RTC Launches Development of Game-Changing Trail Planning Tool

Posted 06/12/14 by Tracy Hadden Loh in Building Trails

Photo © Ed Yourdon

Earlier this month, RTC announced the launch of T-MAP (Trail Modeling and Assessment Platform), a three-year, $1.2-million initiative with the potential to set a new standard for trail planning in America. In partnership with researchers and trail managers in 12 U.S. cities, RTC will lead the first-ever nationwide survey of urban trail use and produce planning models and metrics that can forecast the returns on investment that trails stimulate around the country. 

This project comes at a time when active transportation is on the rise in America, but requires a critical boost to move to the next level.

There are more than 21,000 miles of rail-trails in the United States, and many of America’s 300 million citizens need cars to access them. In some communities, the lack of connectivity to basic  destinations such as places of employment, grocery stores and schools limits people’s livelihood and, to put it simply, their ability to thrive.

That’s where T-MAP comes in.

Decision-makers give considerable credence to quantitative methods for planning and prioritizing transportation investments. Such forecasting tools have been used in the highway planning process for decades, but have only recently begun to be developed for trail, bicycle and pedestrian investments. As a result, road projects are defined as needs, while trail projects are often considered amenities.

Now, with T-MAP, trail planners will have instruments that communicate the most efficient and powerful ways to integrate our trails into networks that make the biggest impact and/or result in dollars saved on transportation, healthcare, tourism and economic development. 

T-MAP will tell us what we’ve shared as a community through stories, but with a scientific angle that helps us make real arguments for connected trails and more walking and biking facilities.

The T-MAP project includes three core models:

  • A GIS-based method for measuring trail-system connectivity: How well are the trails connecting us to the places we need to go? 
  • A trail-use demand factoring and forecasting model: How many people are using the trails, and how would this demand grow with the right additions or enhancements?
  • A set of impact assessment tools that translate trail use into dollars related to health and transportation impacts: What is the dollar value trail use provides in terms of healthcare savings and economic impact?

By revealing how America is using trails, T-MAP will help developers prioritize projects that can maximize trail use and benefits. Trail-planning analysis will rise to the same level of sophistication as analysis for highways and major infrastructure. 

When complete, we anticipate that T-MAP will be fundamental for connecting people, places and neighborhoods, spurring connections that turn walking and biking into mainstream modes of travel and transportation. 

RTC is extremely excited to be a part of this game-changing project for trail planning, and we look forward to providing future updates over the next few years.

In the meantime, to learn more about T-MAP, check out the project Web page at www.railstotrails.org/TMAP

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