Making Strides in the California Capitol

Jeanie WardCalifornia is proposing to do something revolutionary for walking and bicycling. California Governor Jerry Brown’s Administration has proposed a new Active Transportation Program (ATP) that will enable the state to become a leader in making walking and bicycling part of the mainstream transportation system. The new ATP will start by consolidating existing programs that fund walking and bicycling from state and federal sources, including Safe Routes to School – the intention is for the pie to grow with new revenue in the future. 

Since the Safe Routes Partnership heard about this proposal in November of last year, we have been cautiously excited by the prospect. The stated goals in the ATP proposal are to encourage more people to travel on foot and bikes, to invest more money into walking and bicycling, and to help the state to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets by lowering the vehicle-miles traveled in cars. We are very supportive of these goals. However, we have met several times with the Governor’s office and the Transportation Agency and cautioned them that Safe Routes to School projects are unique in their focus on kids and schools, and should continue with a minimum guarantee for funding. In a competitive process that includes project applications for a variety of walking, bicycling, and Safe Routes to School projects it is important to compare apples to apples, or good projects may not rise to the top and receive funding.

Despite our pleas to carefully craft the ATP so that the unique benefits of Safe Routes to School are not lost in the transition, the Administration has hesitated to make major changes to their proposal. The momentum shifted in the State Capitol on March 13th and 14th, during the legislative budget subcommittee hearings on the ATP proposal.  A strong group of walking, bicycling, health, environment, and equity advocates spoke passionately to the subcommittees about the importance of active transportation, Safe Routes to School, and building on the gains that the state has already made through the current programs.

The legislators on the subcommittees responded with strong support. Senate Subcommittee Chair Jim Beall of San Jose talked about a personal experience as a teenager walking to school in which he witnessed another younger child cross the street at an intersection who was struck and killed by a vehicle. Chairman Beall credited that experience as one that influenced his decision to run for elected office, because “no child should not have a safe route to school.” He continued that Safe Routes to School should be a top priority of the state, and that he would like to see more money spent on this program and others that increase transportation safety. Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson concurred that the Administration’s proposal did not adequately reflect the state’s priorities, and recommended that the Administration meet with advocates to reach compromise.

The beautiful sunshine in Sacramento felt a little brighter after the hearings, thanks to the clarity spoken by the legislators on the critical importance of Safe Routes to School. Though we still have negotiating work ahead of us until the proposal is adopted in June, we are buoyed by new resolve to keep working with the Administration to ensure that their new Active Transportation Program is the best that it can be for children and everyone in California that walks, bicycles, or needs a safe place to be active!