National Collaborative Effort Launched for Trail Development

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy or RTC recently launched a new national effort aimed at creating a “new community” where public leaders, advocates, and transportation professionals can come together to advance the development of trails and other active-transportation networks across the country.

[Above photo by RTC]

Dubbed the TrailNation Collaborative, this new “community effort” seeks to fill what RTC describes as an “unmet need” for peer learning and collective action in order to leverage funding from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, enacted in November 2021, to create a connected system of trails, sidewalks, and protected bike lanes in every community in America.

“This momentum is a result of decades of advocacy, the determination of the trail-building community, and the ingenuity it takes to envision a future where trail networks are embraced as fundamental to the quality of the places where we live, work, and play,” said Liz Thorstensen, RTC’s vice president of trail development and primary developer of the TrailNation program, in a statement.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity moment for trail networks,” pointed out Ryan Chao, president of RTC. “Together, the TrailNation Collaborative and its hundreds of change agents will lead a paradigm shift to incorporate trail networks as equitable and essential infrastructure in America.”

The group also noted that national trail use increased 9.5 percent nationwide in 2022, nearly on par with 2020 levels, which was the most significant year for trail use on record, according to its most recent analysis.

Concurrently, the IIJA more than doubles funding for trails – emphasizing the important role trails play in encouraging more walking and biking as climate and equity tools.

Additionally, RTC said the IIJA established a new program that provides dedicated funding for the planning and construction of safe and connected trail and active-transportation networks, and long-distance spine trails, the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program or ATIIP.

Since then, according to RTC, trail, and active transportation networks have proven competitive in the majority of federal transportation programs for which they’re eligible – including in the multimodal RAISE program, where the majority of projects have accounted for the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians, and most recently, the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, included project earmarks for trails, walking and biking in 29 states.

Concurrently, state departments of transportation across the country are working to incorporate trails into current and future infrastructure projects under their purview.

For example, in September 2022, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet began construction on the first phase of a $4.1 million Dawkins Line Rail Trail project in Eastern Kentucky.

Meanwhile, in July 2022, the Connecticut Department of Transportation began work on the Putnam Bridge Trail Connections which, when completed in the fall of 2023, will provide non-motorized access across the Connecticut River by linking the shared used path on the Putnam Bridge to Great Meadow Road in Wethersfield and Naubuc Avenue in Glastonbury.

Out west, a team of Utah State University researchers issued a report in July 2022 detailing how to use the state’s network of historic canal trails as an active transportation solution. That study is poised to help the Utah Department of Transportation and community leaders make decisions about building canal paths and trails.

Additionally, in September 2022, the Tennessee State Parks received the Project Excellence Award from the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals for its “Tires to Trails” conducted in collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Transportation; a project that uses recycled tires in the construction of recreation paths.

Illinois DOT to Help Improve Chicago Street Safety

The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation recently signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will help “streamline and accelerate” the deployment of safety measures on local roads and state routes within Chicago to better protect bicyclists and pedestrians.

[Above photo by the City of Chicago]

“[This] MOU builds on our partnership and outlines concrete steps that we are taking to address safety, while further enhancing our ongoing collaboration and joint commitment to making roads safer for all users,” said Illinois DOT Secretary Omer Osman in a statement.

“Together, we will continue to work towards our joint goal of zero fatalities and to make Chicago and Illinois roads as safe and accessible as possible,” he said.

“This MOU is an important step forward in creating safer streets for our most vulnerable road users, such as children, people with disabilities, older adults, and people walking, biking, and rolling,” added Chicago DOT Commissioner Gia Biagi.

[Editor’s note: In December 2021 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released the second edition of its “Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities,” which provides guidance on the planning, design, and operation of pedestrian facilities along streets and highways.]

