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A Clarification on Newsom’s Budget Proposal for Active Transportation

2:37 PM PST on January 13, 2022

Santa Cruz Beach Street protected bike lane. More of this, sooner.

It seemed at first glance that Governor Newsom was proposing a bigger bump to the Active Transportation Program than he did last year, but upon closer inspection of the budget proposal that turns out not to be true. His 2022 budget proposes an extra $500 million for that program, which is the same amount he proposed last year and which was ultimately scuttled by Assembly Democrats in their push to deny the governor's proposed high-speed rail funding.

$500 million is lot better than a stick in the eye, but it's not that great, given the amount of surplus money. The California Transportation Commission has been asking for a $2 billion boost to the program. The ATP is, as has been repeated endlessly, oversubscribed and underfunded, to the point where not only do just a small portion of qualified projects receive funding, but there are indications that potential projects aren't even applying because the odds of getting a grant are so low.

In his speech earlier this week, Newsom proposed "$750 million for active transportation." While the Active Transportation Program is the main and most visible source of funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in California, it's not the only one. In fact, if Caltrans succeeds in getting cooperation from the districts on its new Complete Streets policy directive, there should be more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure everywhere as part of its regular funding programs.

In addition to the $500 million bump to the ATP, Newsom's proposal includes $100 million for bicycle and pedestrian safety projects, allocated through the Highway Safety Improvement Program. It's not clear if this is new money; Caltrans has been developing pedestrian and bicycle safety measurements and data for a number of years. More is better, of course, and it's good that $100 million is being publicly proposed for this important program.

He also floated a proposal to allocate $150 million to establish a new program called Reconnecting Communities: Highways to Boulevards Pilot. This seems to be aligned with a new federal program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which aims to "improve equity and remove transportation barriers" by converting "underused" highways to multi-modal corridors and add affordable housing and "complete streets features" in disadvantaged communities.

It's all good, but it's not $2 billion.

Although Newsom touted efforts to reduce freeway widening at the state level, those efforts are far from complete, and expensive highway capacity projects still receive far more funding than basic and much less expensive bicycle and pedestrian safety infrastructure. That includes increased levels of funding from the Federal Highway Administration, some of which goes directly to local jurisdictions who are demanding highway expansions.

The governor's budget proposal enumerates a number of goals for its transportation investments, including among them:

    • Enhance safety and access for bicyclists and pedestrians
    • Support climate resiliency and reduce risks from climate impacts.
    • Remove barriers and connect disadvantaged communities, increasing access to opportunity.
    • Move the state away from fossil fuel-based technologies and toward cleaner transportation technologies, including zero-emission vehicles and clean infrastructure.

Maybe Governor Newsom needs more reminders that biking and walking should be high on the list of climate-fighting technologies that need support. The climate crisis is affecting California right now, and there is no time to be futzing around.

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