide that public investments in connected trail, walking and biking infrastructure are necessary and deliver transformative benefits to people and places, here are resources to support your outreach and advocacy.
- Write your Senator and Representative
- Use our toolkit which includes email and social media messages and graphics to promote trails
- Read "Active Transportation Transforms America" report
- Read "A Senate Committee Just Approved a Transportation Bill for America—Here’s What It Means for Trails" blog
- Read "What the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA) Means for Trails" report
State of Public Funding for Trails and Active Transportation
Over the past several decades, over $20 billion in federal funds have been invested in trails and walking and biking projects nationwide, providing the financial foundation to build the nation’s trails, even though it represents only a sliver of the country’s overall spending on surface transportation. The lion’s share of those funds have come from the Transportation Alternative’s Program (previously Transportation Enhancements), the nation’s largest source of funding for trails and active transportation. Since the program’s inception, RTC has tracked spending through an annual Transportation Alternatives Spending Report, which outlines program investments in each state. This ongoing accounting of program implementation is an important tool in efforts to strengthen the program, improving the efficiency and efficacy of the investments made.