BPACs – Optional in San Mateo County?

TDA projects recommended by the C/CAG BPAC last year

As some of you may recall, SVBC has been working on a project to promote formation and improvement of Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees (BPACs) in San Mateo County. We believe that BPACs and similar advisory bodies (Bicycle Commissions, Bicycle Advisory Committees) are an important way to institutionalize active transportation advocacy within a community. A forum for bicyclists and pedestrians to weigh in on city projects is an effective way to ensure that infrastructure projects meet the needs of all road users and become part of a city's health and environment strategies.

Perhaps more important from a city's standpoint, though, is that fact that BPACs are required if a city wants to fund projects through a pot of State of California dollars known as Transportation Development Act (TDA) Article 3 funds. This requirement is specifically called out by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which distributes the TDA funds in the Bay Area. In MTC's Resolution 875, Procedures and Project Evaluation Criteria for TDA Article 3 funds, the Commission states:

Each county and city is required to have a Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) to review and prioritize TDA Article 3 bicycle projects and to participate in the development and review of comprehensive bicycle plans. (BACs are mandated by State Transportation Control Measure [STCM #9], adopted by MTC on November 28, 1990, MTC Resolution No. 2178, Revised).

A city BAC shall be composed of at least 3 members who live or work in the city. More members may be added as desired. They will be appointed by the City Council. The City or Town Manager will designate staff to provide administrative and technical support to the Committee.

That seems pretty clear to me. Each county and city is required to have a BAC to receive these funds. However, in San Mateo County, there are currently multiple cities without such committees that have, as recently as last year, received TDA Article 3 funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. How is this possible?

I contacted MTC in an effort to clear up my confusion. I expected that there had been some oversight, or that perhaps the cities had similar, differently named, committees or commissions that fulfilled the MTC requirements. But, as it turns out, the explanation is much simpler and more worrisome: MTC ignores its own requirements.

In San Mateo County, there is a countywide BPAC that serves the City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG). That BPAC, which comprises elected officials and at-large members from across the county, reviews and prioritizes all TDA Article 3 grant requests that come in from the cities. According to the staff member I spoke with, MTC considers that review process sufficient, effectively turning the requirement for county and city BACs into an acceptance of either a county or city BAC.

In cities like Redwood City or San Mateo, cyclists and pedestrians don't have a local advisory committee to participate in when infrastructure funding decisions are being made. To be sure, those two cities are working hard to reach out to the public – Redwood City through its partnership with SVBC's Bicycle and Pedestrian Working Group and San Mateo through a diligent campaign of public outreach surrounding its pedestrian and bicycle plans. But without a formalized committee, those kinds of efforts are made at the discretion of city staff, and have no formal protocol.

What's the solution? Committees can be costly to maintain, but they serve an important function in bridging the divide between local government and the public. And let's not forget that these particular committees are technically required for cities to receive much-needed bicycle and pedestrian funding.

Muckraking is not my usual enterprise, but SVBC feels strongly that BACs, BPACs, and Bicycle Commissions are important in ensuring bicyclists and pedestrians have a place at the table whenever infrastructure and planning decisions that could affect them are made. I was encouraged when I first learned that MTC had a financial incentive to promote these committees, and disheartened to hear that it was an unenforced resolution. Hopefully, as we continue to work with cities in San Mateo County and elsewhere, the important and valuable aspects of these committees will spur their creation, regardless of enforcement.

What do you think? Should the MTC resolution be enforced? Are BPACs and BACs worth it?

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