Trail Politics: It’s All Local

The shift to more local control over funding.


by American Trails Staff

Somewhat dazed and battered by our democratic process, advocates for trails and bicycle-pedestrian programs are taking a deep breath. So what just happened with funding? It’s the usual good news and bad news. But one thing we should all take note of, is the shift to more local control over funding.

I’m sure everybody is tired of alerts to call your members of Congress. Now, we think it’s time to shift attention from Washington to the State capitol and the county courthouse. Our attention needs to be on our policy makers in State and local governments.

One issue with the new MAP-21 law is that half of each State’s potential funding for bike-ped facilities now goes directly to the Metropolitan Planning Organizations and communities. Who is setting the priorities for these local project grants? Who are our local allies for greenways and walkable communities?

Local politics were the key to Little Rock’s Junction Bridge project

Local politics were the key to Little Rock’s Junction Bridge project

We hope that this focus on the agencies and organizations actually planning and building trails and bikeways will yield results in the long run. Rob Puentes, a transportation analyst with the Brookings Institution, called MAP-21 “the last gasp of the traditional highway bills.” The next battle over transportation funding is less than two years away. “I think now you’ll see states and metro areas take the lead,” Puentes said. “That’s kind of the broad theme here– Washington is not really leading on anything.”

If this is the trend, our best efforts would be to spend more time with local leaders. At American Trails, we’re going to be looking for examples of effective action among our communities, trail organizations, and coalitions. We hope you’ll let us know about your local trail politics, and how you are working for funding and long-term success.

— Stuart Macdonald, editor, American Trails Magazine and website