Converts unused rail corridors to multi-use trails
Rails to Trails Conservancy’s (RTC) objective is to enhance the health of the environment, economy, neighborhoods and people by creating a network of trails across the US through the redevelopment of former rail lines and other corridors.
- Mission | Theory Of Change
Like OPF, RTC is a membership organization. It is made up of 150,000 member/supporters who contribute funds, volunteer hours to build and sustain trails, and contribute to documenting unlisted trails with directions, photos, etc. RTC staff members provide technical assistance to community leaders and public agencies who are typically responsible for trail development and maintenance.
RTC has its headquarters in Washington, DC, but has field offices in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. It operates across the U.S. and therefore could affect OPF members across the country.
- History | Track Record
RTC’s most effective role is in serving as a hub for education, technical assistance, and financing resources for trail building at the local level; and as an advocate for alternative transportation funding and policy at the federal level. While RTC is still working to develop metrics to measure impact, it has shown itself to be effective in its mission and programs. Some of its current measurements and successes include:
- Trail building: RTC has helped to develop 20,000 miles of trails to date across all 50 states (though RTC admits that total miles is not necessarily the best measurement, since even a two mile trail can be meaningful—see NYC’s Highline).
- Trail use: installing infrared devices to count cyclists and conducting intercept surveys to determine behavior, usage, and preferences of trail users to inform trail planning.
- Technical assistance: Analyzing feedback forms following webinars and forum, with partners and local leaders, to improve knowledge sharing and education.
- Online statistics: Tracking the number of visitors using the trail link online tool and analyzing how visitors are using the website.
- Advocacy: Pushed Congress to include funding for walking and biking projects in the federal transportation bill, which is partially how local communities fund trail projects. RTC helped to gather over 66,000 signatures through an online petition.
- Grant Usage
RTC has a huge footprint, having contributed to the development of more than 20,000 miles across the U.S., but a relatively small staff of 35, such that a $5,000-$10,000 could have a substantial impact.
- Encouraging trail use/alternative transportation: For $5,000, RTC could run a session of its Earn-a-Bike program, where kids in underserved communities learn about bike safety, etiquette, and maintenance, and volunteer to work on trail. At the end of the course, kids get a bike, lock and helmet. Programs have recently been held in DC, Camden, Houston, and Baltimore.
- Technical assistance: $5,000 could allow a RTC trail development staff member to visit 10 communities and assist city/county staff or other local partners in planning for trail development.
- Infrastructure: $5,000 could provide a local partner with funds to install benches, interpretative signage, accessibility improvements, maps, and/or other infrastructure improvements.
- Technology: Expand online advocacy/e-platform to inform more community members and decision-makers/leaders about pending federal policies and bills, and available grants and other funds
- Financial, Staffing, & Project Summary
The organization is in good financial health. The organization is well established, having been in operation since 1986
Like many organizations, RTC has been affected by the economic downturn and a decline in donations, but the organization has a variety of funding sources, including membership fee, Climate Bike Ride fundraising, and other grants (e.g. Kresge, AmexEx Members Project)
- Working Group Analysis
Yes, I would recommend RTC for a grant. RTC seems like an organization that in the process of moving from adolescence to adulthood and can put these funds to good use. They are being more proactive in their work and decision-making. Staff have hunkered down during the economic downturn and taken the opportunity to reconsider their programs. In the future, they are looking to work beyond supporting independent unconnected trail projects. Instead, they will focus on how to create connected systems of trails. To that end, they are working on a cost-benefit analytical tool that can help determine the most critical gaps in infrastructure—where they can add piece of connectivity to their trail system that will have the biggest impact.
- Nominator Endorsement
I nominated the Rails to Trails Conservancy because they are addressing some of the biggest environmental issues – air pollution and climate change – in a unique and refreshing way. Instead of trying to reduce CO2 emissions from automobiles by pushing for higher fuel efficiency standards or designing car that don’t run on petroleum, the goal of RTC is to get people out of their cars entirely. In addition to building trails, RTC also does a lot of advocacy work in promoting bike and pedestrian legislation, or “active transportation” so that it is easier and safer for more Americans to walk or bike instead of driving. The organization is really active in the active transportation community and has many partner organizations, as well as offices across the country. In my experience, they do a great job at leveraging their networks to achieve policy results, such as mobilizing a partner organization in Kansas when a Congressman from Kansas is a key vote on an active transportation bills.