Editor’s Note: This is the second 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. For more background, read our first Ballot Measure Report.
Earlier this week, we looked at Metro’s potential ballot measure and, based on best practices in other counties and overwhelming need here in Los Angeles, recommended that 10 percent of the ballot measure be dedicated for biking and walking (a.k.a. “active transportation”). Active transportation includes a broad range of potential investments, so today we’ll explore the projects and programs that might be funded by this measure if Los Angeles County seeks to become a healthy, safe, and fun place to bike and walk.
By any measure, Los Angeles County has huge needs for active transportation funding. When making investment decisions, however, it’s not enough to say we need “a lot.” We have to quantify that need and start to categorize it into projects and programs that can be implemented at the local and regional level, with adequate funding. In a paper we published last year with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, we made a rough calculation based on the geography and population size of Los Angeles County and real-life cost figures from cities and consultants that work on these projects every day. The resulting estimate was nearly $20 billion over 30 years–a hefty sum, but not inconsistent with the scale of the potential $120 billion that could be generated by the proposed ballot measure.
By our estimate, Los Angeles County has approximately $20 billion in unfunded needs for walking and biking. Our methodology is included in our report, “Best Practices for Funding Active Transportation with County Transportation Sales Taxes.”
This needs assessment includes all kinds of active transportation investments: from sidewalk repair and river bike paths to school-based bike safety education and CicLAvia. Providing for that diversity of investment is important–different communities have different needs and different priorities. Some places lack basic infrastructure like wheelchair-accessible sidewalks, while others are missing key links in an otherwise excellent trail network or are looking to install the latest bike lane innovation. Each community needs to do its own planning to determine their priorities but, in Los Angeles County, the majority of cities still don’t have a bike plan. Even fewer have a pedestrian or safe routes to school plan. In the absence of detailed local planning, regional policymakers are left making funding decisions with imperfect information. This is why, in July 2014, the Metro Board directed staff to create an Active Transportation Finance Strategy that would make an educated guess at the level of investment required to fund Los Angeles County’s active transportation needs. Once that estimate is complete, Metro will be better positioned to fulfill its role as a funder to ensure that local agencies have sufficient resources to implement yet-to-be-created bike and pedestrian plans.
While the scale of Los Angeles County’s needs is unique, other counties have paved the way with good models for delivering both local and regional active transportation projects. Measure BB, adopted by Alameda County voters in 2014, included a comprehensive three-part active transportation funding strategy. First, Alameda County’s transportation agency has a robust “complete streets” policy that requires all projects to incorporate the needs of people walking and biking. Metro adopted a similar policy in October 2014. Second, Alameda County identified high-priority regional projects and programs, including new trails and countywide education programs. Metro’s Active Transportation Strategic Plan, with a draft scheduled for public release in March, aims to identify these regional priorities in Los Angeles County. Third, Alameda County included a set-aside for biking and walking within local return. (Local return is a formula allocation to cities for local projects.) While Measure R local return can be spent on any transportation purpose, previous local returns in Los Angeles County measures have been restricted to transit-related expenditures, so a new restriction for active transportation would not be unprecedented. With these three elements, Alameda County guarantees a minimum level of investment in active transportation, while giving local agencies the flexibility and resources to meet their specific needs. Metro could easily apply this model to Los Angeles County.
One possible scenario to achieve a 10 percent funding allocation for biking and walking in Metro’s next ballot measure. All capital expenditures would be covered by Metro’s Complete Streets Policy.
Dedicating 10 percent of the ballot measure is reasonable and necessary for Los Angeles County to become a place where walking and biking are safe and accessible transportation options. We can make it safer and easier to walk and bike to transit. We can complete the Los Angeles River bike path. We can teach safety education in every school. We can fix our broken sidewalks and make our city accessible to people of all ages and abilities. And, we can make sure that all communities benefit from these investments equitably. More than ever before, we have projects and programs that are ambitious and achievable, if only they had funding. By following Alameda County’s lead, Metro can employ a sophisticated approach to meet our region’s growing demand for walkable and bikeable communities.