Burgeoning demand for trails and other safe places to walk and roll—driven by a generational shift in preferences and broad desire to make communities more vital and healthy—is providing fuel for innovative partnerships and a new look at transportation policy priorities.
On Feb. 11, 2014, during a morning presentation on Capitol Hill, the Partnership for Active Transportation launched Safe Routes to Everywhere, a federal policy platform calling for cost-effective investments in active transportation networks to meet the changing mobility patterns and needs of today’s America. The Partnership is a dynamic cross-sector coalition convened by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy that unites leading groups addressing transportation, public health and community development.
Received before a packed room by Reps. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, and the committee’s ranking member, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the platform seeks to fill gaps in trail and active transportation systems so all people can safely and conveniently connect to transit, jobs, schools, services, shops and other key destinations.
Three policy innovations are emphasized in the platform: 1) increased federal investment dedicated to safe active transportation networks; 2) innovative financing to leverage the private value of infrastructure to stretch limited public dollars and accelerate projects, and 3) the integration of health concerns into transportation decisions, and active transportation opportunities into health policies.
A very simple yet key message of the Feb. 11 event was: Americans both want and need to walk and bike more. “People are going everywhere…in far more diverse ways than ever before,” said Norton. “Transportation means to get there any way you can, and biking and walking are simply the way Americans are doing it.”
In his comments, Petri touched on the bang for buck that comes with investing in active transportation assets as well as their importance to American wellness.
Christopher Coes of LOCUS is a partner who represents real estate developers who see profit in smart growth, such as making neighborhoods more walkable. Coes says that a few key policy changes would leverage the private value of walking and biking projects to significantly improve America’s outdated transportation system. It’s a message that is gaining traction. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx all made public statements in recent weeks calling for the federal government to foster creative financing and help communities leverage public investments with private money.
Active transportation is extremely cost effective in that it is the cheapest form of infrastructure to provide and the most affordable to use. It spurs economic vitality—providing more jobs per dollar than the building of highways—and offers unrivaled health, safety and environmental benefits. Furthermore, active transportation helps us to get the most from our investments in transit by providing safe and practical access to buses and trains.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President Keith Laughlin put it best during his closing comments at the platform launch, stating, “Some say we can’t afford to make these small investments in walking and biking. We submit that we can’t afford to not make these investments.”
His words resonated with attendees. But, as Norton (last photo) pointed out, now comes the part where those who want safe active transportation choices must get their message heard. “Nothing happens unless people gather and make Congress understand what’s important to them,” said Norton.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the Partnership for Active Transportation intend to do just that.