Los Angeles County Must Compete for Share of State Active Transportation Program Funds

February 26, 2014 at 9:22 am | Posted in Bike News | 3 Comments
One percent of transportation funding in Los Angeles County goes to walking and bicycling, despite the environmental, health and mobility benefits active transportation offers.

One percent of transportation funding in Los Angeles County goes to walking and bicycling, despite the environmental, health and mobility benefits active transportation offers.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership (National Partnership) and Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) are working together with stakeholders from around Los Angeles County to build communities that are better places to walk, bike, and access transit. The Los Angeles County Active Transportation Collaborative regularly convenes leaders from health, environment, business, labor, government, and community-based organizations to inform regional transportation policy with local perspectives. The National Partnership and LACBC submitted this letter to Metro this week.

The Active Transportation Program (ATP) is a new statewide competitive grant program that encourages bicycling and walking, especially for children traveling to school and for residents of disadvantaged communities. In 2014, $360 million will be awarded competitively as grants to communities across California for safe routes to school, walking and bicycling projects and programs. This new program represents the largest source of dedicated funding for walking and bicycling in California.

Cities across California are gearing up for the first application cycle, which closes on May 21, 2014. The Southern California Association of Governments, Caltrans and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership are all hosting workshops to help potential project sponsors prepare competitive applications. Cities have great pent-up demand for this funding since there were not funding cycles for predecessor programs to the ATP last year while the new program’s guidelines were written.

Los Angeles County’s primary transportation agency, Metro, is also adjusting to the changing funding landscape for walking and bicycling. Metro used to have programming authority (the ability to choose which projects get funding) for about half of the funds that are now in the ATP. Because Metro has a long planning horizon, it had already programmed projects for those funds, creating a shortfall now that the agency no longer controls the money.

Metro’s involvement in active transportation has historically been limited to pass-through federal funding for local jurisdictions, without a regional strategy or comprehensive needs assessment. In the absence of a strong policy framework, Metro has set investment levels in walking and bicycling based on the amount of federal funds available, rather than based on a targeted investment strategy. As a result, Metro has not contributed a significant amount of local revenue to walking and bicycling, despite the fact that two-thirds of Metro’s overall revenue is locally generated. The meager one percent of its funding Metro spends on walking and bicycling has been almost exclusively non-local funds. Now that a significant share of the federal funds Metro used to spend on these modes was redistributed to other agencies, Metro is left without a plan to fund walking and bicycling. Metro’s current predicament is a direct result of a lack of local funding for active transportation.

Over the past year, the National Partnership and LACBC have engaged stakeholders from around Los Angeles County to discuss the current policy and finance landscape for active transportation in the region. From public agency staff, elected officials, community-based organizations and other partners, we have consistently heard that the lack of supportive policy, the lack of local revenue and the lack of a regional finance strategy are all barriers to greater investment in walking and bicycling, despite overwhelming need in our communities. These shortcomings are readily apparent in Metro’s approach to the ATP.

Metro is on the verge of making significant progress on active transportation-related policies, including a First/Last Mile Strategic Plan to improve access to transit, a Countywide Complete Streets Policy, a Countywide Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan and an Active Transportation Strategic Plan. Until this policy framework is in place, Los Angeles County will continue to be at a disadvantage for competitive grant programs like the ATP.

We call on Metro to take a leadership role in positioning the entire county to be competitive for the upcoming May ATP call for projects and all future cycles by only submitting the best projects Los Angeles County has to offer and, over the next year, developing a robust policy framework and financing strategy for walking and bicycling.

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