The eyes of the nation have rested this month on the outcome of the presidential, congressional and state elections. While the results at that level appear to be mixed—Democrats are poised to gain the presidency and hold the U.S. House, while Republicans are favored to maintain control of the U.S. Senate and most state legislatures—a more unambiguous picture emerged from local elections for nonpartisan ballot initiatives: Voters overwhelmingly said “yes!” to transit, parks and open space measures that include public investment in trails, bike lanes, sidewalks and improved traffic safety.
Of note: All the ballot initiatives that Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) specifically supported via digital and online advocacy initiatives, in Colorado, Florida, Central Texas and Virginia, passed.
Major transportation and transit funding measures passed in Austin (including funding for bike lanes, urban trails and a fleet of shared e-bikes at transit hubs), Denver (a climate initiative that included more transit and biking options) and San Antonio. The public’s support for transit comes at a time of great concern for the future of public transportation due to losses of ridership and farebox revenue caused by the pandemic.
Trails and active transportation have served as critical means of transportation for essential workers during the pandemic, particularly for those with concerns about using public transit right now. It’s important to note, however, that bicycling and walking also have mutually beneficial relationships with vibrant, functioning public transportation—as active transportation can serve a vital “first mile, last mile” link from transit hubs to destinations, and more people choose to bike and walk in places with robust transit than in places without.
According to our friends (and former D.C. office neighbors!) at City Parks Alliance and the Trust for Public Land, voters approved $3.7 billion in new funding for parks, climate resiliency and public lands—including for trail acquisition and construction. Notably, RTC supported the successful renewal of Volusia County, Florida (which includes Daytona Beach) ECHO funds that have been instrumental in trail funding, and a park bond in Fairfax County, Virginia, that includes trail funding and will help build out the Capital Trails Coalition, an RTC TrailNation™ project that will equitably connect 800+ miles of trails in the D.C. metro area.
These new voter-approved revenue streams for parks, trails, transit, bike lanes and sidewalks may offer local governments some flexibility to expand infrastructure at a time when they may be facing restrictive fiscal environments due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of local tax revenue. Special thanks to all the trail supporters around the country who helped make this crucial support for active transportation possible this November.
Most state legislatures around the country will convene again in the early part of 2021, and RTC will monitor their activities for any new developments, including threats and opportunities around trails and active transportation.