State of the States: Here’s What’s on the Policy Horizon in 2019

Posted 02/07/19 by Andrew Dupuy, Brian K. Housh in Policy

With a population of 1.5 million in Manhattan alone, New York has plenty of people willing to brave a cold and gusty winter day on the Hudson River Valley Greenway. | Photo by Scott Stark

Legislatures coast to coast have gone into session in the new year; in fact, all but a handful have convened, with the remaining few set to begin soon. This is noteworthy, given that many state legislatures operate only on a part-time basis, and a few only meet in odd-numbered years.

Last year, RTC supported efforts that secured more than $300 million in new state funding (on a 10-year cycle) for active-transportation and trail networks, and helped stop other efforts to defund biking and walking.

Now, as 2019 gets underway, RTC’s state policy team has its antenna up for new opportunities to fund trails at the state level—and continue to build momentum for trail building nationwide.

Below is a summary on the state of the states for trails, walking and biking.

Cultivating Long-Term Policy Support for Trails

Photo by Amy Kapp, courtesy RTC

In states such as California, Florida and Ohio, our field staff are cultivating relationships and actively pursuing longer-term policy initiatives that will pay dividends for years to come. For example, the Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus—a bipartisan group of state-elected officials that is committed to creating a state trails network to connect Ohioans, and which represents more than a quarter of the legislature—continues to serve as an inside-the-Capitol force advocating for trail-friendly policies.

This long-term involvement allows RTC to lay the groundwork for more innovative and nuanced policies that prioritize trail network development and provide support for projects like those in RTC’s TrailNation portfolio, as well as our continuing work in New York to use the cross-state Empire State Trail as a “spine” for even more great trail networks.

Our state policy work also enables RTC to be nimble and help state and local partners when opportunities in other states arise. This includes leveraging the power of our grassroots trail-supporter base around the country for efforts that include targeted emails and calls to legislators and governors.

In fact, we’ve had many major successes in recent times—including our successful campaign last year to encourage Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a bill supporting the launch of the proposed 300-mile Great Redwood Trail in California. The joint effort with many partners on the ground in the state generated a total of more than 2,000 phone calls!

Supporting New Trail Innovations in the States

Eisenbahn State Trail | Photo by Traillink user jfjbjl
Eisenbahn State Trail | Photo by TrailLink user jfjbjl

RTC is committing to sharing innovations and best practices with advocates and lawmakers so they can continue to build upon the successes of others as they seek to fund and build their own trails and walking and biking networks.

To that end:

  • We’re helping to build legislative trails caucuses in several other states, including Wisconsin, which—championed by Rep. Evan Goyke—just kicked off in October 2018 before an enthusiastic crowd of bicyclists, public officials and trail advocates at the Wisconsin Bike Fed offices and Velobahn Coffee & Cycle!
  • We also hosted a state policy webinar last week highlighting our multifaceted work in Ohio.

  • We’re supporting a broad coalition in Texas that’s working on legislation to ensure that an existing tax intended for parks actually goes to funding parks and trails.
  • We continue to populate our Active Transportation Policy Hub—a free database of policies and success stories from states that is available to the public.
  • And last but not least, through our Trails Transform America campaign, we are engaging elected officials and educating them on the economic, health and other quality-of-life benefits that trail networks provide for their constituents.

Forging Ahead for Trails

North Cedar Lake Trail | Photo by Michael Hicks

Strong political will for inclusive, equitable and accessible recreational and active transportation opportunities is driving an increase in funding for trails and active transportation networks. Indiana’s recent $90 million commitment to trails highlights this current momentum, and we encourage advocates to capitalize on this environment.

We’ve been hearing some positive chatter—both from state legislators during a trail advocacy day at the Ohio Statehouse last week, and from our partners in Minnesotathat progress related to funding active transportation, biking and walking is likely this session.

The time is now to engage your state elected officials!

As state legislative sessions gear up in 2019, RTC will continue moving innovative policies through the pipeline, while monitoring the national landscape for new opportunities to promote and defend funding for trails and biking and walking infrastructure.

Stay tuned for more information on how you can get involved! In the meantime, if you haven’t already—be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter for all the latest on what’s going on in federal and state policy and to receive alerts about your state!

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