Rails-to-Trails State Policy Mid-Year Recap: What’s Happening

Posted 07/11/18 by Andrew Dupuy, Brian K. Housh in Policy, America's Trails

South Beach Trail | Photo by Lee Smith

Summertime is here—and it’s not just the kids who are released for the season. With a majority of our states’ legislatures having adjourned for the year (or not meeting at all in 2018), let’s take a look at how Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has recently supported trails, walking and biking through its work in America’s state capitols, particularly this past spring.

The news is good: States continue to increase their commitments to connecting healthy, thriving communities through enhanced networks of safe trails, bike lanes and walking paths.

Success at the Grassroots Level

In 2018, RTC members’ grassroots advocacy helped procure just over $300 million for trails and active transportation infrastructure over the next decade. In addition, tens of millions of dollars more have been appropriated to funding pots through which trails are eligibleso we could see this figure grow as RTC works behind the scenes to secure more funds for trail projects in the allocation and implementation processes.

TrailNation Network Heavy Hitters

Once again, California led the way in trail funding .... In 2017, the state voted to increase its contribution to its Active Transportation Program—a first-of-its-kind state-level funding program for trails and walking and biking projects in the United States—by $100 million per year. Then last month, voters in the state approved Proposition 68, which allocates $30 million for trails as well as additional eligibilities for trail networks. At the same time, voters in nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area signed off $150 million worth of bridge tolls to go toward the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Safe Routes to Transit program.

San Francisco Bay Trail/Fort Mason in California | Photo by Cindy Barks
San Francisco Bay Trail/Fort Mason in California | Photo by Cindy Barks

RTC worked with local partners in the state to advocate for these programs—and some of the funds will go toward projects we’ve been actively involved with for years, including trails that are part of a 2,700-mile regional trail network being developed through the Bay Area Trails Collaborative, an RTC TrailNationTM project.

Florida funded several trail network projects, including the Miami LOOP—an RTC TrailNation project—and the SUN Trails. And Maryland, which is home to two RTC TrailNation projects—the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition and the Capital Trails Coalition—increased trail funding by almost $9 million.

Standing With Our Midwest Partners

RTC supported the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota’s lobby day in Saint Paul, which helped yield an estimated $45 million in trail earmarks within the capital budget. Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails received $10 million that will help develop and improve multiuse trails, and 26 projects—such as the Wagon Wheel Trail, the Mesabi Trail and the Gitchi-Gami State Trail—have been funded! Also, nearly $8 million was appropriated for Minnesota state trail development.

Gitchi-Gami State Trail | Source Public Domain
Gitchi-Gami State Trail | Source Public Domain

RTC’s Midwest Office has also assumed a major role in trail network development in Ohio, collaborating with state agencies and advocates to establish the Buckeye State as a national model for trails policy. A politically potent statewide coalition, the OhioNetwork, continues to work to increase membership in the Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus (a bipartisan group of state legislators committed to creating a statewide trails network to connect Ohioans) and successfully lobbied both the Senate and House to pass “Year of the Trails” resolutions.

This multiregional network of diverse stakeholders is pushing for cutting-edge trail network investments, including the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition—another RTC TrailNation project. In addition to securing appropriations for specific trails and renewal of the annual $6.25 million for the Clean Ohio Trails Fund, RTC saw a seed it planted bloom when Oxford, a city of about 22,000, passed a local levy providing $10 million over the next decade for trails. The amazing progress seen in Ohio has been driven by a widespread recognition that Trails Transform America.

So what’s in store for the rest of the year?

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

With a few states still in legislative session, RTC continues to search for and analyze potential policy opportunities for the near future. We also continue to build coalitions and partnerships—connecting with state and local groups to strengthen our collective advocacy for next year. With strong allies, we can continue to successfully create new funding streams for trails from coast to coast.

To learn more about RTC’s policy activities, go to our Policy Page.

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