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Ryan Chao, president of the D.C.-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, sees the spaces for walking and biking as the nation’s new town squares

With tens of thousands of road and other projects underway nationwide, Ryan Chao sees a rare chance to leave a lasting mark by repurposing old, unused infrastructure to create safe, new spaces to walk and bike.

The president of the D.C.-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy said the 2021 infrastructure law is speeding up efforts to create protected pathways, lifting lives and communities in the process, and building what he sees as the nation’s new town squares.

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Q: What are you trying to do with Rails-to-Trails?

A: The idea of converting a disused rail corridor into a multiuse trail predates our organization. Our goal was to do it at scale. When we were founded in 1986, there were a few hundred miles of rail trails around the country. Currently, there are 25,000 miles of rail trails. We’ve created the funding programs, legal structures and advocacy to do that in a way that’s proliferated all over the place. One reason rail trails are such a great multiuse option is that trains don’t like to go up and down steep hills, and they like a wide bed. And the corridors connect different things together. So that has always been in our DNA.

LOTS more Q& A questions about Rails-to-Trails here.

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