After two hot days in Sacramento, my body really appreciates the opportunity to settle into this air-conditioned seat on Amtrak. But my brain is bouncing with new ideas from our Transportation Equity Summit and Advocacy Day, TransForm’s fourth annual gathering to build a statewide movement to win real transportation choices for all Californians.
This year’s Summit, co-organized with the California Bicycle Coalition, brought together nearly 150 advocates from all corners of the state to discuss policies, share tactics, and collaborate on strategies to improve our state’s transportation system for people of all ages and incomes. And this combined effort resulted in our most powerful Summit yet.
Let’s start from the top, with yesterday’s opening plenary that brought together speakers from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), and Caltrans, to discuss how we can overcome a history of transportation projects that excluded and destroyed low-income communities and communities of color. USDOT Deputy Chief of Staff Stephanie Jones explained the agency’s new Ladders of Opportunity initiative, which aims to reverse this history and chart a new path forward. With billions of dollars invested in transportation projects each year, it’s critical to ensure that when those investments arrive in vulnerable communities, they create opportunities.
The other panelists described how California is poised to be a national leader in pursuing this approach. Malcolm Dougherty, the head of Caltrans, earned applause (and some gasps of surprise) when he stated that some of the freeways we’ve built over the past 50 years “would be better off coming down.” Kate White of CalSTA underscored that Governor Brown’s Administration intends to consider equity and health, not just how to move cars faster, in every transportation decision.
But whether these lofty aims will be achieved here in the Golden State depends a lot on the feedback our leaders get from people and organizations at the local level – and that’s exactly what the rest of the Summit was about. Our afternoon breakout sessions spurred dialogue among advocates, business leaders, and government officials from all corners of the state. From affordable housing to green space to better access for people with disabilities, there were few topics left untouched.
Most inspiring, however, were the incredible people who traveled from near and far to be part of the dialogue. For example: Marven Norman and Kirsty Hameleers, who traveled up from the small city of Colton in San Bernardino County. I chatted with Marven after he spent some time testing out our BETA GreenTRIP Connect tool, which he thought would be really useful in public meetings and conversations with city officials. But right now, most of Marven’s advocacy is conducted quietly, because “talking about reducing greenhouse gas emissions is almost a faux pas” in his community.
“When we say affordable housing, people immediately think that means Section 8,” he told me. His work with the Inland Empire Biking Alliance focuses on educating its members about policies and infrastructure that can support walking and biking, but as he puts it: “We have a long way to go.”
Kirsty moved to Colton a year ago from her home country of the Netherlands, and together they’ve tried to combat the notion that California’s communities aren’t compact enough for biking and walking to work. “It’s not true,” Kirsty said. “Colton is more dense – in terms of people per square mile – than the second-biggest city in the Netherlands.” By teaming up with other advocates at the Summit, they hoped to see what else is going on that could help them have a bigger impact in the Inland Empire.
I also met the president of an electric scooter-sharing company in San Francisco that provides more affordable last-mile connections to and from transit; a couple from El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills who are struggling to convince their local leaders to invest in walking and biking; and a pair of San Diegans who were struck by how Sacramento’s incredible tree cover make it relatively pleasant to be outside on 90-degree-plus days.
And that was just day one! This morning, many of the Summit participants reconvened at the gorgeous Sacramento Hostel for a day of meetings with legislators and staff, with the goal of educating them about opportunities to increase funding for public transportation, walking, and biking, including AB 2222 – TransForm and Move LA’s bill to fund discounted transit pass programs statewide. With the Governor’s May Budget Revise just out last Friday, it’s a prime opportunity to talk about investing more dollars in bus and train service, bike lanes, and sidewalks – solutions that will help both our communities, and our climate.
I joined the Bay Area team – nine advocates strong – to talk with several offices about these priorities, and I look forward hearing how the day went for our other teams (whose representatives may not all be as enthusiastic about transportation choices as in our gridlocked and relatively progressive Bay Area region). Thanks to the leadership of our own Joshua Stark and Jeanie Ward Waller from the California Bicycle Coalition, I know everyone had the tools they needed to present these important issues to legislators and urge their support.
I’m almost back in Oakland now, and looking out the train window at the Bay it feels good to be home. And it feels especially good to be part of this growing movement for a transportation system that is healthier, safer, and more affordable for all Californians.
You can see more photos from the Transportation Equity Summit and Advocacy Day on our Facebook page.
Get involved in winning change at the state level! Email your legislator in support of AB 2222 right now.
We can't say thanks enough to the many people and organizations who made this year's Summit possible, starting with our co-organizers at the California Bicycle Coalition and the fabulous event organizer Katie Valenzuela. We are incredibly grateful to the generous funders who made this event possible, including not only our lead sponsor Kaiser Permanente, but also Bay Area Bicycle Law, Lyft, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, BART, Dolan, Health Happens Here (a project of the California Endowment), the David Bohnett Foundation, the Silicon Valley Foundation, and Yuba Bicycles.
Countless others contributed significant time and enthusiasm to make the Summit a success. We extend our thanks to the volunteers, staff, and supporters who helped with this year's Summit, and especially our fabulous 2016 steering committee:
- Dave Snyder and Jeanie Ward Waller, California Bicycle Coalition
- Chanell Fletcher, ClimatePlan
- Kimberly Chen, California Pan Ethnic Health Network
- Ted Jackson, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers
- Michelle Hasson, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
- Erika Rincón Whitcomb, PolicyLink
- Tony Dang, California Walks
- Rebecca Saltzman, California League of Conservation Voters
- Katelyn Roedner-Sutter, Catholic Charities of Stockton