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CA Active Transportation Program Funding Unchanged for Next Two Years

This Complete Streets plan in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in 2014. Image: Wallace Robers & Todd, via City of Albany

The Complete Streets plan for San Pablo Avenue in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in the 2014 allocation. Image: Wallace Roberts & Todd, via City of Albany

Although Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed FY 2015 budget showed a decrease in the line item for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), Caltrans Budget Chief Steven Keck assured the California Transportation Commission at its meeting last week that the change was technical and the funding level would be the same as last year’s.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty later confirmed that “as of today going forward, our plan is: no change in the ATP budget.”

While the funding is not being cut from 2014 levels, there is still concern that the need to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists is far greater than the funding provided in the ATP.

And the commissioners seem to agree.

Commissioner Yvonne Burke expressed surprise that there wasn’t more of a fuss kicked up at the meeting. Commissioner Carl Guardino was the only speaker who called attention to the program’s paltry funding, noting that the need for it “greatly outstrips the amount of funding available.”

The ATP allocates most of the state’s funding targeted at increasing walking and bicycling. It was created by statute [PDF] in 2013, combining state and federal funding for bicycle infrastructure, Safe Routes to Schools, and other similar funds into a single pot. In its first two-year cycle, it awarded a total of a little over $350 million for 267 projects throughout the state.

Tracing the sources of money in the ATP can be tricky. Early budget proposals typically incorporate some uncertainty about funding levels, since calculating the state’s revenues from taxes can be an inaccurate science. Other budgetary practices, like last year’s repayment of $9 million that had been borrowed from the ATP’s precursor, the Bicycle Transportation Account, further muddy the waters.

Whatever the reasons for it, the confusion over an issue as simple as “how much money will the state be spending on walking and bicycling infrastructure” adds to the impression that Caltrans is not a very transparent organization.

At last week’s meeting, commission staff presented and discussed draft revisions to the program guidelines [PDF] for the second two-year cycle of funding, set to begin in June.

Read more…

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CA Budget Details: Active Transportation Gets Less Money

Active Transportation Project applications pile up at Caltrans headquarters on May 21.Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Caltrans received over 770 applications for Active Transportation Projects in May last year.
Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed 2015-16 budget. The 270-page summary [PDF] included a passing reference to $360 million previously allocated for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), as part of state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging more bicycling and walking. But the budget summary offered no details about future funding, nor what allocations for the coming year might be.

The details were released late that afternoon, and they show that the state is not yet taking the commitment to active transportation seriously. The ATP’s allocation for 2015-16 under Brown’s proposed budget is considerably less than the previous year’s funding level.

This is the first step in the budget process. The governor proposes a budget, which then is discussed in the legislature–the first such hearing was held today in the Assembly. In the spring Brown will propose revisions, based on legislative feedback, which will then undergo further discussions and revision. The final budget must be passed by June.

The budget proposal reads like an exercise in bureaucratic obfuscation. You can find the transportation section here [PDF], but good luck figuring it out. With some hand-holding and a lot of consultation with people who know way more than I do, this is what I found buried in the numbers:

  • The overall budget for transportation, almost $16 billion, will increase by $200 million over last year’s budget
  • That doesn’t seem like a lot, given inflation
  • Despite that increase, the proposed 2015-16 ATP allocation from state funds will decrease by twenty percent over the 2014 allocation, from $43 million to $34 million
  • In addition, the proposed 2015-16 ATP allocation from federal funds will decrease by five percent over 2014, from $95 million to $90 million

There are caveats and many questions remaining. For example, the aforementioned $360 million to the ATP in the budget summary was for three years’ worth of funding. The next round of ATP funding will also be for a multi-year program, but how that fits with the numbers in the current budget is not clear. It’s also not clear yet whether the next round of ATP funding will be for two years or three years.

The initial round of ATP funding, allocated in May, received 770 applications that requested about $1 billion in funding. Only 265 of those projects got funded. Sure, they probably weren’t all perfect applications, but likely many of them were, and 34 percent is still a small portion of projects to fund. It is clear that there is heavy demand for the Active Transportation Program funding.

Yet the proposed budget shows no commitment to expanding the ATP, and little commitment to keeping its funding at the same level, despite the climate change goals articulated in the governor’s recent speeches, and despite the clear connection between increased bicycling and walking trips and reduced fuel use and emissions.

Calls to the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans have not yet produced any answers to the remaining questions. Stay tuned as we dig further.

