by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders

Multi-use trail networks throughout the US will get a huge boost from the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Act signed into law in November 2021. The act dedicates almost $8.9 billion to Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) which awards grants for multi-use trails as well as other forms of eco-mobility (East Coast Greenway 2021).

The FY 2021 RAISE grant cycle alone includes $1 billion for 90 planning and capital grant awards of which over 80% partly or completely address pedestrian access, active transportation, transit, and/or complete streets. Of this total, over $125 million will partly fund eight off-road multi-use trails. These trails offer affordable, planet-friendly mobility and healthy, carbon-free recreation. Significantly, trails also grow economic activity, jobs, income, property value, and tax revenues as illustrated in my book Prosperity Comes in Cycles: Bikeways and the Virtuous Cycle.

To use one of the 51 places profiled in the book as an example, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) awarded$16.5 million toward a total cost of $38.9 million for a project named “From Tracks to Trails: Reconnecting Atlanta Communities”. By adding two miles to Atlanta’s Beltline, this project will connect disadvantaged communities and offer accessible, safe, active transportation options to neighborhoods with low car-ownership levels. The project also aims to improve the local economy by attracting development and businesses to the Beltline while addressing the potential for displacement and gentrification.

Considering the success of the Beltline to date, the 2021 RAISE grant will deliver on its promise of generating even more economic development for central Atlanta. As reported in Prosperity Comes in Cycles, the Beltline aims to ultimately transform the underused areas around the abandoned rail lines that encircle downtown Atlanta into a 22-mile corridor of multiuse trails and a streetcar loop. The first segment was completed in 2008 and by 2016, the project had created seven parks, hundreds of affordable housing units, and $3 billion of private commercial and residential development. On completion, the Beltline is projected to add 5,600 affordable housing units, generate up to $20 billion in economic development, and create 30,000 permanent jobs (Pruetz 2021).

In addition to the Atlanta Beltline, a $15-million RAISE grant will partly fund a two-mile segment of the 20-mile Brickline Greenway, separating cars from bicyclists and pedestrians in order to give people in predominantly disadvantaged neighborhoods options for safe, healthy mobility that do not depend on cars or emit greenhouse gases. The project also aims to spur the local economy by attracting development to the many vacant lots near this corridor. The project is part of the Great Rivers Greenway, an initiative aiming to link 600 miles of trails within the St. Louis Region with help from a one-tenth of one cent sales tax approved by the voters of the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. This network links with the 240-mile cross-Missouri Katy Trail, estimated to annually attract 400,000 trail users, generate $18.5 million in total economic impact, and support 367 jobs with a payroll of $5 million (Pruetz 2021).   

In North Carolina, a $9-million RAISE grant will fund more than half of a $16.3-million trail spur linking downtown Durham with its northeastern neighborhoods and the American Tobacco Trail, or ATT. As detailed in Prosperity Comes in Cycles, the 22-mile ATT uses the rail corridor that once supplied the American Tobacco Company, which at one time controlled most of the world’s tobacco trade. Today, the ATT alone annually attracts 480,000 trail users, generating $5.6 million in sales revenue, 78 jobs, $2.2 million in labor income, and over $200,000 in state and local taxes. The ATT is also part of the 70-mile, regional segment of East Coast Greenway, the mega-trail planned to ultimately link 450 communities in 15 states along a 3,000-mile trail stretching from is estimated to support over 800 jobs and annually generate $87 million in economic benefits plus $164 million in additional property value created by health, recreation, and active transportation benefits (Pruetz 2021).    

The benefits already experienced in Atlanta, St. Louis, and Durham, demonstrate how the grants funded by the Infrastructure Act will be good for business, jobs, property values, and tax revenues as well as healthful recreation and affordable, car-free mobility. The success of existing trails motivates additional investments in bicycle infrastructure which generates even more benefits in a loop of positive reinforcement. Future funding from USDOT’s RAISE grant program will accelerate this virtuous cycle.

Resources

East Coast Greenway. 2021. Let’s RAISE the Greenway. Accessed 11-30-21 at https://www.greenway.org/raise.

Pruetz, R. 2021. Prosperity Comes in Cycles: Bikeways and the Virtuous Cycle. Arje Press.

About the author

Rick Pruetz

Rick Pruetz, FAICP, is Vice President of the Ecocity Builders Board and an urban planner who writes about sustainability, most recently Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places and Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights.