When we invest in the network, trails will help solve our biggest problems

As our nation grapples with major challenges, policymakers should remember that trails provide cross-cutting solutions. A trail network across central Puget Sound will provide mobility solutions, green transportation options, safe places to walk or roll, and access to the outdoors. With big gaps in access to transportation and green space throughout the region, connecting the network is part of addressing racial injustice, health disparities, climate change, and widening inequality right here at home.

With Leafline’s shared vision to connect central Puget Sound by trail, our growing coalition is taking steps right now to make sure trails are part of economic and social recovery from COVID-19:

Trails and federal legislation

Trails already contribute $8.2 billion per year to Washington’s economy, support 81,000 jobs, provide $5.9 billion in environmental benefits per year, and are a key strategy to close the health gap in our state. With significant federal investments coming as we recover from the pandemic (and as lawmakers seek a transformative transportation bill), leaders around the region should look to trails for multi-pronged solutions. Coalition members are communicating with Washington’s federal delegation to discuss the benefits of trails and projects that are ready for investment today.

In addition to pathways to direct funding, such as “Community Project Funding” (formerly known as earmarks), we are tracking areas of legislative interest including:

  • Connecting America’s Active Transportation System (H.R. 5696 pending reintroduction/S.684) is a new policy that would provide $500 million annually over five years to build active-transportation networks and spines through a competitive federal grant program. Learn more from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
  • Transportation Alternatives (H.R.463/S.614) provides 50% of all federal funds for biking and walking, and organizations like the League of American Bicyclists are calling to protect and improve this program as part of transportation reauthorization.
  • Recreational Trails Program Full Funding Act (H.R. 1864/Senate bill pending) is the only federal funding source that directly supports trail maintenance; this legislation will reflect recreational fuel taxes and ultimately triple funding for the program.
  • Policy and regulatory goals to make transportation planning practices equitable’ prioritize and incentivize active transportation to cut carbon emissions’ and develop consistent regulation for e-bikes across federal agencies.
Developing our shared map vision for the region

In recent months, the Leadership Group and Map Vision Working Group advanced a draft criteria for inclusion in the Leafline network; with varying facility types around the region, this document is key to establish a shared understanding of what we mean by “regional trails”. Per the draft criteria, trails in the Leafline network will be wide, shared use paths, that are often paved. Look and feel may vary based on land use context, and exceptions to one or more criteria may be made when trails are considered to be essential spines of their respective jurisdiction’s multi-use trails network.

The Puget Sound Regional Council–which shares the same geography as the Leafline Trails Coalition–released an updated inventory of existing shared use paths that will be an essential part of building out our long-term vision. At a recent Coalition meeting, aspirational maps from other areas were shared to provide a sense of what we will be working towards over the coming months. To get involved, please contact claire@leaflinetrails.org.

Building power as a coalition

We aim to convene and inspire a broad movement for trails across King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. To that end, the Coalition Building Working Group is focused on resources, practices, and processes that will ensure this effort continues to gain momentum. Near-term priorities include reaching out to community-based organizations, in particular BIPOC-led groups; creating opportunities for business partnerships; and developing better ways to engage elected leaders. With questions or to join this working group, please contact claire@leaflinetrails.org.

Sharing information about state funding needs

Coalition members are meeting with state legislators to encourage investments and policies that create accessible, inclusive, and safe trails for people of every age and ability, including:

  • protecting and expanding funding for trails through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program
  • protecting and growing funding for active transportation in the multimodal account
  • creating an Outdoor Recreation Equity Grant program
  • updating the state trails database

For more information, learn how you can get involved with the Coalition and check out our current members.

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