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How Metropolitan Areas Spend Federal Funds

Continuing the trend of fundingrelated posts this week, here is a new report, The Regional Response to Federal Funding for Bicycle and Pedestrian Projects [executive summary, full report,] from UC Davis’ Sustainable Transportation Center, written by Barbara McCann, Susan Handy and six other co-authors.

The report tracks local use of federal bicycle and pedestrian funds since they became available under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). The authors rank the 50 largest metropolitan areas according to annual per capita spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects between 1991 and 2006. Investments ranged from $0.18 per person per year in the Virginia Beach, VA metropolitan area to $2.50 in the Providence, RI area. They also tracked how much of the funding came from Transportation Enhancements (TE) and the number of other federal funding programs the metropolitan areas tapped into.

Perhaps the most striking finding of the report is the role of sub-allocations. Federal funding can flow either through the state or be sub-allocated through Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). The federal government recommends that states devolve funding authority to MPOs, but many states choose not to. According to the report, this impacts the chances of bicycling and walking projects being funded. Cities in states that sub-allocated TE spent an average of 44 percent more on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure than cities in states without sub-allocation. This is probably because the positive impact of bicycle and pedestrian facilities is more apparent on the city-scale rather than the state-scale.

The report uses a comparative case study of Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program

CMAQ-funded bike sharing program in Fort COllins, CO

CMAQ-funded bike sharing program in Fort COllins, CO

funds spent in Sacramento, Calif. and Baltimore, Md. to demonstrate the point. California sub-allocates their CMAQ funds to MPOs, whereas Maryland administers the program from the state level. Forty-four percent of the federal bicycle and pedestrian funding in Sacramento came from the CMAQ program, an even larger share than came from TE. In contrast, Baltimore relied heavily on TE funds and did not spend any CMAQ money on bicycle and pedestrian projects over the 14 year period. It appears that bicycle and pedestrian projects fare best when funding decisions are made at the lowest level of government possible.

I was in New York City recently and planners and advocates there expressed the desire to have federal funding flow directly through the sophisticated and well-staffed city DOT instead of their Metropolitan Planning Organization, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. Compared to some places, though, New York has it good.

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