The Measure B program guidelines – essentially the details about how Santa Clara County’s 2016 transportation sales tax measure revenue will be spent – finally went to the VTA Board of Directors for approval on June 1. SVBC had been meeting with VTA staff and other advocacy organizations and individual stakeholders for over a year to work out the most effective way of using Measure B dollars to fund infrastructure projects and programs that support biking and walking.
And the verdict was… deferred! Though the item was on the consent calendar, which would usually guarantee that it got passed without discussion, it was pulled and the board voted to bring it back for a vote in August. No reason was given at the time, but we’ve since learned that a strong last-minute push for changes from a coalition of transit advocates convinced the policymakers that they should hold off on a decision until staff has a chance to respond to their concerns.
The stall means that the money from Measure B will likely take a couple of extra months to start flowing. But it also gives us another chance to push for some tweaks to the guidelines. In particular, we want to make sure that the money earmarked for education and encouragement programs (anything from Safe Routes to School bike rodeos to open streets events like Viva CalleSJ) is spent wisely. And that means monitoring those programs to see what works and what doesn’t.
Currently, cities are going to receive a “$10,000 + formula” distribution, which will give all the cities and towns at least $10,000 annually, then divide up the rest based on population. Though that seems fair at first glance, it means that many jurisdictions are getting pretty small amounts – nine will get $30,000 or less. We suspect that such paltry amounts may not move the needle much on getting people biking and walking. Arguments have been made that cities may think of this as seed funding, though, with plans for future grant applications or budget allocations.
Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the nexus between how we fund bike and pedestrian programs and behavioral change. For example: is it better to provide annual assemblies for a whole school district, or would money be better spend saturating a single school with bike and ped safety programming? Which approach yields more transformative and lasting results? Any funding scheme that doesn’t attempt to answer these questions is missing a big opportunity.
All that’s to say that SVBC is willing to give it a go and see how well the proposed allocation method works. The problem is that there is currently nothing in the guidelines to make sure that happens. There aren’t even goals against which to measure success. To make a critical review and change in strategy possible, we’d like the VTA Board of Directors to add that stipulation to the staff recommendation when they vote on the guidelines in June. Use some of the $250,000 set aside for the County, or budget some other money, to give VTA the ability to set some goals, collect performance data, analyze it, and – importantly – tweak the funding model if necessary. We love seeing money given to biking and walking programs, but we want to make the biggest impact possible!
If you agree that we should make sure we’re spending this $1.25 million wisely every year, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask that the VTA Board of Directors include a means to track performance in the Education and Encouragement area of the Bike and Pedestrian category of the Measure B program guidelines.