Rail-Trail Community Fixes an Eye on Statewide Trail Programs

Posted 02/15/17 by Andrew Dupuy in Policy

Photo courtesy Mac H (media601) | CC BY-SA 2.0

While much attention has been focused on Washington, D.C. in the past month, our nation’s state capitals have been busy, as well. Forty-eight state legislatures are already in session, and all but one will be in session in the coming weeks.

States are important sources of funding for trails, walking and biking—as well as occasional threats. With fewer opportunities at the federal level to acquire critical funds, states and local jurisdictions have increasingly taken the funding of trails and active transportation programs into their own hands, or have used state and local funding to bolster existing federal funding. In recognition of this trend, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has increased our focus of state and local policy in recent times, and this year, we plan to closely monitor state legislatures and related policies and programs around the country.

Atlantic Greenway (East Coast Greenway) | Photo courtesy RTC

Over the past few years, RTC has had a variety of successes related to state trail advocacy. For example, in Pennsylvania, we were part of a huge coalition that successfully advocated for the creation of a $144 million multimodal transportation fund for which biking and walking projects are eligible. RTC also helped establish a number of trail funding initiatives in Florida, some of which will help complete several major trail networks in the state. In 2016, members of RTC and our partners in Tennessee created a grassroots groundswell to stop two bills that would have taken away the ability of local communities to use transportation funding for walking and biking infrastructure.

To help better serve our community of advocates and legislators, RTC recently launched the Active Transportation Resource Hub, an online collection of advocacy resources that includes success stories and active transportation policy models, and a searchable database of active transportation policies that have either been proposed or used in states around the country. In addition to monitoring opportunities and threats nationwide, we are also working with a handful of target states around the country to advocate for walking and biking projects and policies.

Here are a few examples:  

Tennessee: Protecting existing funding and local control   

Ross Family on the Shelby Farms Greenline in Memphis | Photo by Philip Parker-AP Images

During the 2017 legislative season (which is most heavily concentrated in the early part of the year), RTC will advocate for more funding and innovative new policy tools for active transportation. Local decision-making about transportation funding has facilitated major bike-ped improvements around Tennessee, including Memphis’ completion of the Shelby Farms Greenline and it being named most improved bike city in America a few years ago. Building on our success last year in Tennessee, RTC and our partner Bike Walk Tennessee commissioned a statewide survey (conducted by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville) that showed Tennesseans support more funding for biking and walking—and local control to make those decisions. RTC and Bike Walk Tennessee will continue to advocate for the inclusion of active transportation in any legislation to increase transportation revenue, which the governor has proposed.

California: Local and state park initiatives for trail and recreational facilities

The Rail-to-River project will one day reach the Los Angeles River, along which the Los Angeles River Trail (pictured) currently runs | Photo courtesy TrailLink, by TrailLink user vikemaze

Meanwhile, in California—which a few years ago created the nation’s first state-supported active transportation program—RTC has been working on two fronts. First, RTC supported the November 2016 passage of Measure A, which will fund parks and recreational spaces in Los Angeles County (the nation’s most populous county) and will work with local partners to advance important trail networks such as the Los Angeles River Trail, the Emerald Necklace and the San Gabriel Valley Greenway Network.

Last year, RTC also worked to support the passage of a multibillion-dollar statewide park bond that could mean many millions of dollars for trails across the state. While that bill didn’t pass, a statewide park bond measure has been reintroduced in the Senate and the Assembly. The Assembly bill, AB 18 (E. Garcia), is known as the California Clean Water, Climate, and Coastal Protection and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018. RTC will continue to work with our partners, including The Trust for Public Land and Outdoor Afro, to pass a park bond bill this year and get it on the ballot for approval in 2018.

Minnesota: Including “all modes” in transportation spending

Mesabi Trail | Photo by dreamshark, courtesy Traillink

In the Midwest, Minnesota legislators are discussing an increase in transportation revenue, and RTC is part of a state-based coalition to make sure that walking and biking projects (particularly those that focus on equitable access) are eligible for this funding or receive their own dedicated funding. Previous efforts to pass a transportation revenue increase have failed due to loggerheads between legislators who have a “roads-only” approach and those who advocate for a more multimodal solution.

Our members are critical to our state policy strategies and are key to our past successes. Last year, several Tennessee committee members remarked in hearings about the amount of phone calls they had been receiving about bills we were opposing during that time period. It’s more proof that our members are speaking loudly and being heard.  

We will continue to update our community on what they can do to support further state trail legislation and biking and walking programs, and we look forward to another successful year!

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