San Diego County Sets Aside $2.5 BILLION for Bicycles and Pedestrians

Earlier this week, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) allocated $2.58 billion of their thirty year plan for bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure improvements.  If that seems like a big number, it is.  While Los Angeles has been celebrating it’s Bike Plan, and the Measure R set-aside that’s going to help make it a reality, we should remember that the total funding set aside for the Bike Plan hovers around $50 million of Measure R funds plus whatever grants the city earns over the same time frame as San Diego County’s multi-billion investment.

By comparison the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has yet to release a draft of it’s long-term transportation plan, but expectations are for a much lower allocation for active transportation projects.  In the last Regional Transportation Plan, a $530 billion plan adopted just three years ago, less than 0.5 percent of funding was dedicated towards bicycle and pedestrian projects.  For SANDAG, that percentage is over five times as big.  The SCAG region includes six counties, 190 cities and more than 19 million residents.

So why is San Diego so far ahead of the SCAG mega region when it comes to allocating sources for active transportation?  One reason is that SANDAG is embracing the mandates of the state’s Smart Growth Planning Law known as SB 375.  The Union-Tribune explains:

Two ways that those goals can be met are by developing more mass transit and elimination of highway bottlenecks. But regional planners also bet that in the land of sunshine more people will willingly get out of their cars and walk or bicycle, if the road ahead is made safe and attractive enough.

While 80 percent of the county’s commuters still ride alone in their vehicles, SANDAG estimates that 76,000 cyclists commute daily to work, schools and colleges. In a year’s time, they account for 94 million miles not driven by cars.

A second major reason is that local advocates have banded together and demanded change in the way SANDAG funds transportation.  Streetsblog talked to Elyse Lowe, the executive director of Move San Diego, and one of the leaders of this movement.  At first, it was just a small group going to SANDAG, as Lowe explains “When I first started going to SANDAG meetings two years ago it was just Move San Diego and the Bicycle Coalition and local transit riders representing themselves.”

Then, slowly but steadily, the coalition grew.  Walk San Diego began showing up, then a representative from CALPIRG.  Foundations such as the Ford Foundation began investing in groups working on implementation plans for SB 375.  The Nature Conservancy joined the party, as did Sustainable San Diego and housing advocates.  Soon the room wasn’t so empty.

Locally, there is a movement to reform SCAG’s funding priorities, but it is in a much younger state.  At the February meeting of SCAG’s Transportation Committee, 10 speakers rose to speak up for active transportation, although a handful of them were government staffers including LADOT Senior Bicycle Coordinator Michelle Mowery and Metro’s bicycle coordinator Lynne Goldsmith.

A third reason is that SANDAG just seems to have more respect for people that move by foot or bike.  For starters, they refer to cycling and walking as “active transportation,” not “non-motorized transportation” as SCAG does.  A more substantive example?  SANDAG spends $3.9 million to staff it’s active transportation program.  SCAG invests a cool $210,000 for “non-motorized transportation.” SCAG has an annual budget of $39 million, less than 1% of that budget goes for dedicated “non-motorized transportation” staff.

But the battle for SCAG funding isn’t over. Tomorrow Streetsblog will discuss more of what Angelenos are doing to reform SCAG’s funding and some easy ways for you to get involved.