The MOU applies to the approximately 400 miles of road that are under state jurisdiction in Chicago, excluding expressways; roads that include some of the most heavily traveled streets in the City. Illinois DOT noted that MOU goes into effect immediately and establishes:  

  • A standardized list of traffic safety infrastructure designs routinely submitted by CDOT that will not be subject to comprehensive IDOT review prior to installation. This will allow the city to design and self-certify curb cuts and other sidewalk improvements to make streets more walkable and accommodating for non-vehicular traffic, establishes 10 foot-wide vehicular lanes as the minimum lane width. 
  • Clarifies “Design Vehicle” standards to emphasize pedestrian safety at intersections. A design vehicle is the largest vehicle that is likely to use the facility with considerable frequency and its selection can significantly impact a road’s design and geometry. By agreeing to a more appropriate design vehicle for urban streets, certain state routes will be able to add safety features, such as curb extensions and bump crossing distances for pedestrians.
  • Creates an Illinois DOT-Chicago DOT working group to help formulate future agreements and improve upon existing interagency collaboration.

That effort also comes as the U.S. continues to experience year-over-year increases in pedestrian fatalities. For example, a report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association in April 2022 projected that U.S. motorists struck and killed 3,441 pedestrians in the first six months of 2021, an increase of 17 percent or an additional 507 fatalities compared to the first six months of 2020.

This “troubling projection,” GHSA said, continued what the group called a “decade-long trend” of rising pedestrian deaths on U.S. roadways and comes as speeding, impaired and distracted driving, and other dangerous driver behaviors remain at unacceptably high levels.

Illinois DOT’s efforts to improve street safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in Chicago also mirror similar efforts being undertaken by state departments of transportation across the country.

For example, in September 2022, a team of researchers from the University of Florida Transportation Institute or UFTI began working with the Florida Department of Transportation and others to study a suite of emerging technologies that provide more “timely warnings” regarding potential collisions between motorists and pedestrians – with the goal of reducing injuries and fatalities.

Concurrently, in October 2022, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet issued a new version of its “Complete Streets” roads and highways manual; a revision that represents the first update in more than 20 years to the state’s pedestrian and bicycle travel policy.

“Today, our transportation planners and designers approach their tasks holistically, taking the needs of all users into account and building accordingly,” noted Jim Gray, KYTC’s secretary, at the time. “There’s no one-size fits all recommendation as roadway features must be tailored to fit the community context.”

Also in October 2022, University of Connecticut Professor John Ivan received a $200,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Transportation to investigate the safety of a proposal to improve the “uniformity” of pedestrian crossing signals statewide.

New York Governor Signs ‘Complete Streets’ Package

Governor Kathy Hochul (D) (above) recently signed a legislative package so the New York Department of Transportation can boost support for municipal “Complete Streets” projects.

[Above photo by the New York Governor’s Office]

A “Complete Street” is a roadway planned and designed to consider the safe, convenient access and mobility of roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders, and motorists; it includes children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.

New York’s legislation increases the state share of funding for municipalities incorporating Complete Street features. Under the new legislation, the state’s contribution to the non-federally funded portion of complete street projects will increase to 87.5 percent, which will help municipalities to implement these street designs.

“Whether you’re on the sidewalk, in the bike lane or riding the bus, you deserve a high-quality trip that gets you safely to your destination,” Gov. Hochul said in a statement.“Transportation is all about connections: bringing people closer to their jobs, their homes, and the people they love. I’m proud to sign two new laws that will make our streets safer and our communities more connected.”

There is a growing push at both the federal and state level to integrate complete street policies in surface transportation strategies across the country.

In March 2022, the Federal Highway Administration sent a report to Congress detailing the agency’s commitment to “advance widespread implementation of the Complete Streets design model” to help improve safety and accessibility for all users.

That report – entitled “Moving to a Complete Streets Design Model: A Report to Congress on Opportunities and Challenges” – identifies what FHWA calls “five overarching opportunity areas” that will guide the agency as it moves ahead with efforts to increase “Complete Streets.”

Many state departments of transportation have already adopted “Complete Streets” programs on their own, as noted in this report compiled by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

For example, in December 2021, the California Department of Transportation unveiled a new “Complete Streets” policy for all new transportation projects it funds or oversees in order to provide “safe and accessible options” for people walking, biking, and taking transit.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation put in place what it called a wide-ranging “Complete Streets” policy for the state-owned highway system in February 2021.

