Missing: Trails in the 2016 Debates

Posted 10/11/16 by Suzanne Matyas in Taking Action, Policy

San Francisco Bay Trail | Photo by Cindy Barks

On the night of Sunday, Oct. 9, the third debate of the 2016 general election concluded. Since the first debate, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates have touched on important topics critical to trails, including the economy, the environment and national health. However, transportation infrastructure—which includes trails, biking and walking—was never mentioned.

Not hearing talk of trails during the debates is not a good sign—and it might mean that new trails, and public funding for trail development, will remain unspoken for under the next administration. That’s why we need to stand up for trails now and tell the next president that trails and active transportation are an infrastructure priority.

What Was Said

Golden Gate Bridge along the San Francisco Bay Trail | Photo by Cindy Barks

RTC has been closely tracking pro-trail talk during the debates with our sophisticated monitoring method: playing Election Season Trail Bingo—which is like regular bingo but without the song (though you could sing along at home, if you like … we won’t judge!).

Instead of numbers, the Election Season Trail Bingo card lists terms relevant to trail building and trail development in local communities. So far, only five of the 25 squares have been marked off in the collective 360-plus minutes of debating. Considering the essential place trails and active-transportation networks have in our nationwide infrastructure and our communities—urban, suburban and rural—those numbers are much too low. (And sadly, it means that none of the folks who’ve been playing along have gotten the chance to yell “BINGO!” yet.)

What Should Have Been Said

The good news is that the debates did touch on key concerns that trails currently address, such as improving the economy and lowering health-care costs. Wherever a trail is created, so are jobs and value. And these trail-oriented development jobs—planning, design and construction—work to create more jobs per dollar than any other type of transportation infrastructure construction. Trails can also increase property values and bring about the growth of local trailside businesses, acting as powerful economic engines for small towns. 

Met Branch Trail | Photo courtesy RTC

There’s also a reason why active transportation has the word “active” in its name—because physical activity is at its core. Getting out on your local trail for an enjoyable walk, run or bike ride can improve your health and wellness. What’s more, it can get you where you want to go while you’re being physically active.

Medical care costs for people with chronic diseases account for more than 75 percent of the nation’s $2.6 trillion medical care costs each year; physical activity helps reduce the incidence of chronic disease, thereby lowering healthcare costs. In fact, health-care providers have recently started prescribing trail use and partnering with trail organizations to improve the health of their patients.

RELATED: CDC Says Few Older Adults Get Enough Physical Activity. Trails Can Help.

What Needs to Be Done Next

Trails and active transportation merit more than a mention during the general election debates; these are important discussions that can take center stage at the town halls, meetings and get-togethers with your members of Congress, state legislators and local leaders in the run up to Nov. 8.

During the next and last presidential debate on Oct. 19, we will continue to play Election Season Trail Bingo and hope to hear the candidates talk about trails in their transportation infrastructure plans. Regardless of where the debate goes, we’re counting on you to help make sure trails aren’t missing from the conversation over the next four years.

Tell the Next President: Trails Are Wise Investments

Urge the next administration to make wise investments in trails, walking and biking programs that make our communities healthier and more connected.

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