Meanwhile the California Transportation Commission is set to approve revised guidelines for the second round of ATP funding. It held one workshop last week in Los Angeles [PDF], and the draft guidelines [PDF] will likely be approved at the commission’s next meeting on January 22 in Sacramento.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to melanie@streetsblog.org.
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CA Seeks Input on 2015 Active Transportation Program Guidelines

A rendering of a proposals for Oakland’s Lake Merritt/Bay Trail connector, the design of which was funded by the Active Transportation Program. Image: Oakland Public Works

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) is seeking input on revised guidelines for the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The ATP is the main source of state funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, mostly through federal transportation grants to local cities. The proposed changes to the ATP guidelines are mostly minor, but include eliminating the requirement for matching funds and de-emphasizing bike plans.

ATP is a very new program. Its first funding round was just completed in November, so it’s too early to judge the on-the-ground success of any of the projects it’s funded. Nevertheless, the second funding cycle will commence in the spring. CTC staff has proposed changes to program guidelines [PDF] and invited potential applicants and interested parties to weigh in. Although the changes are not extensive, they were the subject of three hours of detailed discussion at CTC’s workshop last Monday in Sacramento.

The CTC plans to revise the guidelines based on comments from this workshop and a second one, which will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on January 8 at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) offices, on the 12th floor of 818 West 7th Street, in downtown Los Angeles.

The guidelines are scheduled for adoption by the CTC in March, and the Round Two call for projects would then go out immediately, with applications expected to be due in June.

Caltrans plans to offer workshops in March to go over program requirements, answer questions, and train applicants on the new benefit/cost model it has developed for the application process. Check the Caltrans website for updates.

After the jump are a few highlights from last week’s discussion.

Read more…

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Caltrans Grants $550 Million to Transit Projects Statewide

Caltrans announced over the holiday weekend that it has allocated one of the remaining chunks of money from Prop 1B, the massive transportation bond act approved by California voters in 2006.

Over $550 million was awarded to transit capital projects throughout the state. The projects include building transit centers and bus stop facilities, replacing buses and rail cars, and building repair facilities. Large and small agencies received the funds; a complete list is available here [PDF].

Among the largest receipients is Los Angeles' Metro Expo Rail Phase 2. Photo via Metro's The Source.

Among the largest Prop 1B transit capital funding recipients is $106 million for Los Angeles’ Metro Expo light rail. Photo of Expo Phase 2 construction via Metro’s The Source.

The largest allocations include:

  • $106 million to L.A. Metro for Exposition light rail, phase 2
  • $81 million to San Francisco Muni to complete the Central Subway project
  • $58 million to L.A. Metro for the Regional Connector light rail subway
  • $43 million to Orange County for the Raymond Avenue grade separation
  • $41 million to L.A. Metro for bus procurement
  • $36 million to San Diego for light rail vehicles
  • $30 million to Santa Clara for the Alum Rock Bus Rapid Transit
  • $20 million to AC Transit to complete the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco

Many smaller projects were also awarded funds, a total of $559,368,166 for 77 projects. Kern and Fresno counties received money to buy natural gas buses and a new fleetwide computer system, Santa Monica got money to replace buses, and the city of Chowchilla got enough to purchase one new transit bus. The smallest award went to California City, in the Mojave desert: $11,715 for a park-and-ride lot.

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Speaking with Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ New Sustainability Director

Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ first Assistant Director of Sustainability. Photo: Caltrans

As part of its ongoing work to expand its focus beyond just highways, California’s Department of Transportation, better known as Caltrans, recently created a new position — the Assistant Director of Sustainability. Steven Cliff, the new hire, will oversee the integration of one of the department’s newest goals: “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy.”

Cliff comes from the California Air Resources Board, where he helped develop ways to implement AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, and helped develop the cap-and-trade program. He has a background in global climate science and air quality research at the University of California, Davis, where he held a research faculty position before taking on policy work at the ARB.

Changes at Caltrans

Caltrans’ sustainability goal is part of the department’s newly formulated mission and vision statements. Those statements resulted from months of intensive work in response to outside pressure on the department to face the fact that its car-focused, highway-loving, bureaucratic ways were not serving Californians.

The pressure came from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), the new-ish agency with oversight over Caltrans and several other agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol, that before 2013 answered only to the governor.

One of CalSTA’s first actions was to commission an outside study on the state of affairs at Caltrans.

