Trails Transform America

Our plan for delivering a transformative federal transportation bill.

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Photo: The Ronald Kirk pedestrian bridge (left) and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge over the Trinity Skyline Trail, Dallas, Texas

As Congress puts pen to paper to define America’s next surface transportation bill, trails and other active transportation infrastructure will play a critical role creating jobs while contributing to healthy, safe and equitable communities.

More Americans are relying on trails, walking and biking for essential trips, and communities are turning to active transportation as an economic strategy. The nation’s federal policies must reflect these changes and the opportunities they represent, while providing for the safety of all Americans as they walk, bike and move.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated already rising trends in trail use, walking and biking. People are building walking and biking into their daily routines like never before; local leaders predict that these behavior patterns will sustain, and they’re finding ways to create infrastructure that meets these needs, despite funding concerns. The pandemic has tested our communities and proven the incredible value that trails and active transportation infrastructure provide.

Congress and the White House are making major decisions right now that will shape this bill, increasing the urgency to advocate for a bold package for trails, walking and biking.

RELATED:

Biden Infrastructure Goals Would Be Achieved With More Strategic Investment in Walking and Biking


The Opportunity for Visionary Change


The pace has quickened on reauthorization of the federal surface transportation bill, and all indications are that the federal government is poised to reauthorize the FAST Act before it expires in September.

The team at RTC has been working with our partners in the trails, walking and biking movement, as well as our champions on Capitol Hill, to define the components of a visionary transportation bill. Our vision will increase funding for trails, walking and biking, while targeting investments in projects that connect people to the places they want to go and serve communities most in need.

This is a generational opportunity to invest America’s transportation dollars in ways that deliver myriad transportation, health, equity, environmental and economic outcomes, especially as COVID-19 has strained local economies and existing trail and active transportation infrastructure. There are more than 40,000 miles of multiuse trails on the ground nationwide, ready to form seamless networks that connect people and places.

Now is the time for Congress to take bold steps to transform America with safe, connected trail and active transportation networks.

"Investing in the transportation system America needs" by Ryan Chao | The Hill
"Investing in the transportation system America needs" by Ryan Chao | The Hill

Support for the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act

Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) are the original cosponsors of the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act—a bipartisan bill that creates safe, convenient walking and biking routes in our communities while addressing critical challenges to our economy, climate, health and safety.

LEARN MORE ABOUT ACT

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These Four Bills Could Help Loosen Car Dependency’s Grip On U.S. Cities By Kea Wilson, Streetsblog USA


Earmarks


The U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee has issued guidance about earmarks available for local transportation priorities. The committee is inviting all members of Congress to submit specific “Member Designated Projects” for inclusion in the surface transportation reauthorization currently being drafted. As such, the timeline is very short, and projects will only be accepted between April 1 and April 23. (Note that this process is separate and distinct from the House Appropriations Committee earmarks.)

The most urgent action for you to take is to reach out to your member of Congress. Each member’s office will have its own process for collecting project ideas.

Here are some resources to support your outreach:

Securing a member-designated project requires competing against all other transportation priorities in your Congressional district. To compete effectively, RTC recommends that you choose an iconic, high-impact project that has strong support from residents, local elected officials and responsible transportation agencies. We also recommend that you position your proposed project as a critical connection in a broader community-wide or regional active transportation system, or a key segment of a long-distance trail, to make the case for broad impact and high return on investment. The following case studies demonstrate this approach of highlighting a ripe, high-impact project that is part of a robust regional system. Note that it will be a local decision whether earmarks will be sought for any of these examples and, if so, which pieces will be prioritized. RTC only intends these as hypotheticals to demonstrate how to put forward a strong case.

The Pillars of a Visionary Reauthorization Bill

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. Organizations representing interests as far-ranging as biking and walking, health, transportation reform, environment, disability rights, planning and our nation’s local elected officials joined RTC in calling on Congress to support the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R.5696/S.684) and take this opportunity to invest in connecting America’s trails, walking and bicycling infrastructure to create an active transportation system for the country. Federal policymakers have the potential to deliver visionary change by:

1Investing in Active Transportation Connectivity

The Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R.5696/S.684is a new policy that provides $500 million annually over five years to help communities and regions accelerate their work to build connected active transportation systems through competitive federal grants.

Read H.R. 5696  Read S. 684

2Growing Transportation Alternatives

The “Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act” (H.R 463/S.614) increases funding and reduces transfers of Transportation Alternatives, the largest federal funding source for trails, walking and biking.

Read H.R. 5231

3Tripling Funding for the Recreational Trails Program

The Recreational Trails Full Funding Act (H.R.1864/Senate bill pending) will triple 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.

Read H.R. 5797

Key elements of the Federal Agenda for Active Transportation follow, with an emphasis on strategic investments in programs that prioritize the connectivity of trails, walking and biking, which has the potential to generate an estimated $138 billion per year in economic benefit to the nation:

  • Prioritize investments that link existing trails, bikeways and sidewalks into functional networks that connect people to key destinations and communities to each other, with special attention to the needs of underserved communities. Competitive federal active transportation connectivity grants are essential to enable communities to establish low-stress routes to walk and bike.    
  • Through reauthorization of the FAST Act, double dedicated project funding for trails, walking and biking through Transportation Alternatives and the Recreational Trails Program to ensure resources are available in every city and state to meet growing demand for safe places to walk, bike and move. 
  • Establish an Active Transportation Administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). 
  • Pilot strategies to make transportation planning practices equitable and responsive to neighborhood priorities and revive the USDOT initiative to promote equitable outcomes.  
  • Prioritize and incentivize active transportation as a critical strategy in cutting carbon emissions from transportation.  
  • Develop regulations governing the use of electric bicycles on public lands that are consistent across federal agencies and responsive to the needs of local land managers and the public.

ORGANIZATIONAL SIGN ON  FEDERAL LEADERSHIP LETTER


RELATED


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 40,000 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.

Trends in Transportation Alternatives Funding & Program Implementation Best Practices

September 30, 2020

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) recently released this year’s Transportation Alternatives Spending Report for FY19. The report provides a detailed review of how effectively federal funds for walking and biking, provided to states through the Transportation Alternative Set-Aside (TASA) program, are used across the country each year. Join RTC for a discussion on our findings in the Transportation Alternatives Spending Report for the 2019 fiscal year and insights from Transportation Alternatives Managers using the program to advance trails, walking and biking in their states. RTC operates the Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (TrADE) to help stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels better understand and implement the TASA program.


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 and federal policymakers plan for the country’s economic recovery from COVID-19 and turn their attention to reauthorize the nation’s federal transportation bill, these projects are examples of 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.


In the Headlines


VIEW ALL COVERAGE

Derry News

Pappas tours latest Londonderry rail trail section

By Julie Huss—02/03/20

The Citizen's Voice

Bill could benefit NEPA trails

By Paul Golias—02/02/20

AASHTO Journal

Congressmen Propose $500M Active Transportation Funding Bill

01/31/20

Advocacy Resources

As we work together to provide the evidence that public investments in connected trail, walking and biking infrastructure deliver critical and equitable economic, climate, health and mobility benefits here are resources to support your outreach and advocacy.


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.

SPENDING REPORT  PROJECT SEARCH

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