Trails Transform America

The Opportunity Projects How You Can Help

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

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.

“Public investment in active transportation systems at the federal, state and local levels will allow these benefits to be shared by all communities, not just a select few.”

Active Transportation Transforms America, 2019

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.

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.

Yet, current federal transportation policy only invests less than 2% of funds in bicycle and pedestrian projects. At the same time, bicyclist and pedestrian injuries and fatalities are skyrocketing while other vehicle-related fatalities are on the decline.

“Mobility is at the center of what Americans need to navigate their daily lives—and numerous challenges stand in the way of efficient, effective mobility.”

Active Transportation Transforms America, 2019

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 nationwide are seeking strategic ways to invest public funds so that they deliver myriad transportation, health, equity, environmental and economic outcomes.

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:

1Growing Transportation Alternatives

Growing Transportation Alternatives, the largest federal funding source for trails, walking and biking—and curbing transfers from the program so that meaningful opportunities are provided in all states to develop safe places to walk and bike.

2Tripling 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.

3Establishing Focused Funding for Connectivity That Invests in Active Transportation Networks

Establishing focused funding for connectivity that invests in active transportation networks, which ensure that people can safely travel within their communities, between residences and routine destinations such as jobs, schools, commercial centers and transit; and spine trails, which connect between communities and states.

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 the Headlines

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Advocacy Resources

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.

Shovel-Ready 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.


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.

Spending Report Project Search Transportation Alternatives Analysis

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