California bike and pedestrian advocates say a new state transportation funding program approved by the governor will stabilize the state’s landmark but struggling “Safe Routes to School” program, at least for a few years, as well as encourage more sidewalk construction, bike lanes and other non-vehicular mobility improvements.
Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, SB 99 creates the Active Transportation Program and sets aside an estimated $129 million, some of it federal funding, for bicycle and pedestrian improvements statewide. That’s an increase of nearly 30 percent, advocates say, but still accounts for only a tiny percentage of overall state transportation spending, and leaves open the question of how committed state officials will be long-term to increasing the number of Californians who walk and bike to school, work and elsewhere.
Brown administration officials hailed the funding pot as a win for non-vehicular, or as they call it, “human-powered” transportation. Previously, bike and pedestrian funding was spread piecemeal in a series of larger transportation accounts.
“This new transportation program is the nation’s largest state commitment to bicycling, walking and other active transportation,” state Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly said. “When Californians have more active transportation options – including new and safer trails and pedestrian routes – it helps the entire state achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals while enhancing public health and safety.”
In particular, the program assures at least three more years of direct funding for the state’s Safe Routes to School program, seen by many as a focal-point health and safety issue for schoolchildren. California created the Safe Routes program in 1999. In the Sacramento area, a Safe Routes leader, 32 school projects have received more than $14 million in funding since 2000 for sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, stop signs, and other pedestrian and bike infrastructure and safety features between housing areas and schools.
All 50 states now have similar programs, but found their funding sources squeezed when Congress eliminated dedicated Safe Routes funding in its most recent transportation funding bill.
“We are very pleased Safe Routes to School will be funded the first three years,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, the California organizer for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
Ward-Waller and other pedestrian advocates said the annual $24 million allotted to their program for the next three years is less than in some recent years, but brings a stability that could enhance the program’s status. She and other advocates pushed the administration this year to carve that money out for Safe Routes as part of its new funding approach.
Dave Snyder, executive director for the California Bicycle Coalition, said he believes the Safe Routes program will gain momentum, ensuring future funding. “I think support for biking and walking to school will be so much stronger in three years that we won’t have to worry about protecting the kinds of projects that are funded by Safe Routes to School.”
Other bike and pedestrian advocates say they like the SB 99 program in concept, but are withholding judgment until details are worked out on how the non-Safe Routes money will be divvied up.
SB 99 requires the California Transportation Commission to set up funding disbursement guidelines and project selection criteria in the coming months. The law stipulates that at least 25 percent of funding benefit disadvantaged communities.
Terry Preston of WALKSacramento warned that funding remains limited, and said he hopes local governments will focus spending on less expensive projects that help people walk or use bikes for short trips, rather than flashy projects that don’t help neighborhood-to-school mobility.
“Kids have to get to school,” he said. “We don’t want large, froufrou projects.”
Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.