Bill Aims to Reshape Active Transportation Program

Photo: Alta Planning
Photo: Alta Planning

A bill sponsored by the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) would restructure the way funding is allocated and projects are managed in the Active Transportation Program.

S.B. 152, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-Campbell), would hand over 75 percent of ATP funding to regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)–including MTC–and allow them to create their own process for deciding which projects to fund. This is a major change from the current program, which gives forty percent of the money to MPOs and allocates half through a statewide competition. Much of that statewide portion goes to projects within the MPOs, but MTC in particular has been unhappy with its share of that pie.

The bill calls for the MPO money to be allocated using a formula based on population, and given in a lump sum so that the regions would manage all project funding decisions. Even though under the current structure MPOs can choose their own list of projects, they are limited to ones that have already been scored through the state competition–although they don’t need to use those scores to make their decisions–and all projects are overseen at the state level. That means allocation requests, changes, and extensions all must be considered and approved by the California Transportation Commission.

S.B. 152 would shrink the statewide competitive portion to ten percent of the total, from the current fifty percent, and focus it on “projects of a transformative nature.”

Some of these changes are bolstered by a recent report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which made several recommendations to the legislature. As discussed here, that report was largely about the lack of data available to measure the progress of the ATP. Yet its recommendations to consider restructuring the program were also not backed up by data.

These changes could have a profound impact on which bicycle and pedestrian projects get funded under this program and where they are. Look for a deeper discussion of the implications on Streetsblog next week.

  • Melanie Curry

    Just to put it out there: the scoring process is transparent, more so than any other transportation funding process. All the information about why a project got a particular score is available and shared with project sponsors. Every project is scored separately by three team members (two volunteers and one staff) to make sure it is done fairly, and the rubric they are scored against is spelled out in detail before they even apply. Several projects have had their scores adjusted when questions were raised about them, based on publicly available information about those scores.

    The problem is not with the scoring; it’s that there isn’t enough money to fund enough of the projects that score well, and those further down the list don’t have a prayer.

  • DG

    Gil Penalosa, he started 8 to 80 Cities and with his brother, Enrique Penalosa (Mayor of Bogota, Columbia 1999), implemented Cicovila. Who gets “Safe Streets”, would you let your loved one 8 years young, or 80 years old, use the pedestrian or cycling infrastructure.

  • I’d point out that a number of other people within SCAG don’t share that same view, especially those in smaller communities that are functionally rural but are prohibited from accessing the funds in the rural set aside due to being within SCAG. Because they’re so small and/or due to lack of local capacity, their projects tend to not compete well at the statewide level at all. There’s also the air of uncertainty around how much funding is available and of course, the black box of scoring hasn’t helped either.

  • I agree that the program needs to be revamped, but I’m not sure that this proposal does it best. A better allocation would be a 65-35-10 split to respectively, MPOs, statewide, and rural. But while we’re at it, let’s put more money into that pot too and do more to align the funding with the stated climate goals of the State.

  • iamthepinkylifter

    Seriously. If there’s a demand for more funding, allocate more funding. Non-car transpo funding needs to be something more than “peanuts” anyway.

  • Preach.

  • Rural.

  • Mehmet Berker

    We could also embiggen the ATP pie in general of course, where’s that bill?

  • p_chazz

    “This is a major change from the current program, which gives forty percent of the money to MPOs and allocates half through a statewide competition”.

    Where does the other 10% go? Administrative expenses?

  • thielges

    “But I think one could argue for distribution based on need…”

    I agree so long as “need” includes communities that are behind in active transportation infrastructure investment. In the SF Bay Area there is a tendency to gold plate existing systems in some communities before creating even basic infrastructure in others. A lot of this has to do with the fact that some cities are wealthy and/or have forward thinking city councils willing to sponsor projects and provide matching funds. Still it seems a little unfair that we allocate tens of millions towards nice to have overcrossings in some locations while others don’t even have basic sidewalks and bike lanes.

  • Ben Phelps

    I’m open to discussion of this but I am somewhat troubled by the motives and would want to tread carefully.

  • Interesting. I agree with getting more money to the local level, and reducing CTC’s influence (which is not a positive influence – they are now more car-centric than Caltrans). But I think one could argue for distribution based on need, perhaps the number of disadvantaged census tracts the area, or the number of people living in disadvantaged census tracts, rather than a pure population-based formula. I’m not saying it all needs to be spent in those tracts, as a big project could have a very beneficial impact if it helps residents of those tracts get to jobs and other destinations, but yes, most projects should be located in those tracts.

  • Joe Linton

    L.A. Metro’s state governmental relations person spoke about this bill (and broader efforts to re-open SB1 funding criteria for discretionary categories – including ATP and local partnership) yesterday. He portrayed the effort as the Bay Area being upset that L.A. was getting a greater share of state funds – mostly tied to the L.A. and Central Valley areas having more disadvantaged communities (under the legal definition of those – via Cal EnviroScreen.) Suffice it to say that L.A. County’s acting MPO (Metro) is opposing any attempts to tinker with these formulas.

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