Finally some great news for active transportation in Minnesota … On May 30, Governor Mark Dayton signed the state’s 2017 transportation and bonding bills into law, which include funding for trails, walking and biking. The passage of these bills followed a four-day special session of the Minnesota Legislature—and three consecutive years of impasses among state legislators and the governor.
Over the past three years, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and our partners in Minnesota, including the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN) and the American Heart Association's Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition, have been working hard to ensure that trails, walking and biking are part of a balanced solution to transportation in the North Star State—and these efforts have paid off.
Active Transportation Victories
A major victory from the transportation bill is the creation of a new active transportation (AT) grant program—one of only a couple of consolidated state-level programs like it around the country, established by an amendment from our friend, Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-District 61). The AT program will help fund the significant gap between the total grants requested and the funds currently available from the federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), which remains the largest source of federal funding for trails in the U.S. Now that the Minnesota AT program has been established, our partners are working to secure a sustainable funding source.
While we did not obtain all the funding we’d hope for related to biking and walking improvements, there are some exciting developments:
- The bill includes “safe passing” language that allows drivers to pass bicyclists in a no-passing zone when safe. While Minnesota has had a 3-foot passing law for 30+ years, BikeMN successfully advocated to elevate the message that this is not possible on many roads due to lane width. Now, drivers may cross the double-yellow line to give bicyclists 3 feet as long as there are no oncoming cars in the opposing lane.
- A long-needed technical update was made to the authorization language (some of which was more than 40 years old), which now clearly states that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) can participate in bicycling-related work.
- A $500,000 annual appropriation has been continued for Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure programs, such as BikeMN’s Walk! Bike! Fun! pedestrian and bicycle education program.
Capital Investments in Trails Across Minnesota
The capital investment bill, a.k.a. the “bonding” bill, provides $1 million for Safe Routes to School infrastructure grants as well as funding for several trail projects, including a major expansion of the Cuyuna State Recreation Area’s mountain bike system.
Other projects that received funding include:
- Gitchi-Gami State Trail along the north shore of Lake Superior
- Glacial Lakes State Trail in Kandiyohi and Stearns counties
- Mill Towns Trail from Northfield to Faribault
- Camp Riley Trail, which will someday link Little Falls to the Paul Bunyan Trail, with a loop around a large military base
- Heartland State Trail, one of the first rail-trail projects in the country
Modest investments in smaller projects in West St. Paul, White Bear Lake and elsewhere—as well as a $5 million investment for the Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission—are other important wins for recreational trails. The trail project list amounts to nearly $20 million of investments in beautiful places to walk and bike.
Thanks to everyone whose involvement and support in advocating for trails and active transportation in Minnesota made these victories possible. It has been incredibly promising to see how receptive state legislators and Gov. Dayton have been to supporting these important initiatives.
If you have a chance, please send them a thank you. Happy trails!