The resulting report, from the State Smart Transportation Initiative [PDF], ripped into Caltrans, calling it rigid, out of step, and overly risk-averse. The report led to several legislative hearings last year, and led to Caltrans’ endorsement of the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide as an alternative to the department’s own hidebound guidelines, which squelched safer and innovative street designs — especially bicycle infrastructure.

Caltrans dumped its old mission statement, “Improve mobility across California,” for a new one: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.”

In the process it also came up with a new vision statement and formulated ten new goals to help achieve that vision. The newest one, “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy,” Caltrans explains as: “[Making] long-lasting, smart mobility decisions that improve the environment, support a vibrant economy, and build communities, not sprawl” (emphasis added).

Cliff, the new Assistant Director for Sustainability, has the job of leading up the effort to develop the sustainability goal, create objectives for it, and formulate performance measures to evaluate how well those objectives are achieved. When the work is finished, it will help inform the department’s five-year strategic plan, due next spring.

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CalBike Looks Back at This Year’s Legislative Efforts–and Ahead to the Next

Calbike2The California Bicycle Coalition–CalBike–supports local bicycle advocacy efforts to build better bike networks. It does this in part through its work on state legislation that promotes bicycling and via its efforts to increase the amount of funding available for building better bike infrastructure.

We liked their end-of-session legislative wrap-up, focusing on bikes–an important part of Streetsblog’s beat–so we’re reposting it for you here. We edited it slightly for length.

California is poised to become one of the most bike-innovative states in the nation. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) got a new mission and vision statement this year that is more bicycle friendly, and endorsed progressive street designs. A new State Transportation Agency is shaking up how California traditionally thinks of transportation, and we got to see the first rounds of the Governor’s new “Active Transportation Program.”

While the 2014 legislative session wasn’t ideal in every way, our policymakers took huge steps forward, most importantly with exciting advances toward modern street design. You can find links to exact bill language, fact sheets, and letters to and from lawmakers at the California Bicycle Coalition website here.

We Win Better Bikeways
The California Bicycle Coalition’s main strategy for enabling more people to ride a bike is to get communities to build bicycle-specific infrastructure: networks of paths, protected bike lanes, and calm streets that get people where they need to go, and that are built to be comfortable for anyone ages 8-80. Design rules, outdated laws, and inadequate public investment have been preventing better bikeways for years.

Design rules changed this year. In April, California became the third state to endorse the NACTO Urban Streets Design Guide. “We’re trying to change the mentality of our Department of Transportation,” emphasized Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. The mere endorsement wasn’t enough, however, as the Caltrans Design Chief made clear a few weeks later, stating flatly that “the standards haven’t changed.”

In September, Caltrans took another step by supporting AB 1193, the Protected Bikeways Act. Authored by Assembly Member Phil Ting and the California Bicycle Coalition’s top priority for the 2014 legislative session, this bill has two primary functions:

  • It removes language from the California Highway Design Manual (guidelines for how to design our streets) that  prohibited engineers and planners from building protected bike lanes — bikeways that have been proven to get more people to ride bikes. AB 1193 also requires Caltrans to set “minimum safety design criteria” for protected bike lanes by January 1, 2016. With new design rules, California has a chance to promote the best designs in the country and become a leader in bikeway design.
  • It allows municipalities to use other guidelines for street design, such as the bike-friendly Urban Bikeway Design Guide produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

In short, Caltrans and our policymakers are responding to the voices of the people calling for a revolution in street design. A vital next step is to advocate for protected bike lanes locally. You can pledge your support here for protected bike lanes so local advocates can find supporters in your area.

More Funding Approved, but Not Much
More funding is essential to building the infrastructure California needs to get more people to ride bikes. It is also key to economic sustainability. Active transportation infrastructure creates more jobs during construction and supports the local economy during its lifetime.

At $129 million, or barely 1 percent of the state’s transportation budget for biking and walking combined, funding for bike infrastructure is paltry at best.

Read more…

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Thoughts at a Workshop On Replacing CA’s Gas Tax With a Mileage Fee

In 2017, California plans to pilot a new mileage-based Road User Charge designed to potentially replace the current state gas tax. Photo Wikimedia

Earlier this week, I attended a California Sustainable Transportation Funding Workshop, hosted by Caltrans, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the California Transportation Commission (CTC), and the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance (MBUFA). The half-day program focused on how the state of California could shift from our current gas tax funding stream to one based on a per-mile fee.

