Ballot Measure Report: What a Win Looks Like in Metro’s Draft Expenditure Plan
This post from Investing in Place first appeared on the Investing in Place website here.
A couple of months ago, we released our analysis of Metro’s draft expenditure plan, covering what’s promising and what’s concerning about Metro’s proposed uses for about $120 billion in potential revenue, or even more from a 45 or 50-year measure that is scheduled to go before Los Angeles County voters in November 2016. Before that can happen, the Metro Board of Directors need to approve an expenditure plan for the ballot measure. The final expenditure plan is expected to be reviewed by the Metro Board in June. As we get closer to the Metro board’s decision about a final plan, we wanted to provide a recap where we are and where we still need to make progress for the ballot measure to deliver key benefits for our communities with this potential new funding.
In our March 2016 analysis, we praised Metro leadership for funding transit operations and state of good repair, planning for new bus rapid transit lines and transit-oriented communities, and creating new services for students, older adults, and people with disabilities in the draft expenditure plan. We also applauded Metro for dedicating about six percent of the measure for projects and programs that directly serve trips made on foot or bicycle, and an additional three percent for complete streets projects where safety for people walking and biking is the central purpose of the expenditure. (Metro’s own pie chart shows only two percent for active transportation, however many walking and biking projects are in the transit and highway categories.) Together, these projects and programs that focus on making Los Angeles County safer and more accessible to people walking and biking account for about nine percent of the measure. It is still less than what’s needed, but it’s a good start.
There are still missed opportunities that should be fixed before the expenditure plan is finalized to ensure that all communities are served by the potential ballot measure. As we wrote in our analysis, the draft expenditure plan’s funding for active transportation is both inadequate and inequitable. There isn’t enough money overall for walking, biking, and safe routes to school and, more importantly, some communities were entirely left out of the limited active transportation funding that was included. Without investing in safe streets for all communities, the measure falls short of its potential. In our comment letter, we called this a “fatal flaw.”
There are also policy changes that would clarify how walking and biking are integrated into other projects through complete streets and first/last mile access. Integrated planning should be written directly into the ordinance to provide assurance to voters that commitments to complete streets are enforceable. These changes would maximize the value of investments in transit and highways by making sure that all projects consistently deliver benefits for people who walk and bike.
Here’s what a win for Investing in Place and our partners looks like:
Dedicated Funding for Active Transportation in the Gateway Cities
There is no way around the fact that some of Los Angeles County’s most environmentally impacted and lowest-income communities of color are located in the Gateway Cities subregion. Cities like Cudahy, Pico Rivera, Bell, and Compton are emerging as regional leaders on walking, biking, and safe routes to school planning, but just don’t have the resources they need to rebuild streets that haven’t been updated since World War II. Long Beach aspires to be the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States, but would receive no dedicated funding toward their goal under the current proposal. While other subregions will have funding for greenways along the upper Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers (and their tributaries), the lower sections of these rivers will see no access improvements.
At the Southeast cities townhall hosted by Metro in April, participants showed support for walking and biking investments in the area.
Research by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and LACBC found that while high-resource cities are able to strategically mix local return and other city revenue with state and federal grants to fund walking and biking improvements, low-resource cities like those in southeast L.A. County don’t have local funding to leverage, and are therefore completely reliant on outside funding sources. A subregional program for active transportation — like those proposed for North County, Las Virgenes-Malibu, San Gabriel Valley, Westside Cities, and Arroyo Verdugo — would be a game changer for these cities, especially if it addresses first/last mile conditions, and safe routes to school investments. Based on population and need, a Gateway Cities Active Transportation Program should be funded at $400 to $500 million over the life of the ballot measure, which is about $10 million per year (2015 dollars). This funding could come from reallocating funding from other projects, pursuing innovative financing from new ExpressLanes in the subregion, or extending the sunset date of the measure to generate more revenue. Without dedicated funding for walking and biking, safe routes to school planning, and complete streets in the Gateway Cities from the ballot measure, the most vulnerable residents in the county will continue to have the least safe streets and the worst access. With less than a month before the Metro board meeting, will Gateway Cities Council of Government step up from zero to hero?
