Trails Transform America
Congress has the potential to deliver a visionary transportation bill that creates 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
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) establishes focused funding for active transportation connectivity—including trails. 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 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 with a portion of the Federal Land Transportation Program
Setting aside 5% of the Federal Land Transportation 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.
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.
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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
RTC Statement on House Democrats’ Infrastructure Proposal: Transformative Change Is What America Needs
New Research Finds Public Investment in Trails...Delivers Potential Economic Benefits of $138.5 Billion Annually
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.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s TrailNationTM program is the organization’s signature trail-network building initiative designed to accelerate the development of connected trail systems nationwide, while measuring the benefits that trail connectivity delivers in the form of social equity, transportation, health, environmental and economic gains. In eight places across the country—places that are diverse in their geography, culture, size and scope—RTC is investing in projects and partnerships that demonstrate what is possible when 21st-century trail networks are at the center of communities.
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.