With one of the worst walking- and bicycle-fatality rates in the nation, Los Angeles County is moving forward with a massive transportation improvement rebuild that is likely to help the county lose that notoriety, and not only increase the safety of its citizens, but also their ability to be more physically active. The investment is the result of a ballot initiative approved last year by the voters of Los Angeles County. Known as the Los Angeles County Transportation Improvement Plan – or Measure M – the ballot measure is projected to raise more than $120 billion over the next four decades via a half-cent sales tax.
It included language to also provide funding for better and safer walking and biking routes, which, when combined with other investments, could result in sidewalks, street crossings and bike lanes receiving literally billions of dollars for years to come. Voices for Healthy Kids grantee Investing in Place, an advocacy organization working with community members, decision makers, and key stakeholders to ensure that future transportation investments strengthen communities in Los Angeles county, played a critical role within the Yes on Measure M campaign.
Working with the American Heart Association, AARP and other community advocacy groups, Investing in Place was a critical leader on advocacy efforts around Measure M. Jessica Meaney, executive director says “Now more than ever is the time to support what many of our partners have been pushing for: development without displacement, addressing environmental justice, and expanding the voices at the decision-making table in public policy. Through it all, we need our leaders to reflect not only who lives in the region, but the diverse needs and challenges we face together. This is why we created Investing in Place — and now we have to make sure that Measure M unlocks the potential of all of our diverse communities.”
Erik Jansen, interim executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, says that a coalition of walking, biking, transit, community and other groups, including Investing in Place, is working together to make sure that walking and biking improvement projects are implemented as promised under the initiative. It’s a role that many organizations are eagerly pursuing.
“We are focusing our efforts on the dollars that will be returned to each city and dedicated to local projects,” says Jansen. “Because the funding is population based, those dollars can range from tens of thousands to millions.”
Jansen says that community-based engagement not only includes having local stakeholders involved in the process, but, because many cities don’t have dedicated staff who have expertise in active transportation, also providing advice on projects and opportunities to leverage additional dollars.
The engagement is important because many communities in the county have never made significant investments in bike lanes, safe sidewalks and street crossings and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant infrastructure – elements that are fundamental to Complete Streets. Those principals are centered on the belief that everyone, regardless of age, ability, income, race, or ethnicity, should have safe, comfortable and convenient access to community destinations and public places–whether walking, driving, bicycling or taking public transportation.
In addition, several communities are economically challenged and their residents have increased rates of chronic diseases often linked, in part, to a lack of physical activity. For youth, it’s a problem that is compounded by the fact that some schools don’t have physical education requirements.
“The roads belong to everyone, and should be safe for everyone,” says Jansen, who adds that the majority of serious walking and bicycle injuries occur where there has been a lack of investment in active transportation.