We win more bike funding but how will the state spend it?

by / August 11, 2016

Thanks to our allies throughout the state and a semi-supportive Governor, Californians can look forward to an increase in funding for bicycling infrastructure, but only as part of a reform package that represents a big change to active transportation spending in the state. CalBike supports that change — a radical consolidation of accounts — but only after the Governor’s administration does a better job of explaining how the reform will support bicycle safety.

The chart at the right shows how funding can increase to $134 million/year, from $100 million/year currently, because the federal TE program (Transportation Enhancements)  which in previous years was spent mostly for non-active transportation purposes is proposed to be spent entirely on active transportation. That good news is complicated though, because the increase comes with some conditions that threaten our movement for safer streets.

The bar on the right is all purple because the $134 million is split between the state (50%), metropolitan regions (40%) and rural areas (10%). We are working to put conditions on the funding devolved to cities and counties and to control how state funding is allocated. The Governor’s proposal consolidates a number of programs into a single “Active Transportation Program.” Eliminated are the accounts listed on the chart: the federal Transportation Alternatives Program, the Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program, both the federal and state Safe Routes to School programs, and the Bicycle Transportation Account. But the Governor did not eliminate the funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects that supported those programs, and in fact transferred $21 million from the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program to ensure that California continued to spend the same amount of money on bicycling and walking despite a reduction in federal support for bicycling and walking. (Note: the EEMP program — mostly not for active transportation, is likely to be removed from the ATP, reducing the total to $124 million.)

The proposed elimination of these programs is unacceptable to us right now. Too many communities rely on “Safe Routes to School” grants and processes. Bicycle Transportation Account grants have spurred impressive planning efforts throughout the state, an important  contribution that dwarfs the importance of the paltry sum of funding ($7 million). The Rec Trails program funds off-road bicycling routes, sometimes providing key transportation links and always promoting bicycle recreation (a mode of entry for many eventual everyday bicyclists). Any fuThe Governor’s consolidation proposal came with absolutely no guidance to the California Transportation Commission regarding how the state’s portion is to be allocated.

In the long run, we support the consolidation because it makes it easier to do bigger things with the state’s transportation dollars. The ATP’s relatively large size creates a bigger political profile. Policy makers are more likely to pay attention to a $134 million ATP than they are a $7.2 million BTA and a campaign to increase the size of the ATP by 50%, if victorious, will win $67 miIlion more for bike/ped safety while a campaign to increase the BTA by an equivalent margin will just win $3.6 million. The larger program also means we are no longer restricted to funding small projects here and there. We can fund large projects that will transform communities. The consolidation gives us the chance to “start from scratch” and completely revise how we invest in bicycle infrastructure.

Therefore, with the support of the state’s affiliated bicycle advocacy organizations, we are communicating the following position to the Governor and the Legislature.

1. Preserve the existing programs for now, and hold a call for projects immediately.  The delay in funding bicycle infrastructure during this ongoing debate is too long.

2. Develop specific rules for the new Active Transportation Program that preserve the benefits of existing programs: the safe routes to school program (especially the non-infrastructure portion), the recreational trails program, and the bicycle transportation account (small projects).

3. Appoint a dedicated staff person at the California Transportation Commission to manage the new program and hold a stakeholder-led process to develop new guidelines for the ATP.

4. Increase the size of the ATP every year by 10-50%.

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