California Communities Apply for $300 Million for Safe Routes to School Projects

jeanie ward wallerIn August, almost $220 million in walking and bicycling grants will be awarded to communities across California through the state’s new Active Transportation Program (ATP).  In a hard-won victory by the Safe Routes Partnership’s state network in California, at least $72 million of that total will fund Safe Routes to School projects and programs. In addition, our California Network successfully advocated for at least $55 million to fund ATP projects that provide a benefit for disadvantaged communities.

The California Network played a key role in 2013 in guaranteeing those funding minimums in the transition from a stand-alone Safe Routes to School Program to a consolidated ATP.  One of our key concerns in the transition was not only the dedicated level of funding for Safe Routes to School projects, but also losing the positive identity of the Safe Routes to School Program by consolidating it into another program.  The name ‘Safe Routes to School’ has a long history and strong association in California with highly successful and popular transportation grants. So, following the creation of the ATP and in advance of the inaugural call for projects in March 2014, Safe Routes Partnership staff and several of our statewide partners set out to educate local partners in communities across the state about the new source of funding and help them prepare to apply.

Over a period of six months, Safe Routes Partnership staff and partners organized an ATP webinar series and an in-person workshop series in communities around the state, created an ATP funding toolkit, and facilitated hundreds of questions and answers between partners and Department of Transportation staff.  Our message was clear: the ATP is an expanded source of funding for Safe Routes to School grants, and Safe Routes to School projects that incorporate more than one of the five E’s and benefit students in a disadvantaged community will be highly competitive for ATP funds. Fortunately, that message resonated with partners across the state.

As the application deadline loomed in late May, ATP applications literally poured into Caltrans Headquarters. Caltrans staff set up a special storage room in the basement to house the mountain of applications that were received – 771 of them. The total in ATP funds requested is just over $1 billion.

Preliminary tallies indicate that Safe Routes to School applications and projects that benefit disadvantaged communities are the large majority. 360 applications (47 percent) were for Safe Routes to School projects and programs, to the tune of $300 million in ATP funds requested. 107 applications are for Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure programs.  465 of the 771 applications indicate that they will benefit a disadvantaged community, equivalent to $600 million in requested funds.

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The California Transportation Commission will announce the final awards for the ATP on August 20, and we are eager to see how many Safe Routes to School projects make the award list. We want to congratulate all our partners who submitted applications – we know it was very challenging in this first cycle of a brand new program. The California Network is already thinking ahead to improvements that can be made for the next funding cycle and working on ensuring the effectiveness of the first round of grants in creating healthier and more active schools, kids, and communities across California.