Transit to Trails

In Sierra Club’s work to promote access to the outdoors for all, we ask people: what’s stopping you from enjoying nature? What are the obstacles between you and the healing power of the outdoors?

One answer we often hear, particularly from young people living in urban areas, is that it’s an obstacle just to get out of the city. People need nature near where they live. Of course, there is huge value in city parks - one study showed that even just twenty minutes spent in a local park helps a child concentrate better in school. But not everyone is privileged enough to have a local park. People of color and low-income families in cities across the U.S. are significantly less likely to live near a park or green space.

Beyond city parks, we also believe that everyone deserves access to the awe-inspiring lands and wildlife that are typically a little farther out of town. U.S. public lands, especially given their history of colonization, should not be solely the domain of people who can afford fancy gear and a car to drive to the trailhead. But just like with access to local parks, someone’s likelihood of owning a car is tied up with identity. Black and Latinx families in the U.S. are much less likely to own a car than white families, limiting their options for visiting national parks and public lands.

Are you seeing a pattern here? We sure are. 

The Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign works to improve options for public transit powered by clean energy that everyone benefits from, as well as changing land use for more transit-friendly communities. Our Outdoors for All campaign works to ensure everyone has access to the healing power of the outdoors, because access to nature is a human right. Together, we’re working to ensure that everyone, not just a privileged few, can access the great outdoors via affordable, accessible transit.

That’s why we’re proud to support the bipartisan Transit to Trails Act, introduced in both the Senate and House this week (H.R. 4273 and S. 2467). The Transit to Trails Act would provide block grants for transportation for low-income communities to visit public lands. With this crucial investment, we can expand access to the outdoors for people across the nation and lessen the burden of polluting car trips on our delicate, sacred public lands. 

And we know that public transit to trails programs work. In Los Angeles, Sierra Club -- along with our partners in the Nature for All coalition -- have spent the last ten years listening, learning, and supporting communities to realize their vision for a protected San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Through outings and grassroots organizing, we’re also making sure that communities in the watershed have every opportunity to visit these protected lands. For example, we helped pilot a public bus line from Pasadena to provide access to the San Gabriels. The coalition continues to work on Transit to Trails pilot projects built with community input in some smaller cities in the region.

In Minneapolis, Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter has been leading transit to green space outings for over a decade. Adventures combining the trains, buses, bikes, skis, and/or snowshoes are not only fun, but also empower folks to get out into nature on their own, whether or not they own a car. Recently, the state’s largest transit provider rolled out an exciting new initiative called Nature Connectors that uses art-wrapped buses to encourage people to explore amazing nearby natural resources. 

And in Atlanta, New York City and Philadelphia, we’re just starting to use public transportation to reach local parks to ensure communities without cars have opportunities to enjoy nature. We’re also raising awareness with our members and supporters how they can reduce their carbon footprint by taking public transportation to the places they love to visit.

Transit to Trails is sponsored by Congressman Jimmy Gomez from California’s 34th district and Congressman Steve Stivers from Ohio’s 15th district. With your help, we can achieve an important victory in Congress and make sure everyone in our communities can access the outdoors. Sign here today to encourage your legislator to support the Transit to Trails Act.