Clear Commitment to Complete Streets
In October 2014, Metro adopted its award-winning Complete Streets Policy, which firmly commits the agency to provide for the needs of all people in all of it’s projects. The policy recognizes Metro’s role as a planning, funder, builder, and operator of the region’s transportation system working in partnership with cities to improve streets for people who walk and bike. It is Metro’s role as a funder that is particularly important in the formulation of the potential ballot measure and the creation of new projects and programs that will shape the next half-century of transportation in Los Angeles County. This ballot measure needs to reaffirm Metro’s commitment to complete streets in every project and program.
The draft expenditure plan includes an innovative programmatic approach to addressing safety, congestion, and accessibility on arterial streets, led by each subregion. Some of these programs are called “complete streets” in their program titles, and we included these in our funding analysis in March. Others are vague arterial improvement programs without defined purpose or scope. Metro’s Complete Streets Policy should apply to these programs, but since the programs have yet to be defined, that commitment has not yet been articulated.
The potential of these programs is huge. If all arterial programs were developed with strong complete streets guidelines, then over $3 billion (over 7%) of the measure, in 2015 dollars, would go toward building complete streets that improve safety and accessibility for everyone, including people walking, biking, taking transit, and driving.
*In our March analysis, these programs were counted toward an estimated $1.2 billion in complete streets improvements in the draft expenditure plan.
What needs to be in the measure to guarantee Metro’s commitment to complete streets? In San Diego’s TransNet sales tax, complete streets are written directly into the ordinance that goes on the ballot. They use the following language:
All new projects, or major reconstruction projects, funded by revenues provided under this Ordinance shall accommodate travel by pedestrians and bicyclists, except where pedestrians and bicyclists are prohibited by law from using a given facility or where the cost of including bikeways and walkways would be excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use. Such facilities for pedestrian and bicycle use shall be designed to the best currently available standards and guidelines.
If Metro were to use similar language in its ballot measure, voters could be confident that projects funded by the measure will deliver safe and accessible streets in their communities.
Integrated Funding for First and Last Mile Access in All Transit Projects
Last week, the Metro Board considered a motion by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to clarify that first and last mile access will be integrated into all future transit capital projects, building on momentum generated by Metro’s First/Last Mile Strategic Plan and Active Transportation Strategic Plan. An amendment by Inglewood Mayor James Butts would go further by allowing cities to count investment in walking and biking improvements around station areas as part of their required 3% capital contribution for major transit projects. (For more information about this motion, see last week’s blog post.) While the motion passed out of Planning and Programming Committee unanimously, it was continued until June by the board due to questions about the financial impact of the new policy.
Last week, Investing in Place and partners advocated for passing Metro’s groundbreaking Active Transportation Strategic Plan.
What the board realized during discussion of the motion is that while it’s one thing to have a strong policy, what also needs to happen is a commensurate increase in transit project budgets to reflect the expanded scope. These improvements were not a part of the cost estimation process for these projects and should have been. While life-of-project budgets 20 or 30 years in the future already factor in a degree of flexibility to account for future uncertainties, there is nothing uncertain about the need to plan for first and last mile access. We recommend that all major transit capital project budgets be increased by 3 to 5% to account for the addition of walking and biking improvements to their scopes, which would require identifying an additional $325 to $550 million countywide in the expenditure plan. The consideration of 45 and 50-year alternatives provides an opportunity to increase project funding without taking away from other projects and programs.
The board will reconsider the motion at its June meeting, and support from advocates is critical to ensure that Metro makes a financial commitment to first and last mile as part of its transit capital program. If the full board adopts the motion, Metro will be making an unambiguous policy statement that transit projects need to include access for people walking and biking in their project budgets.
Mark Your Calendars: We Need You in June!
Metro will be making big decisions at their June meeting. In addition to the first/last mile motion, the board will consider the entire expenditure plan. This is our final opportunity to make the case that walking and biking need more investment in order to make our communities safer and healthier places to live. Please join us at these meetings and let us know you’re coming by RSVPing on here or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Metro Planning & Policy Committee
Wednesday, June 15th at 2:00 PM
Metro Board Room, 3rd Floor
Metro Executive Management Committee
Thursday, June 16th at 11:30 AM
Metro Board Room, 3rd Floor
Thursday, June 23rd at 9:00 AM
Metro Board Room, 3rd Floor