Let me first say that I usually mostly hang out with a bunch of left-of-center city people like me; we get around mostly by bicycling and walking. My friends and colleagues tend to support the idea of a per-mile fee, because we expect that it could help motivate people to drive less, and use other modes more.

This workshop wasn’t populated by a bunch of people like me. I don’t think anyone else arrived there by bicycle. As far as I could tell, it was primarily people who are more mainstream: people who drive and who, for the foreseeable future, expect our car-centric transportation system to look more or less like it does now. Among the program’s sponsors was the libertarian Reason Foundation.

What was interesting about the workshop was where the left and the right agreed: gas tax revenues aren’t enough to cover transportation infrastructure costs, and per-mile fees could work better. Similar right-left agreements occur with some Shoup-inspired parking reforms and Express Lane toll programs.

California's Gas Tax

In 1994, California’s Gas Tax was set at 18 cents per gallon. It remains unchanged today, but, due to inflation, that 18 cents is now worth about 11 cents. Graph via Caltrans

Speakers at the conference set the stage by describing the situation, which they described as “The Federal & California Financial Cliff.” The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. The California gas tax is an additional 18 cents per gallon. These amounts were set in the early 1990s. Unlike percentage-based sales taxes, which fluctuate with price changes, the gas tax remains at a flat rate. Since the ’90s, inflation has effectively reduced California’s gas tax to its lowest inflation-adjusted level since California gas taxes began in 1923.

Gas taxes are dedicated to be spent on transportation only. As the gas taxes lose value over time, governmental transportation budgets are increasingly subsidized by other taxes paid by everyone, including sales taxes, property taxes, etc. Recent estimates show that only about half of overall transportation funding is paid for by dedicated gas tax revenues. To some extent, this is fair: even non-drivers derive some benefits from highways, because everyone buys goods shipped by truck. The unfair aspect of this system is that non-drivers’ taxes go, in part, to freeways that non-drivers do not use.

Transportation leaders are generally aware that general funds subsidize transportation expenditures, but many drivers assume that driving-based taxes are what pays for roads. Many drivers, though already subsidized by non-drivers, still think they’re paying too much.

There are at least three more factors that influence the gas-tax-income vs. transportation-expenditures mismatch.  Read more…

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Governor Brown Signs Protected Bike Lane Bill, Car Fee for Bike Paths

Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills on Saturday that will make it easier for California cities to build better bike infrastructure.

The governor approved Assembly Bill 1193, which means protected bike lanes, or cycletracks, will become an official part of Caltrans’ guidelines on bike infrastructure. Brown also signed Senate Bill 1183, which will allow local governments to use a vehicle surcharge to pay for bike paths and bike facility maintenance.

 Long Beach's cycletracks open this Saturday - all photos by Joe Linton

Governor Brown recently approved A.B. 1193, which would allow protected bike lanes, like this one on 3rd Street in Long Beach, CA, to be more easily implemented throughout California. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

State To Create Standards Supporting Protected Bike Lanes

A.B. 1193, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will require Caltrans to create engineering standards for protected bike lanes, which until now have been discouraged by a complex approval processes and a lack of state guidance. This new class of lane — called cycletracks, or “class IV bikeways,” in Caltrans terms — are separated from motor traffic using a physical barrier, such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.

Protected bike lanes have been shown to increase the number of people bicycling on them, to make cyclists feel safer, and to decrease the number of wrong-way and sidewalk riders on streets that have them.

The new law will also allow cities and counties to build cycletracks without consulting Caltrans, unless the facilities are built on state highways. California cities that build protected bike lanes will have the option of using the standards to be developed by Caltrans or some other generally accepted standards, sparing them from Caltrans’ arduous approval process.

Locals Can Now Pass Vehicle Fees to Build and Maintain Bikeways

S.B. 1183, from Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) allows local jurisdictions in California to propose a small vehicle registration fee (no more than $5) on their local ballot, requiring approval from at least 2/3 of local voters, to fund bike trails and paths on park district land.

Bike trails have suffered from a lack of stable funding sources, unlike roads and highways, which are funded by a combination of fuel and sales taxes. A motor vehicle surcharge could help fund maintenance and improvements for existing paths — thus creating safe, convenient routes for commuters, students, shoppers, and recreational riders.

S.B. 1183 was sponsored by the East Bay Regional Park District, which straddles Alameda and Contra Costa counties in Northern California. The park district maintains over 1,200 miles of trails that are open to bicycles, and about 100 miles of paved bicycle paths, some of which are important commute routes for bicyclists.

