Politics

Activists call for more bike and pedestrian projects in Metro $120 billion spending plan

FILE: A cyclist bikes alongside the Los Angeles River near the Glendale-Hyperion complex of bridges.
FILE: A cyclist bikes alongside the Los Angeles River near the Glendale-Hyperion complex of bridges.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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A $120 billion sales tax proposal on L.A. County's November ballot is already drawing critics who say the transportation funding initiative gives pedestrians and bikers short shrift. 

Last week the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled a list of projects it hopes to pursue if two-thirds of the voters approve the 40-year initiative. The plan includes big items like a subway tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass, acceleration of work on the Purple Line subway to Westwood that would see it finished a decade sooner and an extension of the Gold Line to Claremont.

But under the proposal, which the Metro Board will vote on Thursday, only a 4.5 percent slice of the money is set aside for "active transportation," like wider sidewalks and a completed L.A. River bike path. 

Many walking and biking advocates plan to attend the meeting and encourage the board to revise the plan before June, when final ballot language must be submitted. 

"There's definitely some mixed feelings," said Tamika Butler, Executive Director for the L.A. County Bike Coalition. 

On one hand, advocates had hoped for more like 10 percent of the proposed funds. On the other, the 4.5 percent chunk is much more than was included in previous transportation initiatives, like 2008's Measure R, which set aside no money for biking and walking. 

Metro officials said they're responsive to the fact that these days, Angelenos want more pedestrian infrastructure.

"This is a new category for us," said Metro spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas. "I think we've come up with a plan that dedicates funding equitably for all the massive needs of this county," said Metro spokeswoman Tonilas."

But Butler said it's not enough. 

"So many of the trips to get to the buses or the rail are biking and walking so the investment has to be there," Butler said. "It would be a missed opportunity to spend billions making it easier to drive across the county when so many of our residents can’t even walk safely to the bus stop or bike to the train station.”

Research from other counties and Metro's own "Strategic Plan" for active transportation estimates a funding need of $740 million to $1.7 billion per year for biking and walking projects, Butler said.

According to the U.S. Census only 1 percent of Angelenos bike to work, but that doesn't account for those who bike to transit.

Walking and biking combined make up almost a fifth of all trips taken in the county and disproportionately account for nearly 40 percent of traffic fatalities.

The proposed funding allocation may look low compared to the share of people who walk or bike, said professor Juan Matute, associate director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies, "but you get a lot of bang for your buck."

Matute said walking and biking projects don't often come with high price tags and points out there will likely be more state funds available for active transportation in coming years under a newly established grant program.

There's also an effort to devote $50 million annually from California's cap and trade market revenues to fund active transportation.

In the last year, several ambitious programs have emerged locally to tackle biking and walking safety. The City of L.A. launched Vision Zero, an international initiative to eliminate traffic deaths through road design, enforcement and education.

The city is also in the process of adopting a long-range plan for transportation known as the Mobility Plan 2035, which would add hundreds of miles of bike lanes to city streets.

"We have this acknowledgement that we have to do something else," said Butler. "But if we don't have the funding behind it to actually implement these things then we have these issues still."

Metro's ballot measure proposal would fund completion of the L.A. River bike path between downtown L.A. and the west San Fernando Valley and the City of San Fernando bike path along the Pacoima Wash.

The full text of the Metro's Draft Expenditure Plan is below: