Let’s be honest. State legislatures can be a bit, shall we say, wacky—as comedian John Oliver pointed out a few years back.* But as Oliver explains, state legislatures are also quite prolific in the number of laws they pass—much more so than Congress—so it’s important to pay attention to them.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) monitors state legislative houses across the country to look for opportunities to advocate for new and innovative funding programs—as well defend and support trail funding under attack. For example, two years ago, RTC members helped beat back bills that would have prevented transportation revenue from funding biking and walking in Tennessee. And in 2017, RTC helped pass more than $103 million in recurring funding and more than $238 million in one-time funds for trails, walking and biking in states around the country.
Below are just a few highlights from 2017—and a peek at what’s to come as we keep our eye on 2018 and beyond.
Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Secured for Trails in 2017
In New York, RTC supported the work of Parks & Trails New York to successfully advocate for $200 million to complete the Empire State Trail. This 750-mile signature trail network will cross the length of the state two ways: from New York City to Canada, and following the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany. The trail, championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, aims to be a nationally significant destination trail when completed, connecting some of the state’s most popular cultural and natural attractions.
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, California added $100 million per year ($1 billion over 10 years) to its Active Transportation Program (ATP)—a first-of-its kind, dedicated state funding source for trails, walking and biking—as part of a substantial increase in transportation funding. RTC also worked with coalition members in Minnesota to replicate California’s ATP, creating a new funding pot for active transportation in the North Star State.
After Tennessee’s governor promoted an increase in the state’s gas tax in 2017, RTC worked to pre-empt attacks on funding for biking (similar to the two bills we helped defeat in 2016). In early 2017, RTC and Bike Walk Tennessee released a statewide poll conducted by the University of Tennessee that showed citizens wanted the gas tax to support not just roads—but also transit, walking and biking in their communities. Interestingly, this support cut across all major demographics in the state, including rural, small town and city residents, as well as Republicans and Democrats. Ultimately, the state passed an increase in transportation revenue, and RTC continues to monitor that funding to ensure walking and biking projects receive a fair share.
RTC and partners continued their lucrative work in Florida, procuring $10 million for two major transportation corridors in Miami-Dade County—the Ludlam Trail and The Underline—to help create the Miami LOOP, a 225-mile trail network that seeks to improve transportation options, make walking and biking safer and spur tourism and economic development regionally. The Ludlam Trail alone is slated to connect more than 34,000 people within a half-mile walkable service area that currently has numerous barriers to walking and biking, and, when complete, could generate up to $1.8 billion in estimated user spending annually.
What’s Next for State Trail Advocacy in 2018
Even-year state legislatures tend to be less active than odd-numbered ones, but at RTC there’s still plenty of groundwork to be laid to secure billions in funding for trails in the coming years.
Some of our most exciting work currently is in Ohio, where we are working as part of the Industrial Heartlands Trail Coalition to build a 1,500-mile trail network through Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. We also helped successfully advocate for the establishment of the Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus, a bipartisan group of 28-and-counting state-elected officials committed developing Ohio’s extensive trail network. A resolution designating 2017–2018 the “Year of the Trails” has already passed the Senate, and we anticipate its passing in the House in March! By the way: Opening Day for Trails, April 7, 2018, will be the kickoff for the “Year of the Trails” in Ohio, with events around the Buckeye State.
In June, California residents will get to vote on Proposition 68, a multibillion dollar bond to fund water infrastructure and parks. Last year, RTC worked behind the scenes to increase trail eligibility as part of the parks component of the measure, finally OK’d by legislators to be on the ballot. If passed by voters, Proposition 68 would mean millions of dollars for trails, recreational facilities and trail connections to parks and greenspace, particularly in underserved communities.
And in many other states, we’re rocking and rolling—for example:
- In New York, RTC will begin a campaign to increase trail connections to the Empire State Trail and create a dedicated state funding source for trails.
- We’ll continue to pursue support for the Circuit Trails, an 800-mile trail network spanning nine counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as advocate for increased trail funding around the Garden State.
- We’ll pursue new sources of funding for the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan in South Texas.
- And we’ll seek sources to help fill the active transportation funding pot created last year in Minnesota.
Advocates: Check Out the Active Transportation Policy Hub!
Beyond the places where RTC is actively engaged, we seek to serve as a resource for policy ideas so that trail advocates can replicate best practices in their own states.
If you are a legislator, legislative staff member or trail advocate, we urge you to check out our Active Transportation Policy Hub database, which highlights unique funding initiatives and other potential programs and ideas for funding trails, walking and biking at the state level.
Help us build the hub!
If you know of current legislation—good or bad—that affects funding for trails or active transportation, or there’s a bill or law we should add to the Active Transportation Policy Hub, contact RTC’s Policy Team.
*Note: Clip contains some strong language.