Victory in CA for Safe Routes Funding

Jeanie Ward-WallerI’m thrilled to share big news out of Sacramento, after a year of hard work by advocates: walking, bicycling, and Safe Routes to School projects will receive a 35 percent boost in state funding through legislation signed by Governor Jerry Brown yesterday.  The bill that establishes the new program, Senate Bill 99, combines $130 million of existing pedestrian, bicycle, trails, and Safe Routes to School funding from state and federal sources into a comprehensive Active Transportation Program. 

“California’s new active transportation program demonstrates our strong commitment to bicycling, walking and other human-powered transit,” said State Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly. “When Californians have more options for active transportation—including new and safer trails and pedestrian routes—it helps the state achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals while enhancing public health and safety.”

The new Active Transportation Program (ATP) is a milestone in California’s history of leadership on Safe Routes to School. A strong compromise agreement on the ATP was reached through a year of negotiations between the Governor’s Administration, the Legislature, and California Active Transportation Leadership -- a coalition of statewide non-profits coordinated by the Safe Routes Partnership that worked in unison to ensure that the legislation maintained California’s commitment to Safe Routes to School and addressed other critical issues. The coalition also includes California WALKS, California Bicycle Coalition, California ReLeaf, PolicyLink, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, TransForm, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, The Nature Conservancy, Prevention Institute and Public Health Institute.

The coalition issued a joint statement today on the adoption of the Active Transportation Program.

What does the new Active Transportation Program mean for Safe Routes to School in California?

California was the first state to adopt a Safe Routes to School program in 1999, creating a model for the federal program that extended funds to all states in 2005. For nearly 15 years, California has led the nation in dedicating state and federal funding toward Safe Routes to School projects and in innovations to improve public infrastructure and education, especially disadvantaged communities.

The Active Transportation Program will continue California’s commitment to and leadership in Safe Routes to School.  For the first three years of the Program, a minimum of $24 million per year will be awarded to Safe Routes to School projects by the State of California. Of that $24 million, $7.2 million will fund non-infrastructure programs that support education, community engagement, evaluation and traffic enforcement and fund the Safe Routes to School Technical Assistance Resource Center.

“We applaud the State of California and the Administration for continuing dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School, a program that has a proven track record for increasing walking and bicycling and improving safety. This decision will benefit California’s kids and communities, and set a precedent for the nation,” said Deb Hubsmith, Director of the Safe Routes Partnership.

In addition to the $24 million set-aside, which will be awarded through a statewide competition, Safe Routes to School projects will also be eligible for funding under regional competitions by the 14 large metropolitan planning organizations in the state. Continued hard work by state and local advocates to ensure that Safe Routes to School projects compete well for both the state and regional grant awards could result in even more funding for Safe Routes to School improvements than has ever been awarded, even under the stand-alone program.

“The Safe Routes Partnership will be working with regional agencies throughout the state to demonstrate how Safe Routes to School projects are effective in achieving their long term goals. We envision a regional Safe Routes to School Program in each of California’s large metropolitan planning regions through the Active Transportation Program framework,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes Partnership.

How will the Active Transportation Program benefit disadvantaged communities?

The Safe Routes Partnership worked closely with PolicyLink, California WALKS, Prevention Institute, the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, Public Advocates, ClimatePlan, Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program and California Rural Legal Assistance to ensure that the Active Transportation Program will prioritize improvements in disadvantaged communities where funds can have the greatest impact and where traffic safety problems are often most severe.

In response to our recommendations, no less than 25 percent of Active Transportation Program funding must benefit disadvantaged communities and dollars will be available to assist with planning and community engagement, particularly critical in those communities with limited resources. 

How can we make sure the Active Transportation Program achieves its goals?

The California Transportation Commission will begin the work of creating guidelines for the Active Transportation Program right away, and must involve non-profit organizations, local government and the public in the guidelines development. The difficult task of determining project selection criteria and scoring for a wide array of different project types, of providing guidance that is focused but flexible to regional agencies, and of deciding how “disadvantaged community” will be defined for those projects that are eligible for the equity set-aside will require considerable research and discussion. Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) will do similar work to set guidelines for the portion of funds that each MPO controls.

The Safe Routes Partnership and our statewide partners will be closely involved with the guidelines process as part of the Active Transportation Program Workgroup, and will continue to communicate and work with advocates at all levels to ensure that Safe Routes to School projects and disadvantaged communities will be successful in competing for Active Transportation Program grants.

The Active Transportation Program was established with the goals of increasing walking and bicycling trips, enhancing safety and public health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and advancing equity. We must all work together with the California Transportation Commission and our regional agencies to ensure that the new Active Transportation Program lives up to that vision!