Over the past six months, California Walks has been involved in a collective effort—led by Investing in Place and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition—dedicated to ensuring transportation investments meaningfully reach and address the health, safety, and mobility needs of low-income communities in Los Angeles County. The biggest opportunity on the horizon to advance social equity with our transportation dollars will be a new countywide sales tax ballot measure, which if approved by voters, would raise approximately over $100 billion.

This sales tax measure, however, has not yet been approved for the November 2016 ballot, and a number of steps are taking place right now to secure its future. Since November 2015, the various Councils of Government (COGs) across the county have outlined, approved, and submitted their priorities for the potential ballot measure to LA Metro, which is coordinating the sales tax measure. The Council of Governments represent diverse cities across the county—each having their own vision for solving their local transportation challenges.

California Walks has been most engaged with the Gateway Cities Council of Government subregion in southeast LA County, which is home to a high number of low-income communities and communities of color in dire need of active transportation and transit investments. Home to 2 million people, people of color comprise 82% of the subregion’s population, with Latino residents making up the majority (63%). Despite identifying between $225-$471 million in active transportation needs in its Strategic Transportation Plan—a likely understatement of needs in light of Metro’s recent report documenting between $11-$30 billion in active transportation funding needs countywide over the next 20 years—the Gateway Cities COG submitted a transportation priorities list that dedicated zero dollars to active transportation (as seen below):

GCCOG Matrix

Along with advocates from ten other organizations, I attended last month’s Gateway Cities COG Board Meeting to urge the Board to align their transportation investments with their previously adopted policy goal supporting active transportation by setting aside at least 10% of their funds for active transportation. Unfortunately, not only did the Board vote to proceed without a dedicated active transportation set-aside but Gateway Cities COG and LA Metro Board Member Diane Dubois also characterized active transportation investments as “icing on the cake” as opposed to a main ingredient. This view of active transportation marginalizes the very real struggle of low-income residents who travel on foot, by bike, or on transit by necessity and treats active transportation as an afterthought.

As a resident of West Whittier who doesn’t drive, I encounter and struggle with our county’s car-dominated environment every day: it usually takes me an hour and a half—under the best circumstances—to get to most of my meetings on a number of public transit agencies that lack fare and service coordination; very few bus stops I wait at have a bench, provide shade or shelter, or are designed to make me feel safe traveling alone as a woman at night. If we are to move toward a more sustainable transportation system, active transportation—especially walking and biking connections to transit—simply cannot be an afterthought. On the contrary, if active transportation is a priority, then our transportation dollars should be invested in walking and biking projects that tie our transportation system together.

Moving forward, California Walks and our partner organizations working on this potential ballot measure will meet in late March to discuss Metro’s draft expenditure plan, which compiles the COGs identified investments. The Metro Board will vote in June 2016 to decide whether or not the measure will be on the November 2016 ballot. Stay tuned for more details!

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