#TrailsMatter: The Need to Invest in Trails and Bicycle and Pedestrian Networks

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College Park, Maryland, Mayor Patrick Wojahn explains why so many local governments are investing in trails – and walking and biking – as a means of transportation.

(Getty Images)
“While local officials have historically seen trail networks primarily as a means of recreation, people are increasingly using them as ways to get to work, school, or wherever they need to go.” (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Patrick Wojahn of College Park, Maryland.

For decades, the story of our nation’s infrastructure has been one of partnership. Local governments, often best able to assess the needs of their constituents in terms of getting around and accessing jobs, retail opportunities and education, set the priorities for transportation funding on the local level. State and federal governments, on the other hand, provide the resources necessary to make those connections and coordinate transportation networks between local governments.

In recent years, local governments have realized more and more the importance of a multimodal transportation network that takes most advantage of the many ways in which people can travel from one place to another. Decades after many local transit networks were dismantled in favor of cars and buses, public transit has seen a resurgence, as local governments work to rebuild streetcar networks and pursue more recent strategies such as bus rapid transit.

Local governments have made a significant investment in safe facilities for walking and bicycling, including trails and networks of protected active transportation infrastructure. Cities all over the United States are connecting safe networks for bicycling and walking through sidewalks, protected bike lanes, cycle tracks, and multi-use trails. While local officials have historically seen trail networks primarily as a means of recreation, people are increasingly using them as ways to get to work, school, or wherever they need to go. More and more, local governments are investing in trails and walking and biking as a means of transportation.

The reasons for this are many. Currently, one-quarter of the trips that all Americans take are under one mile in distance – easy walking distance – and one-half of those trips are less than three miles in distance – easy bicycling distance. Building safe infrastructure for bicycling and walking allows people to take those trips without getting in their cars, reducing congestion. It also makes us healthier – more than 200,000 deaths per year from stroke and heart disease could be prevented through the adoption of healthier lifestyles that include 30 minutes of daily physical activity, which also improves our mood and helps combat depression. And it is better for our environment – switching from driving to biking and walking for short trips could save 1.7 billion gallons of fuel annually and reduce carbon dioxide emissions up to 14 million tons per year.

The fact that Infrastructure Week falls during May – Bike Month – and also coincides with Bike to Work Day (Friday, May 20) is an opportunity to highlight the need for continued investment in infrastructure serving bicyclists as well as pedestrians. Local governments have recognized more and more the value of these assets as a transportation resource in their communities, and in many cases have increased the investment in biking and walking. Federal participation in this effort, however, has decreased in recent years. During Infrastructure Week, organizations like Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the National League of Cities call on Congress to increase federal investment in bicycle and pedestrian networks, and to enable local governments to build the bicycling and walking facilities that will best serve their residents.

About the Author: Patrick Wojahn is Mayor of College Park, Maryland, and also serves as chair of the National League of Cities Transportation and Infrastructure Service Policy Committee. Patrick works full-time as Director of Government Relations at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, advocating for funding for trails and bicycle and pedestrian networks on the federal, state and local levels.