Meanwhile, on January 3, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation awarded $6.65 million to 15 local communities as part of round two of the fiscal year 2023 Complete Streets grants. This is the 14th overall grant round from MassDOT’s Complete Streets program; funds from which municipalities use to support local multimodal infrastructure projects that improve travel for bicyclists, pedestrians, public transit users, and people using other forms of transportation. “MassDOT is pleased to continue to work with municipal leaders to encourage the installation of infrastructure to help make for ‘Complete Streets’ everywhere,” noted MassDOT Secretary and CEO Jamey Tesler in a statement. “We want everyone in every city and town in the Commonwealth to have sidewalks, crosswalks, and other features which make it easy and safe to get to where they want to go.”

New Oregon DOT Program Providing Mobility Grants

The Oregon Department of Transportation recently noted that its new Innovative Mobility Program or IMP will be sending more than $87,000 in micro-grants over the next several weeks to local groups to fund the purchase of bicycle helmets and locks, transit passes for elderly and disabled riders and other mobility endeavors.

[Above photo by the Oregon DOT]

“The Innovative Mobility Program will support both existing and new projects that help expand underserved communities’ access to safe and affordable transportation,” said Karyn Criswell, administrator of Oregon DOT’s Public Transportation Division, in a statement.

She noted that the IMP has two “over-arching” goals: Reduce climate impacts by improving access to public and active transportation and investing in historically underserved groups by helping them get where they need to go. In particular, the IMP’s micro-grants seek to improve safety and access for those who walk and roll, while also making it easier to use other transportation modes besides driving alone.

“We heard many people have immediate needs but struggle to hear about or apply for funding on time,” Criswell added. “So $5,000 micro-grants will be issued on a rolling basis with no deadlines to ensure that there’s always an opportunity to access funds.”

Oregon DOT noted that the IMP would also include contracted services, a large competitive grants program, and technical assistance for prospective applicants and grant awardees. Funding for the program, totaling $20 million, comes from a combination of state and federal dollars.

The agency said the IMP’s large grants and contracts portal is expected to open in 2023. In the meantime, IMP micro-grants are available on a rolling basis and the application is available on the website.

Small organizations often serve communities with the greatest need but struggle to produce grant applications that can compete against larger organizations that serve the general population,” said Criswell. “So we’re designing a grant application process that prioritizes need and will include support for these organizations so they can be competitive in an open, public process.”

The agency added that state, regional, and local governments, public transportation providers, public schools and school districts, Native American tribes, certain nonprofits, and businesses providing community services are all eligible to apply for the IMP.

The program can fund many transportation-related activities including pedal and electric bike lending libraries and bike shares; transportation “wallets,” which offer passes and credits for use on transit, bike-share, e-scooters, ride-share, and car-share in one package; carpools and vanpools; equipment such as bike locks and helmets; training and much more.

TxDOT Issues $250M in Transportation Alternatives Funding

In an effort to curb rising pedestrian and bicyclist fatality numbers, as well as foster less carbon-intensive forms of mobility, the Texas Department of Transportation is making roughly $250 million available via its 2023 Transportation Alternatives Call for Projects.

[Above photo by TxDOT]

That program channels federal funds towards sidewalks, bike lanes, shared-use paths, and other projects designed to enhance walking and biking transportation options statewide. TxDOT added that it plans to hold a series of virtual workshops to help municipalities and organizations apply for this funding.

“Making it safer and easier to walk and bike is an important part of our mission of ‘Connecting You with Texas,’” explained TxDOT Transportation Commissioner Robert ‘Robie’ Vaughn in a statement.

“I’m thrilled to see this increase in funding that’ll help communities build impactful improvements for its citizens,” he added. “As a jogger and cyclist myself, I know the value these enhancements can bring to help Texans get to work, run errands, and enjoy the beautiful Texas outdoors.”

The number of pedestrians and cyclists killed on Texas roads has been rising over the past several years with pedestrian fatalities increasing by 15 percent and cyclist fatalities by 14 percent in 2021. TxDOT hopes this program’s funding will help communities plan and build walking and biking infrastructure that could help reduce those incidents.

This funding commitment follows a similar effort by TxDOT focused on the transit sector. In July, the Texas Transportation Commission awarded more than $68 million in federal and state funds to transit providers across the state. Combined with an award received in June, TxDOT is distributing more than $146 million in funding – a 65 percent increase compared to funds approved in the summer of 2021.

