During this year’s Nov. 8 election, the presidential race was the primary focus for many Americans; however, another story was also unfolding in communities across the country. As we take time to process all the results of the election during this “lame duck” time period, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) wanted to address this story—which had positive implications for trails, biking and walking on both sides of the U.S.
Nearly 400 local and state transportation funding initiatives graced ballots around the country, including about 100 that focused on transit and active transportation infrastructure. Of those 400 ballot initiatives, almost 200 passed—resulting in an estimated $200 billion in funding to improve the quality and access of local and regional multimodal transportation systems.
Especially encouraging was the fact that some of the largest initiatives to hit ballots this year passed in cities and metropolitan areas historically associated with highways, traffic and sprawl. It’s a sign that even communities built around car travel want more balanced, healthy and sustainable transportation choices.
In Los Angeles County—America’s most populous county (with 9.8 million people according to the U.S. Census Bureau)—the required two-thirds of voters affirmed a massive transportation package providing an estimated $860 million annually, primarily for a dramatic expansion of public transit but which includes more than $17 million per year for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Measure M’s emphasis on transit should spur more transit-oriented development as well as safer and more bikeable and walkable communities around the region.
On the eastern side of the country, Atlanta passed a local tax that allocates $75 million for complete streets, $3 million for Phase 2 of the Atlanta Bike Share program and $69 million for pedestrian sidewalk improvements over the next five years. Meanwhile, its suburban neighbor Gwinnett County passed a "local option" sales tax that will generate $950 million over the next six years, $30 million of which will be directed to sidewalks and pedestrian safety projects. The passage of these two taxes in Georgia indicates that major transportation initiatives that are heavy in bike/ped language can be highly appealing when making improvements to transportation infrastructure through local planning.
Some states got into the act, as well. Maine voters endorsed a bond that provides $100 million for transportation purposes, including $20 million that can fund a variety of sources from freight and ports to bike/ped. Meanwhile, two states—Illinois and New Jersey—passed initiatives that ensure that transportation revenue (such as that from fuel taxes) are spent on transportation projects.
It’s important to point out that local communities opted to support biking and walking through non-transportation initiatives, as well. RTC was proud to provide support for the campaign for Los Angeles County, California’s Measure A, which is actually a non-expiring park bond for the county. Measure A, which passed with more than 73 percent of the vote, will fund parks and recreational facilities—including maintenance—to the tune of more than $90 million per year, with a particular focus on underserved areas. Trails are explicitly eligible for portions of this funding, so it could mean millions annually for the benefit of Angeleno trail lovers.
RTC will continue to monitor policy at the local and state levels, including engaging with agencies and other decision-makers to ensure that trails receive their fair share of approved funding. We will also seek out and support new opportunities for funding active transportation infrastructure at all levels of government.
By the way—we're urging you to make your voice heard, and let the new administration know that trails are a priority. Sign our petition now.