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Equitable Practices in Trail Planning

Delaware & Lehigh Trail | Photo by Thom Carroll

Planning can be a challenge in communities where People of Color have been subject to neglect or top-down planning without community buy-in or leadership. Residents of these communities may further experience “planning fatigue” due to promised projects that never came to fruition or projects that did but are not well maintained, haven’t brought the benefits that were promoted or, worse, have led to gentrification or displacement.

From the TrailNation Summit:

“Some of the corridors we are targeting and we are investing in are the same corridors to segregate communities, the same corridors that were used as a cut-through because ‘I didn’t want to invest in your community.’ And so now we are coming back to these communities and saying, ‘Oh well, forget about the past. This is a new plan, a new vision.’ And people are going, ‘Wait, wait, wait, I’ve seen this before, and [as a] matter of fact … when you’ve done it in the past, it means that I am soon to be out of this community.’ And so there’s a lot that we need to do in the front end … because it’s nothing against the trails, but it’s often against the plans and failed promises that we have seen before.”

Leon F.  Pinkett, Councilman, 7th District (Baltimore City Council), speaking at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s TrailNation Summit.

In such cases, great care must be taken to cultivate trust and relationships, and this can only happen through meaningful and ongoing community engagement and empowerment. This involves authentic listening where current and past injustices are acknowledged and confronted. Community members are best placed to articulate their own needs, and it is imperative that trail advocates and planners make the effort to meet people where they are, including with regard to choices of media for information sharing (posters, social media, etc.), and the venues and times for physical and virtual public meetings. Planners must also take care to provide accommodations for those with physical or language barriers—and to compensate people for their time and knowledge.

Trails should not be approached as a standalone issue but discussed within the context of overall community planning, including housing affordability, economic development, access to quality jobs, health care and community safety. Because investment in trails can have wide-reaching impacts beyond transportation or recreation, trail planners are increasingly forging partnerships across sectors—including but not limited to housing, job training, economic development, arts, culture, public health and public safety.

The Planning for Equity panel at RTC’s 2018 TrailNation Summit explored new approaches to planning, community building and development to ensure equitable transportation strategies. Featured panelists included Beth Haskovec, LISC Milwaukee (Local Initiatives Support Corporation); Grace Kyung, Trailnet; Juan Carlos Linares, LUCHA; Tatiana Maida, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers-Community HealthCorps; Vaughn Perry, 11th Street Bridge Park; Sterling Stone, Gearin’ Up Bicycles. Lynda Lopez of Streetsblog served as moderator. Key takeaways included the following.


(Adapted from cited sources)

Equitable development – a positive development strategy that ensures everyone participates in, and benefits from, the region’s economic transformation—with a focus on low-income residents, Communities of Color, immigrants and others at risk of being left behind. It requires an intentional focus on eliminating racial inequities and barriers, and making accountable and catalytic investments to assure that lower-wealth residents 1) live in healthy, safe, opportunity-rich neighborhoods that reflect their culture and connect to economic and ownership opportunities (and that they are not displaced from them); and 2) have a strong voice and influence in the decisions that shape their neighborhoods. PolicyLink

Gentrification – the transformation of neighborhoods from low value to high value. This change has the potential to cause displacement of long-time residents and businesses. Displacement happens when long-time or original neighborhood residents move from a gentrified area because of higher rents, mortgages and property taxes. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)


‣ Webinar – Creating Inclusive & Equitable Trail Development: Case Studies in Detroit and Milwaukee

‣ Webinar – Trail Networks and Housing Stability webinar series

‣ Factsheet – Principles for Equitable Engagement Public Outreach & Engagement During COVID-19 and Beyond

‣ Report – 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan

‣ Report – Inclusionary Trail Planning Toolkit

‣ Report – Montgomery County Trail Access, Diversity and Awareness Plan

‣ Report – Equity of Access to Trails: Market Research Conducted Fall 2020

‣ Factsheet – Glossary of Terms Relating to Equitable Trail Development

TrailNation Collaborative

TrailNation Collaborative is a nationwide peer learning community from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy that brings together advocates, leaders and professionals from across disciplines to establish and accelerate trail networks across America. The collaborative provides proven tools, methods and resources, combined with RTC’s expertise and network of partners across the country, to accelerate the development of connected trail systems. When trails are connected across regions and states, trail networks have a proven transformative impact—they are essential infrastructure that creates thriving, healthier communities.

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