California Dreaming

Deb HubsmithThis fall marks 20 years since I moved to California. I was born in Manhattan and grew up there and in New Jersey – learning important lessons about taking initiative and being direct - but I always had an eye toward the west and a fascination with the innovative ideas and policies that often originate in California and then go nationwide. 

I’m still California dreaming. And now I’m putting those dreams into action on the implementation of MAP-21 in the golden state.

While most states will have their DOT set the policy for MAP-21, California is developing state legislation. The state is seeing the flexibility in MAP-21 as the beginning of a new era, and with our California climate change laws, AB32 and SB375, there is a lot of power and new opportunity at the regional level for greenhouse gas reduction-solutions like Safe Routes to School and bike/ped infrastructure to be more in the mix than ever before.

I was recently appointed to the official Caltrans (DOT) working group for the implementation of MAP-21. We will be meeting throughout the fall to make a recommendation to the Administration for legislation that will be introduced in January 2013. Since the state is going to receive $3.5 billion/year under MAP-21 (the same as their SAFETEA-LU allocation), I am bringing forward recommendations that California continue to spend level-funding on Transportation Enhancements, Rec Trails and Safe Routes to School, which would be $106 million/year – only three percent of the overall funding for transportation in MAP-21.

At the same time, the Speaker of the California State Assembly John Perez, has introduced a bill to begin a wider discussion around MAP-21 and California priorities. I’ve been walking the halls of the “building” in Sacramento with partners to talk with legislative offices about the importance of Safe Routes to School and bike/ped funding for advancing the state’s goals associated with climate change, safety, and health in all policies.

Last month, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership led a sign-on statement to urge the State of California to keep level funding bike/ped/Safe Routes to School programs in the implementation of MAP-21 which was signed by more than 130 organizations in less than a week. That’s momentum.

Already we’re seeing that the proposed bills from both Caltrans and the Speaker’s office aim to maintain all of the Transportation Alternatives (TA) funding, while also providing additional funding for Safe Routes to School from the Highway Safety Improvement Program or the Surface Transportation Program. That’s really good progress, but there is a lot more work to do to make this “status quo” of level-funding for active transportation a reality.

Plus, there are other opportunities and the need for active transportation is much greater than maintaining the “status quo”, which is a relatively tiny amount of funds. Through California’s climate change laws, the state is moving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. A cap and trade program was developed and discussions are underway about how to use future revenues.  It will be important for Safe Routes to School and bike/ped supporters to be at the table in the coming year for those decisions, and any other policies that could create new sources of money such as reformulating fuel taxes, or looking at vehicle miles traveled as a source of revenue. 

We need to “hold the line” to keep our active transportation programs in MAP-21, but it’s also critical that our movement ensure a substantial carve out for much more active transportation funding through any new funding mechanisms. If we can do this in California, it will set a precedent for other states nationwide.

I’ll be joining many of you at Pro Walk/Pro Bike Long Beach during the week of September 10.  I’m very much looking forward to taking that opportunity to build more alliances nationwide, as well as to create a stronger coalition in California that is advocating for transportation policy to include goals associated with health, equity and the environment.

Then, we’ll be coming together in California again during August 2013 for the 4th Safe Routes to School National Conference. Sacramento has an excellent trail system, great Safe Routes to School programs, and the host, the Local Government Commission, puts on a fantastic conference. I encourage everyone to block off the week of August 12, 2013 to join us in Sacramento next year.

I also encourage other states to keep pushing the envelope, as we are here in California. We need to keep dreaming, and then work hard to make those dreams come true. Together, we can bring about a transportation transformation, and build a healthier stronger America.