Exciting developments in California—and they have lasting implications for the role trails will play in combating climate change and air pollution, and providing much-needed active-transportation connections in disadvantaged communities around the state.
Last week, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.—along with Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon—announced California’s plans to allocate $900 million to programs specifically targeted toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while benefiting low-income areas, supporting clean transportation and reducing climate pollution.
A Bump for Urban Greening and Active Transportation
Of the $900 million allocated, $90 million is going toward programs that support trails, including: $80 million for the state’s Urban Greening Program, which for a decade has been funding projects that help California meet its environmental goals and create healthy communities (think urban forests, open space development and wetlands protection); and $10 million for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), currently the largest funding source for biking, walking and trails in the state.
The money for these programs comes from California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF)—and here’s a little background:
The GGRF gets its revenue from the Cap-and-Trade program. For those of you who aren’t aware, Cap-and-Trade funds come from a market auction where large power plants and industrial plants that aren’t meeting state-mandated greenhouse gas reduction targets can buy credits from other companies who are under theirs. The money by law has to go toward greenhouse gas reduction.
Launched just under four years ago, California’s Cap-and-Trade program is targeting a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from regulated entities by 2020. The program encompasses hundreds of businesses responsible for 85 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. (As of Jan. 1, 2014, California's auction is linked to Québec’s.)
A Win for Disadvantaged Communities and the Environment
Getting funds from this program is a significant win—essentially opening the door for trails and active-transportation infrastructure to get support from this source of funding, and potentially increase our share, in future years. And this also means a big impact in the long term for California’s environment and underserved communities.
ATP is the state’s only dedicated funding source for walking and biking projects, infrastructure improvements and educational programs supporting Safe Routes to School. In the past several years since the program was enacted, trails have received about 30 percent of the funding, and more than 80 percent of ATP grant dollars have specifically gone to projects in disadvantaged communities. For examples of projects ATP has funded, check out these articles from November 2014 and February 2016 on the RTC TrailBlog.
The Urban Greening Program funds will go toward green infrastructure projects, including nonmotorized urban trails that provide safe routes for recreation and travel between residences, workplaces, commercial centers and schools—and 75 percent of these funds will go to disadvantaged communities.
And underscoring it all is California’s recognition of the central role trails can—and should—play in creating clean biking and walking networks that not only get people where they want and need to go safely, but also address issues such as climate change and air pollution, and help create healthy, sustainable communities.
As Jeanie Ward Waller, policy director for the California Bicycle Coalition, states in a recent press release, “Transportation is the greatest contributor to climate change, and there is huge potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing more safe and attractive opportunities for Californians to walk and bike rather than driving.”
Fighting climate change through these investments in biking, walking and trails has the added benefit of creating opportunities for residents to be more physically active, a win-win for the health and well-being of future generations of Californians.
Policy wins like this happen because of the dedicated, cooperative efforts of many organizations working together. RTC was pleased to help support these efforts, and I want to acknowledge the great work of my outstanding partners whose leadership helped us achieve this important victory, including the California Bicycle Coalition, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, PolicyLink, The Trust for Public Land and many others.
California’s trail advocates have done much over the past five years to show the state legislature that connected networks of trails, and biking and walking facilities are key parts of the strategy for achieving California’s transportation, health and environmental goals—with some amazing results.
RTC continues to advocate for more state funds for trails through a park bond, and we will provide updates on that important effort, slated for the 2018 ballot. Stay tuned!