Monday, June 15, 2015

Prioritizing areas of opportunity in Los Angeles County with transportation policies and investments

Los Angeles County has the widest quality of life disparities in California (LA Time 1/22/15). In the region 75% of the transit trips are done on buses, where the household income of the person riding the bus is a little over $16,000 (2013 Metro ridership survey). And while transit infrastructure expands in Los Angeles County, for the past four quarters transit ridership has dropped and housing costs have continue to escalate, with severe potential to further displace low-income residents.

We applaud Metro as it is currently undertaking one of the largest public works programs in the country, delivering 12 major transit projects and numerous highway projects over the next several decades, all while operating and maintaining the nation’s third largest bus and rail system. This unprecedented investment in transportation infrastructure is possible because of voters’ repeated willingness to tax themselves in 1980, 1990 and again in 2008. Combined, Propositions A and C and Measure R provide close to 70 percent of the county’s transportation funding, giving Metro significant control over transportation investment decisions.

Despite broad transportation planning responsibilities, Metro has historically limited itself to large projects and transit operations, overlooking fine-grain investments like first/last-mile access to transit, pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and safe routes to school – the investments that make our communities livable. These planning gaps have resulted in a transportation system that will benefit from targeted and measurable investments in communities of demonstrative high need/high opportunity, not only as the region considers a new ballot measure and updates its Long Range Transportation plan (LRTP), but also to increase its competitiveness leveraging state and federal transportation funds which also prioritize investments based on identified need.

Investing in Place seeks to develop a policy definition and research best practices for prioritizing investments based on social equity and public health criteria, believing that prioritizing the needs of residents most in need/already to using transit, walking and bicycling options will most effectively increase use of these modes.

As we start this effort we are inspired by four different models underway in California:

  1. State of California: SB 535 – Cap and Trade to prioritize Disadvantaged Communities (DAC) based on the CalEnviroScreen. SB 535 requires that at least 10% of Cap-and-Trade funds be invested in DACs, and 25% benefit DACs. Identification at the Census level. Focuses on metrics of exposure and environmental effects (pollution burden) and socio-economic and population characteristics.
  2. State of California: ATP requires at least 25% of funds benefit DACs, and the guidelines say that the project must be in a DAC and justify how it provides meaningful benefits to disadvantaged residents. Offers multiple ways to define DACs for project applicants.
  3. Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC): Defines “communities of concern” at the census tract/UZA level on criterias of 1) significant concentrations of both low-income and populations of American Indian or Pacific Islander, Asian alone, Black or African-American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or 2) significant concentrations of any four or more of the following: communities of color, low-income persons below 200% of the federal poverty level (about $44,000 per year for a family of four), persons with Limited English Proficiency, zero-vehicle households, seniors aged 75 and over, persons with a disability, single-parent families, and housing units occupied by renters paying more than 50% of household income on rent. Based on this definition, 20% of the MTC region’s population is characterized as living in communities of concern.
  4. City of Los Angeles: 2012 Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan which relies on 4 metrics to prioritize need among the City’s 495 public schools. Metrics are: (A) # of vehicle-pedestrian/bike collisions; (B) # of students who live within 1/4 mile from school; (C) # of students eligible for Free-Reduced Price Meals; and (D) lack of prior state/federal SRTS funding.

These state, regional and city examples of prioritized investment areas for transportation funds provide relevant best practices and lessons learned for Metro to consider. We have many strong partners throughout Los Angeles County that can inform this effort with local expertise. We hope you’ll join us in this effort.

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