Lessons Learned from Southern California


Rye Baerg and I hit the ground running in January. The region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), published the 2012 draft Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS). This plan set forth policies and funding priorities for $524 billion over the next 25 years for Southern California. There were improvements and additions from the previous plan from SB 375 implementation, legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through land use and transportation planning. Overall, pedestrian and bicycle (aka active transportation) funding increased but remained terribly inadequate. 

More people walk and bicycle in Southern California than people think. SCAG studies show walking and bicycling make up 21 percent of all trips in the region and comprised 25 percent of casualties. Yet, active transportation received only 1.3 percent of RTP funds and only 1.3 percent of SCAG’s planning budget. 

In this process, we wanted to ensure active transportation its fair share of funding. Our focus shifted to the lack of walking and bicycling data after we realized SCAG and local jurisdictions did not have a baseline of information to make decisions. The gap in data negatively impacted RTP funding outcomes. Building on the momentum of public support over the past two years, a motion was drafted by key transportation policy partners, Safe Routes Partnership, Los Angeles County Bicycle CoalitionMoveLA and the American Lung Association, to fill in the gaps of the RTP/SCS. The successful motion was approved and passed unanimously in two convenings of SCAG Regional Council members. The following recommendations are now part of the RTP implementation process:

  • Enhance investments in regionally significant systems, such as identifying new revenue sources, expanding the Compass BluePrint Program, increasing efficiency and connectivity of the Metrolink system and improving clean good movement investments.
  • Develop and track health and equity metrics to better understand health outcomes from implementation of the SCS.
  • Create three regional active transportation plans to increase SCAG’s technical and policy leadership by 2014, including Complete Streets, strategic finance and Safe Routes to School plans.

As a result of the motion, active transportation will begin collecting and analyzing baseline data for the region. The whole experience with the RTP/SCS and partnering with heroes - partners with important insights and elected officials - while new and exciting for us, built upon the work of Jessica Meaney, our California policy director. She has been fighting for change in regional and local transportation policy since the winter of 2010, when the Southern California Safe Routes to School regional network launched. The work is not done because the recommended regional plans still must be adequately funded in SCAG’s budget. Stay tuned for more updates!

Our lessons learned in the process:

  1. Work with agency staff. They have the important internal and external knowledge to guide the way to success and collaboration.
  2. Educate champions! Elected officials and community advocates can save the day. Your best advocates may need education or resources on pedestrian and bicycle issues, such as talking points, educational materials and technical advice. Lend them a helping hand.
  3. Use a coalition of voices!  Develop voices from different disciplines to speak to a variety of concerns, such as public health, social justice, environmental and businesses. Diverse solutions communicates a stronger message to elected officials and agency staff.