Ballot Measure Report: Emerging Regional Priorities for Walking and Biking
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment of LACBC’s Ballot Measure Report, which shares news from the front lines of our campaign to win dedicated funding for biking and walking in Los Angeles County’s next transportation ballot measure. Follow campaign updates on the LACBC blog or on Twitter at #metrofundwalkbike.
In our last Ballot Measure Report, we took a look at how Los Angeles County’s seven Councils of Governments (COGs) have weighed in with their priorities for Metro’s potential sales tax measure. While COGs have considerable influence at Metro, they don’t have the final say over what Metro decides to include in the ballot measure—the Metro board does. For now, we can look at these projects as inspiration for what Metro might fund in the coming decades. When the draft expenditure plan is released next week, we expect to see many of these priorities reflected in it.
Overall, most COGs met or exceeded our goal of allocating at least 10 percent of their funding for walking, biking, and safe routes to school (“active transportation”). Only two COGs, the Gateway Cities and South Bay Cities, did not dedicate any funding to active transportation. The South Bay Cities COG created a comprehensive local mobility program that includes strategies like neighborhood electric vehicles and improved land use alongside active transportation, so it is likely that much of this funding would eventually be spent on walking and biking, even if it is not dedicated for this purpose exclusively. However, the Gateway Cities COG allocated their funding exclusively to major capital projects, like freeway widening and a few rail projects, instead of a more balanced approach like the other COGs. At their board meeting in February, council members from the Southeast Cities and Long Beach attempted to redirect funding toward active transportation, but fell short in a 9-to-13 vote. So, while the Gateway Cities COG itself has not prioritized walking and biking, many of its members do. Based on all of this input from the COGs and other stakeholders, Metro will decide how much funding should go toward active transportation, and how to structure that funding within the expenditure plan to ensure that no subregion is left out.
Each subregion has submitted their priority projects to Metro for inclusion in the potential ballot measure. While most subregions made walking and biking significant priorities, a couple did not. (h/t Investing in Place)
The priority projects identified by each subregion offer insight into how different parts of the county thinks about active transportation. Here are some of the common themes for many of the subregions:
Transit is Great, If You Can Get to It
Most subregions emphasized walking and biking improvements that connect to transit (a.k.a. “first/last mile”). Metro’s First/Last Mile Strategic Plan, unveiled last year to much acclaim, has inspired agencies to think critically about how transit users get to the bus stop or train station. As the plan pointed out, over 90 percent of Metro customers walk or bike to transit, so it makes sense to invest in the first and last segments of customers’ trips if the goal is to increase ridership.
Finish the Los Angeles River Bike Path (and Other Greenways)
There has been a lot of energy recently around completing Los Angeles County’s already extensive network of river bike paths. Every major bike path has a local advocacy group advocating for its completion or enhancement. (Shout-outs to Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, Pacoima Beautiful, BikeSGV, and Amigos de los Rios!) Together, this network has the potential to link all parts of the county with family-friendly bikeways totally separated from traffic. These greenway projects don’t come cheap, but they are tremendous opportunities to pursue multiple benefits: capturing and cleaning stormwater, much-needed parkland and recreation, and more trees to absorb carbon and other air pollutants. From the Los Angeles River (and its tributaries!) to the Emerald Necklace, a countywide network of greenways has transformative potential for our region.
Build Safe and Complete Streets
While all new projects will be covered under Metro’s Complete Streets Policy, adopted in 2014, some subregions have identified rebuilding their boulevards into complete streets for walking, biking, and transit as a key priority. These are not small projects: Central Los Angeles alone wants to spend nearly half a billion dollars on Great Streets. Coupled with land use changes and better transit options, these projects will revitalize commercial corridors and connect communities to new opportunities.
Provide Safe Routes to School
What would it look like for the ballot measure to improve mobility for the entire community, instead of just commutes to work? Providing safe routes for school-age children and seniors. Metro’s ongoing Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan could provide a foundation for strategic investments in education, encouragement, and infrastructure improvements around schools. Many of Metro’s peer agencies dedicate a percentage of their sales tax revenue specifically for safe routes to school programs, which creates steady, predictable funding for effective schools-based education programs. Los Angeles has built so much momentum around Walk to School Day over the past couple years that could carry forward into the ballot measure, if at least one subregion gets their way.
It’s refreshing to see Los Angeles County’s subregions dreaming big about active transportation and recognizing the importance of including walking, biking, and safe routes to school as part of a balanced approach to mobility. These projects make a compelling case for investing in active transportation with significant, dedicated funding in the potential ballot measure in order to build a region that is a healthier, safer, and more fun place to live.