Another Active Transportation Victory: Kern County Improves Transit Access
Rounding out our trio of Active Transportation Grant success stories is Kern County’s. The rural county that is home to Bakersfield snagged $5.7 million in state funds to improve access to bus stops, adding sidewalks where they are missing in the surrounding community. (For more on Active Transportation Success Stories: please read stories from Santa Ana and Fresno.)
Other Kern projects that gained approval include: rehabilitation of pedestrian walkways in rural desert areas such as Mojave, a rail corridor project in the snowy hills of Tehachapi, an active transportation plan, improvements to one of the Bakersfield’s oldest neighborhoods, and funding for a Safe Routes to Schools program in McFarland.
But the highlight is a $2 million sidewalk project in the dusty farming community of Lamont that will improve walkability in the area just south of Bakersfield. The grant includes new sidewalks, repainted crosswalks, and new curbs and gutters on the east side of Highway 184.
“Nearly half of this community will now have sidewalks thanks to [Building Healthy Communities-South Kern’s] partners, who worked to secure this funding with Kern County Roads Department,” said Reyna Olaguez, BHC’s communications manager. “The project will bring sidewalks, crosswalks, curbs, and gutters to a small community that has done without them for many years.”
Olaguez felt that his funding was a “big win” for the group and that good things are on the rise for that community.
“The project includes bus stops, but also four miles of sidewalks,” explains Veronica Garibay of the Leadership Council. “The grant was only successful because of strong community engagement–and the county [being] willing to work with them, especially Bob Neath.”
“It was very much a resident-driven process, combined with a local government that was willing to move the needle a little bit.”
Part of that community advocacy and encouragement came from parents concerned about the safety of their children.
“Now the people of Lamont will have a safe place to walk, [and] residents will have their space to walk without risking [being] hit by a car,” writes Jose Mireles, a member of Lamont Parent Partners, a group that mobilized for safety and walkability in Lamont. “After a year of working hard, the community of Lamont is reaching its goal: more sidewalks so that people can get out and walk.”
Other proposals from Kern were awarded grants by the California Transportation Commission.
For Mojave and Lamont, two of Kern’s most disadvantaged communities, any funding to improve infrastructure for pedestrians is better than what’s there now. All the efforts to cultivate active transportation in Kern County thus far have been funded from surplus monies, and these two communities in particular are often left to languish in the Kern County heat. But these pedestrian improvement proposals show that Kern Council of Governments and Building Healthy Communities-South Kern are trying to recognize under-served communities.
Lesser served communities seem to be on the order for this round of ATP funding. In McFarland, another of Kern’s rural farming towns, one grant will fund safer streets around schools. Currently, most of McFarland’s streets are asphalt with dirt shoulders, and sidewalks are badly needed.
The county will also receive nearly $250,000 for a dedicated active transportation plan to help it prioritize and plan better for walking, biking, and transit. A focused plan to improve Kern’s transportation priorities may yield a growing number of walkers, bikers, and public transit users.