Kentucky Updates Pedestrian/Bicycle Travel Policy

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet recently issued a new version of its “Complete Streets” roads and highways manual; a revision that represents the first update in more than 20 years to Kentucky’s pedestrian and bicycle travel policy.

[Above image via the KYTC]

“Highway safety has been one of my top priorities,” noted Governor Andy Beshear (D) in a statement.

“And that means safety for everyone who uses our transportation system – motorists, motorcyclists, transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians,” he added. “This provides valuable guidance to equip transportation industry partners across all levels to consider multi-modal systems when planning to support equity and accessibility in communities.”

KYTC pointed out that a “complete street” is one “safe and accommodating” for all users – be they motorists, bicyclists, or pedestrians. Its design can vary according to land use, corridor characteristics, and types of travelers using it. As a concept, “complete streets” can also be adapted for all types of communities – urban, suburban, small town, and rural areas.

Implementation may include a dedicated space for pedestrians and cyclists, such as bike lanes, wide paved shoulders, sidewalks, crosswalks, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, roadway reconfigurations, and roundabouts, the agency noted.

“Historically, streets, roads, and highways were designed around cars and trucks,” explained KYTC Secretary Jim Gray. “Today, our transportation planners and designers approach their tasks holistically, taking the needs of all users into account and building accordingly. There’s no one-size fits all recommendation as roadway features must be tailored to fit the community context.”

To elevate the state’s safety and equity priority, Gray also signed an official order outlining KYTC’s policy to meet the needs of all users and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act when planning, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining all state-maintained streets and roads. The users include motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, transit, and freight, benefitting people of all ages and abilities, the agency said.

Tennessee’s ‘Tire to Trails’ Program Wins Award

The Tennessee State Parks received the Project Excellence Award from the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals for its “Tires to Trails” conducted in collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which uses recycled tires in the construction of recreation paths.

[Above photo by the Tennessee DOT]

The Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals presents this award annually to exemplary outdoor recreation projects and collaborating agencies and organizations that were key to the success. Selection criteria include unique or special circumstances; problem-solving function; level of innovation and creativity; impact or effect of a project; and collaborative team effort.

“This is a wonderful recognition of an outstanding program,” said David Salyers, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, in a statement.

“We have seen great success with ‘Tires to Trails’ and the award is a tribute to all who have worked to make it successful,” he said.

Tennessee State Parks officials, along with those from the Tennessee DOT, cut the ribbon in June on a new hard-surface 2.5-mile-long pathway made from rubber crumbs derived from old tires at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis.

Volunteers and local contractors collected some 24,000 illegally dumped tires in the area around the park, transformed into “crumbs” by Patriot Tire Recycling in Bristol. That “crumb” material then went into the construction of the park trail.

This is but one of several environmentally focused projects involving the Tennessee DOT. The agency recently expanded its “traditional role” in the Mississippi River Delta Region from building and maintaining roads to include fighting litter, supporting tourism, and promoting economic development. In addition, in conjunction with the Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and other partners, the agency established a network of 17 “Seabin” automated litter and debris removal devices across the Tennessee River watershed in March.

Oregon DOT Seeks Applications for Mobility Micro Grants

The Oregon Department of Transportation is seeking applications for its new Innovative Mobility Micro-Grants. The $5,000 grants are the first project to come forward from the $20 million Innovative Mobility Program, a new initiative created by the agency in March at the direction of the Oregon Transportation Commission.

[Above photo by the Oregon DOT]

The Oregon DOT said its Innovative Mobility Program aims to make it easier for state residents to walk, bike, share rides, and take transit. The program has a special focus on equity and helping historically excluded groups get to where they need to go more quickly, cheaply, and safely.

“There’s a major transportation evolution happening across the country, and we have a chance to make sure that communities of color and other marginalized individuals who have been excluded in the past have place, purpose, and priority in Oregon’s future transportation investments,” said Alando Simpson, vice chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission, in a statement.

Cycling Group Holding Bike Route Webinar for State DOTs

The Adventure Cycling Association is hosting a webinar in November entitled “Successful U.S. Bicycle Route System Designation for Transportation Professionals” for state department of transportation executives and managers.

