Runners on the Capital Crescent Trail | Photo courtesy RTC/Lorili Toth

Great trails don’t pop up overnight. Building trails and active-transportation networks is hard work! It takes time, effort and the commitment of dedicated residents, planning agencies and public officials to create a trail network that serves community needs.

Decisions that affect trail development are made at all levels of government. Your district’s Congresspeople, state legislators and county/municipal leaders can have a huge say in the future of trails. So, how do your candidates stack up on the issues?

As we enter the final stages of an election season to select leaders at all levels of government, it’s important that we understand where candidates fall on questions about issues such as: the roles of trails in city planning, how infrastructure improvements will affect trails, and who will pay for trail building and maintenance.

To help you figure out where your candidate stands, we’ve put together a quick Q&A that you can use to analyze their platforms. If you have a chance to meet your candidates in person, ask them these questions and see how their answers rate. Or, email them or ping them on social media. 

These questions are designed to keep the conversation about trails going during the 2016 election season. Use them to spark dialogue with candidates at meet-and-greet events, as conversation-starters with friends about candidates’ platforms or simply as reference points as you head to the polls.

Play Election Season Trail Bingo

You can also make sure you don’t miss a single mention of trails—biking and walking programs, funding and investment, policy and much more—during the debates by playing Election Season Trail Bingo with us! Be the first to get at verified B-I-N-G-O by posting a photo of your completed card on our Facebook page, and receive a special prize! Click here to download your Bingo card.

“Make Trails Count” Election-Season Discussion Guide

Here are some questions to help you start a conversation about trails with your local candidates. We’ve also included answers with language to listen for to find out if your candidate is pro-trail.

Question: Trails, greenways, bike paths and sidewalks are an important part of our transportation infrastructure. They give people safe and healthy options to get around and are essential to vibrant, thriving communities. Where do trails fit into your transportation infrastructure plans?

A good answer! Trails and walking and biking facilities are essential assets to any community and offer important means of transportation. We should be building complete trail networks so that people have the option to walk or bike to their destinations.

  • Why this works: Nearly all would agree that roads, water, sewers and schools are essential community infrastructure. Most would also put parks and libraries in that category, and it’s important that candidates put trails and walking and biking routes in there, too. These community assets give people a chance to get outdoors, stay healthy and contribute to the local economy, and help create vibrant places to work, live and play. Bonus points if the candidate recognizes that one trail isn’t enough; it needs to connect residential areas to downtown destinations as part of a complete network that helps people get around.

A less-good answer! I love trails, but we have many infrastructure challenges facing us like repairing roads and bridges. Trails are “nice to have,” but we can’t afford them right now.

  • Why this doesn’t work: Everybody loves trails. But that doesn’t mean a candidate will commit to building more. This answer sets up a “trails vs. roads” mentality, which doesn’t have to be the case. Trails are one of many transportation options that let people choose how they want to get around. What’s more, trail spending isn’t a deal breaker for other infrastructure investments. The fact is, at the federal level, if you took all the money dedicated to trails, walking and biking—which makes up about 1.5 percent of all federal surface transportation funding—it wouldn’t even begin to cover the expenses needed to fix America’s bridges. Another important idea to consider: Maintenance for roads and bridges is a great way to set priorities and expand transportation options; road upgrades should include safe places for all users, whether that means adding a sidewalk, protected bike path or separated trail.

Question: How will you include trails, greenways and bike paths in your transportation plans? What are your plans for building more trails and safe places for walking and biking?

A good answer! Creating more places to walk and bike is important for successful transportation planning. I plan to do this by maintaining or increasing funding, and building local support.

  • Why this works: Anyone can say that they like trails or want more. What’s important here are the details about how a candidate plans to accomplish his or her vision. Some candidates may have detailed answers that indicate they’ve given trails, biking and waking a lot of thought. Others may not be as detailed; a candidate may be hearing for the first time that this is a priority for you and others, but they should indicate a willingness to think critically in particular about funding—a key indicator that they view trails, biking and walking as need to have rather than nice to have.

A less-good answer! Trails and greenways are great places for recreation. Right now, though, our investment needs to be in other challenges facing the community. Once we do, we can focus on trails.

  • Why this doesn’t work: This candidate doesn’t see trails as essential for communities, and they certainly don’t have a plan for it!

Question: If (re-)elected, would you dedicate public funding for trails, walking and biking? How do you plan to pay for improvements to trails and walking and biking networks?

A good answer at the federal level! Yes. I support programs that invest federal funding in trails, walking and biking, such as Transportation Alternatives (TA) and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).

  • Why this works: At the federal level, the TA Set-Aside is the largest source of funding for trails, walking and biking in the country. TA and RTP have been funding trails since 1991. Congress has the power to maintain or increase this funding—but there are frequent attacks from legislators to do just the opposite.

A good answer at the state level! Yes, I would support state funding for trails and places to walk and bike. Funding for them should be part of any transportation bill we pass this year.

  • Why this works: At the state level, most trail, walking and biking investments are part of a transportation funding bill or a parks funding bill. Like cars and transit, trails are transportation too.

A good answer at the local level! Yes, we should be directing more of our federal and state funding for trails and walking and biking projects. I also support continuing/creating local funding for trails.

  • Why this works: At the local level, funding for trails is often a partnership between federal, state and local sources. A candidate who is supportive of trails is realistic and mindful of that fact.

A less-good answer! Trails are “nice to have”—I even use one myself!—but they are a local matter. [Or:] Trails are “nice to have,” but we can’t afford them right now.

  • Why this doesn’t work: Trails often receive a mix of federal, state and local funding. Federal and state programs are important sources of funding, and most require a local “match,” so local funding is already involved. Trails and places to walk and bike are not just “nice to have.” They serve as an important means of transportation for many.

    At the local level, municipal and county decision makers have an enormous amount of influence over specific trail proposals. They can move a project forward or halt a project they disapprove of. A candidate who supports trails should be willing to fund them, too.