The park district was looking for a source of funds to help build and maintain the aging paths, and at first proposed a tax on bicycles sold in the two counties. However, administrative complications caused them to change it to a motor vehicle registration fee instead.

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Protected Bike Lane Bill Approved By Legislature, Awaiting Governor

With Governor Brown’s approval, protected bike lanes like these ones on San Francisco’s Market Street could become easier for cities to build. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

A bill that would make it easier for California cities to build protected bike lanes was passed by both houses of the state legislature this week and only awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

The bill, A.B. 1193, was authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition.

The bill serves several purposes. First and foremost, it requires Caltrans to establish engineering standards for protected bike lanes or “cycletracks,” a new category of bike lanes for cities to use.

At the same time, it removes a provision in the law that requires that any bike lane built in California adhere to Caltrans specifications, even if it is built on a local street that is not under Caltrans’ jurisdiction. This frees up local jurisdictions to choose other guidelines, such as the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide, if the Caltrans standards do not adequately address local conditions.

Caltrans endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide earlier this year but has not adopted it, meaning that cities that want to build separated bike lanes must still go through a process to get an exemption.

Last-minute negotiations on the bill addressed concerns about liability by adding several conditions that have to be met before non-Caltrans criteria can be used. A “qualified engineer” must review and sign off on a protected bike lane project, the public must be duly notified, and alternative criteria must “adhere to guidelines established by a national association of public agency transportation official,” which means the NACTO guidelines could be used whether Caltrans has officially adopted them or not.

And unfortunately for lay people, Caltrans balked at removing its convention of naming bike lane types by “class” and numeral, saying it is just too embedded in its documents. So the new protected bike lanes category would be officially named “Class IV Bikeways,” adding to Class I Bikeways (bike paths or shared use paths), Class II bikeways (bike lanes), and Class III bikeways (bike routes). Memorize that.

“We’re very excited to have gotten to this point after months of harder-than-expected negotiations and stalwart support from Phil Ting,” said Dave Snyder of the California Bicycle Coalition. ”He really wants to see protected bikeways get more popular.”

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CTC Staff Releases California Active Transportation Program List

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The California Transportation Commission recommended 145 bicycle and pedestrian projects and programs for funding from the new Active Transportation Program, including this pedestrian-cyclist-equestrian bridge over the L.A. River. Image from LARRC

The California Transportation Commission has released a list of recommended projects that could get funding from the state’s Active Transportation Program. The ATP is a new statewide grant program that funds bicycle and pedestrian improvements throughout California. The list is expected to be approved by the full CTC at its August 20 meeting.

Under the ATP, the CTC is preparing to distribute $221 million for projects and programs in two categories: a statewide competition and a separate competition for small rural and urban projects. A third category of funds will be distributed later this year through the state’s largest Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) (more on that below).

The $221 million for the first two categories will be matched by another $207 million in local matching funds, yielding a total of $426 million in bike and pedestrian projects that will get the green light in the first two-year funding round. The 145 successful applications include 124 statewide projects [PDF] and 21 small rural and urban projects [PDF].

Here are the types of projects that would be funded:

  • $57 million in bike projects and plans
  • $119 million for 91 Safe Routes to Schools grants, 81 in the statewide category and 13 in small urban/rural category. Of the 91, 53 include non-infrastructure programs
  • 110 of the projects ($189 million worth) directly benefit disadvantaged communities at least partially

Not surprisingly, the ATP received for more applications than it was able to fund. After all, $207 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions available for state highways.

“There was a very high standard for the projects, and unfortunately there were a lot of good projects that just didn’t get funded,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, which has been active in educating jurisdictions about funding criteria and how to apply. “There just wasn’t enough money to go around.”

After a quick perusal of the list, we did not see very many of the bike and pedestrian projects L.A. Metro withdrew funds from last spring, but they could still receive funding through the ATP regional categories.

Under that program, $147 million will be distributed among the nine largest California MPOs: Bay Area, Fresno, Sacramento, San Diego, Southern California, San Jose, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Kern regions. The MPOs are required to submit their project funding requests to Caltrans by November. Many of the projects that did not make this first list could still be funded regionally, if they meet the criteria of their MPO and are chosen for the regional list.

Meanwhile, the ATP guidelines are due to be revised next spring, and the revision process will start with a series of public workshops this fall.