[Above photo by NYSDOT]

In this one-hour webinar, the group plans to dive into efforts to expand the U.S. Bicycle Route System or USBRS into a national network for long-distance bicycle travel. State DOTs create specific bicycle routes, with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials providing oversight and Adventure Cycling providing technical support for that process.

[Editor’s note: In February 2021, AASHTO and Adventure Cycling signed a memorandum of understanding or MOU to formalize their 16-year partnership, which seeks to create a 50,000-mile national bicycle network.]

Webinar presenters include:

  • Jenn Hamelman, Adventure Cycling’s USBRS program manager.
  • Matt Hardy, AASHTO program director for planning and performance management.
  • Kyla Elzinga, AASHTO associate program director for planning and performance management.
  • Meg Fennell, transportation analyst with the New York State Department of Transportation state bicycle and pedestrian unit.
  • Karen Lorf, NYSDOT state bicycle, and pedestrian coordinator.
  • Jerry Scott, multimodal data system coordinator for the Transportation Data & Analytics Office at the Florida Department of Transportation. 
  • Tiffany Gehrke, Florida DOT Roadway Design Office’s Complete Streets coordinator.

To register for this webinar, click here

Adventure Cycling said it would not record the November webinar, which is limited to 40 participants. By contrast, in December, Adventure Cycling plans to hold a second webinar on the USBRS for a wider audience – mainly for any person or group considered a stakeholder in the USBRS designation process – with unlimited audience size.

Connecticut DOT Breaks Ground on Active Transportation Trail

The Connecticut Department of Transportation, along with other state and local officials, recently hosted a groundbreaking ceremony (seen above) for the Putnam Bridge Trail Connections between Wethersfield and Glastonbury across the Connecticut River. 

[Above photo by the Connecticut DOT]

When completed in the fall of 2023, the Putnam Bridge Trail Connections project will provide non-motorized access across the Connecticut River by linking the shared used path on the Putnam Bridge to Great Meadow Road in Wethersfield and Naubuc Avenue in Glastonbury.

The project will also install sidewalks will also be installed on both sides of Naubuc Avenue, with additional connections planned for the Goodwin College trails in East Hartford.  

“Finishing the current gaps to the bridge allows the public to choose an active mode of transportation and safely cross the river. When completed, residents and visitors can enjoy the businesses and recreational activities on both sides of the river,” said Connecticut DOT Commissioner Joe Giulietti in a statement.

“The Putnam Bridge brings vehicles over the Connecticut River between Wethersfield and Glastonbury, and by the end of next year, it will also be accessible to pedestrians and cyclists,” he added. “This is a great project that connects communities and helps keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe.”

[Editor’s note: Connecticut DOT’s Giulietti recently received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Public Transportation Association for his 50-plus years of service in the transportation industry. He is one of nine APTA award recipients in 2022 across various categories.]

The agency noted that construction costs for the Putnam Bridge Trail Connections project are approximately $8.2 million and are 100 percent state funded.

State departments of transportation across the country are involved in similar active transportation trail projects.

For example, the Nevada Department of Transportation recently hosted an opening ceremony for a new multi-use trail at Kershaw-Ryan State Park in Caliente, NV.

That $1.36 million project along SR-317 – which took under four months to complete – received funds from the city of Caliente with matching federal dollars from the Transportation Alternatives Fund administered by the Nevada DOT, which also designed the trail project. Work included a chip seal, restripe, and new signage on Clover St. from SR-317 to Depot Ave. 

“Nevada DOT really went the extra mile, both literally and figuratively,” said Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Lincoln County Regional Development Authority, said in a statement. “They worked really hard to make sure that this project was something the community of Lincoln County and the city could afford. They capped the cost of the project for the county and the city.”

Meanwhile, a team of Utah State University researchers recently explored how to use the state’s network of historic canal trails as an active transportation solution. That study is poised to help the Utah Department of Transportation and community leaders make decisions about building canal paths and trails.

The Utah DOT funded the university’s research project – entitled “Active Transportation Facilities in Canal Corridors” – that the American Society of Civil Engineers subsequently published in June.

By reviewing case studies of existing canal trails – such as the Murdock Canal Trail in Utah County and the Highline Trail in Cache County – and interviewing stakeholders like canal operators and local planners, the USU team found there are many potential benefits for communities who want to build canal paths and trails.