City Council Takes Aim at CALTRANS Safe Routes to Schools

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(Editor’s note: I sat on the Caltrans’ Safe Routes to School Committee for District 7 during the last cycle.  Any opinions expressed in this piece are mine and not necessarily the opinions of Caltrans staff or other committee members.)

A resolution on today’s City Council Transportation Committee Agenda expresses their frustration with the amount of money the city receives from state Safe Routes to School grants.  The text of the resolution seems to point blame at the city’s failure to receive what it considers its fare share of state funding, based on the percent of California’s students that go to school in Los Angeles, at a process that they perceive to be biased against the City.

The resolution focuses on three areas of the state’s Safe Routs to Schools program: how the funding is divided amongst Caltrans’ districts, the makeup of the local committee who decides how District 7 funds are allocated and the committee’s scoring criteria.  District 7 includes Los Angeles and Ventura counties and the request for funds outstrips the small amount of funds that are available.

In particular, the resolution states:

In response to the Department’s concerns, the Council amended the recommendations contained in the June 30, 2008 LADOT report to direct the Department to prepare a letter to Caltrans asking for the scores by evaluation criteria for prior cycle Safe Routes to School Program projects.

City staff has worked with Caltrans over the past few months pressing for an open, transparent process, however, few changes have been made. It appears that each Caltrans district will receive funding proportional to student population for the eighth cycle of the state Safe Routes to School program, but no other substantive changes will be made. The City needs to proactively address these issues to ensure that a fair share of these funds are given to Southern California and that these monies are appropriately awarded to the most deserving projects.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the Council request Caltrans to present the evaluation criteria, details on the evaluation committee membership, project selection process and the determination behind the allocation of funding for the State and Federal Safe Routes to School Programs.

Hopefully the committee rejects this proposal, because it sort of doesn’t make sense.  Before I was appointed to the committee, I asked Caltrans for a copy of their scoring criteria for a past story on Safe Routes to School and they printed a copy for me on the spot.  As for who is on the committee, well, that’s public information and while I can’t remember all of the names of the people whom served with me, I can tell you that the majority of the members were residents of the City of Los Angeles.  If any Council Member is looking for the scoring information and can’t find Caltrans’ phone number, you can find mine at the bottom of this page and I’ll be happy to fax a copy over.

Speaking of open and transparent processes and Safe Routes to School, back in July the same City Council Committee heard testimony that the City of Los Angeles, unlike the surrounding municipalities, doesn’t work closely with the community when writing their funding requests for the Safe Routes to School’s jokes.  From a July 10 Streetsblog story om a City Council Transportation Hearing:

However, just because optimism was king, doesn’t mean that problems
with the city’s bike planning were glossed over.  Glen Bailey, a member
of his Neighborhood Council and the city’s
official Bike Advisory Committee was especially critical of the city’s
outreach effort noting that while he had heard of the community
meetings through the LABAC, his Neighborhood Council never received
notification.

To follow-up on this, I talked to representatives from a couple of Neighborhood Councils yesterday, and none of them said they had heard from LADOT about upcomignSafe Routes to Schools proposals. 

Photo of Portland’s SRtS Program from I Share the Road/Flickr