Trails: Essential Infrastructure

Funding to connect trail and active transportation systems is the unfinished business in Congress’s infrastructure negotiations.


Trails Transform America

As Congress works to wrap up debate on an infrastructure bill and funding that now includes America’s next surface transportation bill, we need to make sure they hear our message loud and clear: Connected trail and active transportation networks are essential infrastructure.

While versions of the surface transportation bill defined by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives outlined a path forward for game-changing federal investments in trails and active transportation, the current version of the Senate infrastructure package, the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, missed a critical opportunity to prioritize walking and biking as essential.

The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure passed its $60 billion title of the budget reconciliation bill, restoring critical funding for equity and climate reforms, and bringing added opportunity for active transportation. This bill makes trail and active transportation networks eligible to take advantage of exciting new funding pots, although the funding is not dedicated; these projects will need to compete against other types of investments.

Now is the moment to advocate for transformative investments in connected active transportation systems that ensure people can get where they want to go safely by foot, bike or wheelchair—all while reducing carbon emissions and creating new jobs. 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 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 case for funding bike infrastructure" Vox article by Li Zhou

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, likely in conjunction with a bipartisan infrastructure package.

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.


Support for the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act

The Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R.2991/S.684) provides creates safe, convenient walking and biking routes in our communities while addressing critical challenges to our economy, climate, health and safety.



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

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. RTC’s federal agenda outlines the policy changes necessary to deliver a transportation system that is fundamental to equitable, healthy communities. 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.2991/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. 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.2991/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.

Read H.R. 2991  Read S. 684   TAKE ACTION

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.


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



How Greenways Are Linking People, Places

By Courtney Holden—09/21/21

MARKETPLACE: Minnesota Public Radio

With the 2,700-page infrastructure bill comes a lot of lobbying

By Kimberly Adams—08/05/21


REPORT: Federal Recreational Trails Program Underfunded by $200M+ Per Year

By Kea Wilson—08/03/21


Active Transportation Big in ‘INVEST’ Earmarks

By Kea Wilson—06/11/21


‘Greenway Stimulus’ Could Bring Boom in Bike and Walking Trails

By John Surico—06/04/21

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.


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