CA Coalition Calls for More Funding, Staffing for Active Transportation

Increasing funding for the Active Transportation Program could get more people to walk and bike, especially for short trips. Photo of Sunday Streets in Berkeley, by Melanie Curry/Streetsblog.

A coalition of advocacy groups released a petition yesterday calling for California to increase funding for active transportation to help the state meet its climate goals.

The petition calls on the legislature to increase funding for the Active Transportation Program (ATP) by $100 million from its current $120 million per year, integrate green infrastructure and access to parks and green space in the goals of the ATP, and ensure ATP investments provide meaningful benefits to disadvantaged communities.

The coalition points out that nearly 1/5 of all trips in California are made by foot or by bike (this information comes from the National Household Travel Survey, not the U.S. Census, which only counts commute trips). Despite this high mode share, less than two percent of the state transportation budget is spent on the ATP, which brings all active transportation projects under one funding umbrella.

There are currently only four staff assigned to the program (although Caltrans has approximately 19,000 employees). Those staff oversee the 265 projects that received funding in the first cycle of the ATP, and they are working on revising the guidelines for the second round of funding, which will begin at the end of March. The second round will likely double the number of grants, at least under current funding levels.

Even with the minimal investments made in the past, California has seen an increase in walking and bicycling trips. Properly funding the ATP is a no-brainer, according to the coalition. By building infrastructure that encourages people to walk or use their bikes for short trips of less than a mile, the state could make tremendous leaps towards achieving its climate goals by reducing carbon emissions and poor air quality, at the same time reducing congestion for everyone.

“When the ATP was formed in 2013,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, “the whole idea was to consolidate all of the different pots of funding for bike and walking programs and then grow the pot, by adding cap-and-trade funding. That hasn’t happened and, in fact, the funding seems to be mysteriously shrinking.”

“By forming a single stream of funding, and incorporating climate change goals in the legislation,” added Tony Dang of California Walks, “we were positioning the program to receive cap-and-trade funding.” Instead, the only cap-and-trade money made available for active transportation last year was placed under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

“We’ve worked with the Strategic Growth Council to make sure that active transportation is included in their efforts,” said Dang, “but given the amount of money they have, and their mandates for affordable housing, we really don’t think that’s going to be a big enough source of funding, and it won’t be as transformative for walking and biking as we’d hoped it would be.”

ATP staff held a workshop two days ago on its revisions to program guidelines, and way more people wanted to attend than they could accommodate. “It’s clear that this program has a lot of constituents,” said Dang, “and they really need the pot to grow.”

“When you combine all walking and biking trips,” he added, “they account for nearly 20 percent of all the trips taken every day in California. And yet funding for those trips is less than 2 percent of the transportation budget.”

“Californians are clearly not sitting around idle waiting for increased funding, but the state should step up for what people want.”

Transportation funding in California is more complicated than it needs to be. Two hearings this week in the Senate and the Assembly attested to that, as staffers tried to explain to lawmakers the ins and outs of the gas tax swap and how funding gets moved around. The current big legislative push is figuring out how to pay for the “funding gap” of long-deferred maintenance needs, which the governor’s office estimates to be $59 billion—way more than the amount of money that could make the ATP a successful weapon in California’s fight against climate change.

It’s true that some very good active transportation projects get built without ATP funding—sometimes with very little funding at all. For example, a long-planned repaving project in Redding was adjusted last year to include a road diet with bike lanes, at the request of the community. It cost something—for paint. Caltrans doesn’t have a system to track that kind of low-cost, high-impact project, but should. The more information we have about investments being made in active transportation, from better sidewalks to road diets to whatever, the better informed we will all be about the impact those investments have on state climate and health goals.

The ATP funding petition also calls for the state to make the connection between active transportation and green infrastructure, including parks, trees, bioswales or “rain gardens,” and permeable pavements.

Says the coalition:

Low-income communities of color in Los Angeles County, for example, lack safe sidewalks and bikeways and green space, with less than 2 acres of park land per 1000 residents. Without this critical infrastructure, LA County residents experience a 39 percent rate of walking and bicycling roadway fatalities, and a high childhood obesity rate of 23 percent. By pairing green infrastructure with active transportation, the state can maximize its climate change investments: improving the quality of the community environment, improving public health through increased active transportation and recreation opportunities, and providing significant heat mitigation, air quality, and carbon sequestration benefits.

The coalition putting out the petition invites individuals and organizations to sign on by March 12, at which point it will be presented to the governor and the legislature. Organizations belonging to the coalition include:

  • California Bicycle Coalition
  • California Pan-Ethnic Health Network
  • California Walks
  • Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability
  • Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition
  • PolicyLink
  • Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
  • Safe Routes to School National Partnership
  • TransForm
  • The Trust for Public Land

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