On the Verge of a Trails, Walking and Biking Revolution

Posted 06/15/21 by Patrick Wojahn in Policy

Breaking News - July 1, 2021: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the INVEST in America Act, a visionary transportation bill that includes key funding and programs for trails and active transportation. This is a critical milestone, but now it's time to make sure these funding provisions pass in the Senate. Sign on to show your support.

These past few weeks have been momentous for trails and active transportation. For years, the team at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has championed the need for transformative federal transportation policies. These policies are the foundation for investment in our nation’s trails, sidewalks and bike lanes. Alongside partners in the field and on Capitol Hill, we’ve pushed for a new approach that provides the increased investment and the policy direction needed to connect and maintain the country’s trail and active transportation system.

Today, we’re closer than ever to seeing that vision come to life.


Related: Sidewalks, Bike Lanes and Trails Are Essential Transportation Infrastructure | The Hill

With the passage of bills in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, Congress is in a position to potentially pass the federal surface transportation reauthorization bill this year—which is poised to set a new benchmark for federal investment in trails and active transportation and go a long way toward addressing the skyrocketing demand for safe places to walk and bike.

Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) passed the INVEST in America Act (INVEST Act), a bill to fund the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure. We’ve called this bill game-changing—never before has federal law so clearly recognized that active transportation is essential to the success of American communities.

The INVEST Act doubles dedicated funding for trails, walking and biking from $850 million per year to $1.75 billion per year and delivers the policy change necessary to accelerate the completion of connected trail and active transportation systems nationwide. This legislation includes most of RTC’s priorities, including $250 million per year over five years in a new program that we’ve fought hard for—the bill’s Active Transportation Connectivity Grants codify the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R.2991).

The bill also includes noteworthy funding increases of 75% for both Transportation Alternatives and the Recreational Trails Program, and over $1 billion in Member Designated Projects (earmarks) that include active transportation elements, most of which are solely for critical active-transportation connections. These projects represent over 20% of all earmarks included in the bill, illustrating that demand for significant investments in active transportation far exceeds what is provided by existing federal programs.

READ FULL BILL ANALYSIS


The INVEST Act provides the policy framework needed to deliver transportation choice, ensuring all Americans can safely and conveniently access jobs, transit and essential services regardless of whether they drive. The focus on creating connected active transportation networks is transformative, delivering the focused investment needed to make it practical and safe for more people to walk and bike where they need to go more often—exactly the innovation needed to protect the climate, create jobs and save lives."

Kevin Mills, RTC’s vice president of policy


This INVEST Act comes on the heels of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, which passed in May. Although not as expansive as the House bill, the committee’s bill includes an amended version of the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (S.684), establishing competitive grants at $200 million annually for projects that create active transportation connectivity, providing the focused funding and policy change necessary to: deliver independent mobility to millions of Americans who do not drive cars, save lives from traffic crashes, create new jobs, reduce emissions and promote equity. Inclusion of the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act was a result of strong support from Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), despite opposition from the ranking member of the committee, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). The Senate bill also provides an increase for the Transportation Alternatives Program.

READ FULL BILL ANALYSIS

With Congressional and administration support, we have a historic opportunity to revolutionize our transportation system, bringing new focus and priority to active transportation systems as essential infrastructure that connects people to their daily destinations. The Biden administration has prioritized addressing climate change, ensuring safety for all people in transportation systems, addressing equity and providing jobs—all goals that they recognize will be advanced by investment in trails, walking and bicycling.


Related: Biden Infrastructure Goals Would Be Achieved With More Strategic Investment in Walking and Biking | 04/13/21

However, there is still a long way to go before this investment is secure.

The INVEST in America Act is likely to come up on the floor of the House of Representatives within the next few weeks, and we are confident that its many provisions for trails, walking and biking, including the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act, will be included in the final House bill.

The path to success in the Senate is rockier. Before the full Senate can consider the transportation bill, three other committees—the Banking, Finance and Commerce committees—must pass separate titles of the surface transportation reauthorization bill, which could take several weeks or even months. It is uncertain whether and when consensus will be reached, especially given politically difficult questions like how to pay for this surface transportation investment.

As these bills progress, we will be working hard to ensure that the most robust versions of these investments in trails and active transportation remain in the final surface transportation reauthorization. And we will be counting on trail and active transportation supporters around the country to speak up about the importance of this infrastructure in their communities—exactly the support we need to secure a revolution for trails, walking and biking nationwide!

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