Sustained Demand for Trails and Active Transportation Infrastructure Evident in Federal Appropriations Bill

In an analysis of the federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed by Congress at the end of December, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) found that Community Project Funding, otherwise known as earmarks, for trail, walking and biking projects was championed by 90 representatives and senators in 29 states—accounting for 4% of all U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Fund and U.S. Department of Transportation Highway Infrastructure Programs investments.

An amount of $26.7 million in earmarks will support projects that are part of RTC’s TrailNation™ initiative— a nationwide program that brings together model projects, leaders, champions and resources to accelerate the pace of equitable trail-network development.

“It’s encouraging to see Congress recognize how important it is to create connected trail and active-transportation systems in the communities they serve, and we’re grateful for their leadership,” said Liz Thorstensen, RTC’s vice president of trail development and the architect of the TrailNation program. “We work with hundreds of partners across the country who have plans to leverage trails, walking and biking to unlock equitable access to transportation, recreation and economic opportunity. They envision a future for their communities where trail networks are embraced as fundamental infrastructure—critical to creating economically robust places where people want to live, work and play. This funding gives momentum to that work.”

While it is valuable for individual representatives and senators to rally around the trail and active transportation infrastructure that serves their constituents, RTC says that’s not enough to create the paradigm shift we need to accelerate the pace of infrastructure development to meet demand. RTC analyses found that trail use increased 9.5% nationwide in 2022, nearly on par with 2020 levels—the most significant year for trail use on record. In addition, the majority (62%) of trail users report using trails once a week or less, but 24% say they’re using trails more than they did in the past year, which is particularly true for Black (35%) and Latino (27%) trail users. While this is good news, the organization says the infrastructure investment needs to align with the demand.

“The urgency that all communities—rural, suburban and urban—are feeling to provide safe and connected active-transportation infrastructure is palpable,” said Kevin Mills, RTC’s vice president of policy. “We’re seeing it in federal competitive grant programs where many applicants seek support for trail and active transportation networks and successful grants routinely focus on walking and biking safety. We’re seeing it in ad hoc funding like earmarks, where Congress can prioritize specifically what’s important to their community and trails are performing like gangbusters. And we’re seeing it on the ground, where people want to use trails as part of their everyday lives, and community plans collectively show billions of dollars in unmet funding needs to connect pedestrians and bicyclists to the places that they need to go—far more than can be sustained with the current funding programs in place.” 

The TrailNation projects that secured Congressional Project Funding in the FY 2023 federal omnibus bill include the following:

Circuit Trails, connecting 800 miles of multiuse trails across nine counties in the greater Philadelphia and South Jersey region: $12,270,000


Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, creating a system of 1,500+ miles of multiuse trails connecting 51 counties in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York: $1,750,000


Great American Rail-Trail®, a developing cross-country trail connecting 3,700 miles between Washington, D.C., and Washington State: $1,500,000


Capital Trails Coalition, creating a world-class network of equitably distributed multiuse trails throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region: $6,500,000


Baltimore Greenway Trails Network, a developing 35-mile urban trail network connecting the city’s diverse neighborhoods, cultural amenities and outdoor resources: $2,500,000


New England Rail-Trail Network, moving forward plans to connect 1,000 miles of open trails in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont: $2,179,953


In addition to the dozens of trail and active transportation projects included in the FY 2023 federal appropriations bill, $45 million was included to kick-start the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program (ATIIP). ATIIP is 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. While short of the $200 million ATIIP authorization in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the $500 million that RTC and Congressional champions called for in proposing the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act, this funding is critical to launch the program and demonstrate that connectivity investments are in high demand across the country. RTC and its partners are continuing to advocate for full program funding in the FY 2024 federal budget. Learn more about the demand for trails, walking and biking infrastructure and available federal funding at

RTC’s 2022 national trail count represents data collected from 26 Eco-Counters located on geographically diverse multiuse trails across the country. More information about trail counts is available at RTC’s benchmark study was conducted online by the firm Stratalys Research, Sept. 14–23, 2022, with a sample size of 1,200 adults over age 18, including an oversample of 200 Black and 200 Latino respondents.

About Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is the nation’s largest trails organization—with a grassroots community more than 1 million strong—dedicated to building a nation connected by trails, reimagining public spaces to create safe ways for everyone to walk, bike and be active outdoors. Connect with RTC at and @railstotrails on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.