Here's what President Biden's American Jobs Plan Means for Trails

Posted 04/05/21 by Kevin Mills in Policy

On Wednesday, March 31, the Biden Administration unveiled its plan for investing in America’s infrastructure, including transportation. The topline goals of “The American Jobs Plan”—to address economic development, equity and climate—align well with the benefits of increased walking and biking. Further, the plan provides critical investment in bicycle and pedestrian safety, and we see much promise in providing resources that would reconnect communities divided by prior transportation investments.

However, the plan as it is currently presented appears to miss an important opportunity to invest in strategies that could increase walking and biking. RTC’s legislation to connect regional active-transportation networks and spine trails (S.684) would further job, equity and climate goals more quickly and more affordably than many of the featured measures. The plan rightly aims to improve streets, but does not commit to helping communities working to create safe routes for people on foot, bike or wheelchair to get to routine destinations.

The most clear-cut good news: A newly proposed Safe Streets for All program, which would fund state and local “vision zero” plans and other improvements to reduce crashes and fatalities, especially for cyclists and pedestrians. Altogether, the plan would inject $20 billion into safety programs—a necessary priority given that America has seen more than a decade of increased pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and injuries.

Another exciting proposal: A new $20 billion program to redress racial and economic inequities caused by previous federal transportation investments. This program would reconnect neighborhoods and ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access. While not stated, this new program could incorporate investment in active transportation infrastructure that connects communities historically divided by infrastructure projects such as highways.

And finally, though not explicitly stated, the plan’s call to invest $50 billion in climate-resilient infrastructure could present opportunities for communities that design trails and greenways to reduce and manage periodic flooding.

President Biden’s plan is ambitious and proposes to spend about $600 billion over five years on transportation investments to further job creation, equity, climate mitigation and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Omission of investment in connected active-transportation infrastructure would hamper the nation’s ability to reach those goals. Unfortunately, the plan sees alterations to a road system built for cars as a sufficient response to demand for active transportation networks—but what communities seek are independent systems that often utilize streets but also rely heavily upon separate infrastructure specifically designed or repurposed to meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

Active Transportation Connectivity Grants—which would accelerate the work of communities to build and connect their active transportation networks—have bipartisan support in the Senate (S.684) and were included (but underfunded) in the House infrastructure bill passed last summer (H.R.2). This idea is supported by hundreds of national, state and local organizations representing interests as far-ranging as biking and walking, health, transportation reform, environment, disability rights, planning and our nation’s local elected officials. Further, RTC and partners actively support two additional bipartisan bills that will increase dedicated funding for trails and active transportation—the Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act (H.R.463S.614) and the Recreational Trails Full Funding Act (H.R.1864).

Together we can advance this trio of funding bills through Congress to maximize the role that trails, walking and biking will play in creating jobs and building communities that are healthy, safe, accessible and equitable.

This is a pivotal moment in the pursuit of visionary and once-in-a-generation transportation policy change. Federal resources have helped build many of the nation’s 40,000 miles of multiuse trails, as well as sidewalks and bikeways. Now we have an opportunity to leverage that investment to fast-track active transportation connectivity, which is the critical next step in making it safer and more convenient to walk and bike in daily life in every neighborhood in America. We can’t afford to miss this unique opportunity.

Please read our press release on the Biden Administration’s proposal, and visit our Trails Transform website for resources to support your advocacy and make the case for trail and active transportation networks.

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