Active Transportation Advocates Secure Fair Competition for State Funding

Safe Routes To School projects get a level playing field after yesterday’s Metro board vote on an amended Active Transportation proposal. Photo: Safe Routes To School National Partnership

At yesterday’s Metro Board meeting, bike and walk activists won a small victory to ensure a fair process for projects seeking state funding.

As SBLA reported earlier, federal changes resulted in Metro no longer receiving federal bike and pedestrian funding that Metro had granted to cities. Metro is looking to withdraw from about $90 million in already-approved bicycle and pedestrian projects scheduled for funding through 2019.

Metro had approved project funding via its Call for Projects (Metro Call), but is instead requiring cities to seek California Active Transportation Program (ATP) funding to replace lost Metro funding. Cities will be competing in a statewide ATP process; applications are due May 21st, 2014.

Eyeing the Metro budgetary bottom line, Metro staff had proposed giving Metro’s selected projects an extra 10 points in their rankings. This would have tipped the scales in favor of state funding replacing former Metro funding, but would have created an unfair process. Projects that Metro approved in the past, whether still viable or not, would be at an advantage over all other bike and pedestrian projects.

Additionally, ATP combines several pots of money, so, under the Metro proposal, there would be entire classes of projects that would be at a competitive disadvantage. The Metro Call has not included Safe Routes to School (SRTS) projects and programs; these were funded directly by the state in the past. So, under the Metro staff proposal, all L.A. County Safe Routes To School applications would be at a competitive disadvantage.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and the Safe Routes To School National Partnership were vocal in drawing attention to the flaws in Metro staff’s proposal. The organizations submitted this joint comment letter, and testified before Metro committees last week and before the full board yesterday.

Fairness concerns found sympathetic ears among Metro board members. Duarte City Councilmember John Fasana cited the need for clear transparent criteria before advancing some projects over others. Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin also stressed the need for projects to compete on their current transportation merit. Bonin worked with Fasana to amend Metro’s proposal to direct Metro staff to pass along all L.A. County ATP project applications on an equal footing. The amended level-playing-field proposal was approved by the full Metro board yesterday.

Though this is a small victory for active transportation in Los Angeles, a lot of uncertainties remain.

Los Angeles County has not competed well in the past for statewide funding for bike and pedestrian projects. Time will tell how L.A. does with the new ATP funding process. Metro’s projects still face a shortfall. Without an official thumb on the scale, these projects will compete with others and may or may not receive funding to offset Metro’s shortfall.

Overall, walking and bicycling account for a growing share of state and local trips, but still compete for minuscule pots of funding. Locally, Metro moves mountains to fund multi-billion dollar rail budgets, but declines to be much more than a very limited pass-through for active transportation. 

Other ATP news this week: The Los Angeles City Department of Transportation (LADOT) presented its ATP project list to the city’s Transportation Committee last wednesday.

LADOT is applying for funding for 35 projects. These pedestrian and bike projects vary from Living Streets in Boyle Heights, to the Los Angeles River Greenway in Studio City. Seventeen of the city’s applications are for formerly Metro Call funded projects. Six of L.A.’s applications are for Safe Routes to School projects, for schools including Hollywood High School, and Elementary Schools: Selma Avenue, Breed Street, Sheridan Street, Menlo Avenue, West Vernon Avenue, 28th Street, Quincy Jones, Dolores Huerta, and Castellar. Each SRTS project can include multiple schools.

An additional twelve LADOT applications are for other pedestrian and bike projects, neither Metro- nor SRTS-related. See the full project list in the LADOT staff report