Op-Ed: It's Time for Smart, Affordable Transportation

Two people riding bikes on a bike lane in San Francisco.

Photo by Sergio Ruiz

This op-ed first appeared in Capitol Weekly.


Time is almost up for Gov. Newsom and the state Legislature to invest in critical solutions to two major crises—sky-high gas prices and climate change.

If they act now, they can help Californians spend less on gas by delivering transportation options that are better for the environment. That’s why legislators should support $2 billion for the Active Transportation Program (ATP) this June, out of the record state-budget surplus, alongside increased investments in transit.

Funding walking and biking infrastructure is essential to meeting the state’s greenhouse-gas reduction goals that are quickly slipping out of reach. Transportation is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. To get the state back on track with its climate goals, the California Air Resources Board’s latest strategy includes more investments in biking, walking and transit.

Shifting some vehicle trips to biking and walking is well within reach.

Half of all car trips nationally are short — within a 20-minute bike ride — while a quarter are within a 20-minute walk. Providing safe, convenient transportation options like walking and biking will save gas money for short trips while reducing vehicle emissions. Even a senior Ford executive said that the world would be a better place if more people gave up driving to walk or cycle.

Californians are already showing much greater interest in cycling, like at a Stockton bike shop where sales have more than doubled since the spike in gas prices, as people look for a cheaper alternative to driving.

The number of Americans riding a bicycle has increased by at least 5 million over the past few years and is projected to continue to grow rapidly. Electric bikes have the potential to revolutionize cycling by making longer trips accessible to all ages and abilities. In 2021, more electric bikes were sold nationwide than electric cars, trucks and vans. Recent data analyzing North American e-bike owners found that more than 60% of their electric bike trips replaced car trips.

Demand for more biking and walking projects is on the rise, too, but we need significantly more funding to cover the need.

California’s Active Transportation Program (ATP) has historically funded practical, cost-effective bicycling and walking projects that benefit disadvantaged communities where walking and biking are essential, affordable options. Cities and counties submit hundreds of high-performing ready-to-go projects, yet the vast majority go unfunded. In 2021, the most competitive year ever for ATP funding, the program funded just 11% of 454 applications in the statewide competition.

The Bay Area regional trail network is an example of a bold project that can deliver affordable, environmentally friendly transportation for millions, if the California state legislature prioritizes adequate funding.

Championed by the Bay Area Trails Collaborative, the 2,600-mile network would link the Bay Area’s nine counties via connected trails, many of which are multiuse paths that can replace short trips for the nearly 9 out of 10 residents who will live within 2 miles of the network when it’s complete. An analysis of Strava data by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy found that when trails and active transportation networks were connected, usage increased by at least 40%.

Gov. Newsom has already endorsed investing $1 billion in the ATP from the state surplus. But we need the full $2 billion this year and an additional $500 million in future years to provide equitable and affordable transportation options for Californians enduring high gas prices. This should be accompanied by increased funding for transit, especially essential bus service in low-income communities.

With the budget deadline looming, the time is now to dramatically increase our commitment to affordable walking, biking and transit options that better serve California’s communities and climate goals and our wallets.

Laura Cohen is the Western Director of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Nick Josefowitz is Chief Policy Officer of SPUR.