2021 Budget Recommendation: Increase Active Transportation Grant Funding to $45 Million
April 14, 2021
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has recently made important strides to encourage active transportation in the province. With the release of the BC Active Transportation Design Guide in June of 2019, municipalities across BC have a comprehensive, locally-focused resource to guide building active transportation facilities. This has been complemented by the release in the same month of the Active Transportation Strategy - Move. Commute. Connect. The Strategy outlines short and medium terms goals to increase active transportation, and work is already underway to implement some of the short-term goals, with a focus on programming and infrastructure.
With plans created for promoting and encouraging more active transportation in British Columbia, now is the time to walk the talk and invest to make those plans a reality.
HUB Cycling recommends that funding for the Active Transportation grant be increased significantly to at least $45 million per year.
In 2020, the province invested $8.5 million in cycling facilities through Active Transportation grants (Table 1), a number largely unchanged for the past six years. Only about half of the projects that were put forth for consideration by municipalities received funding. This indicates there is strong demand to put in more cycling and active transportation facilities, aligned with the Province’s goal to double AT trips and significantly reduce GHGs, but that demand is not being met with the current funding amount.
Table 1: Funding for BikeBC/Active Transportation Infrastructure Grant Program
The new Active Transportation Infrastructure grants provide funding for not just cycling facilities, but projects involving a variety of active transportation modes, which effectively means reduced funding for cycling if no funding is added. In order to meet the Province’s goal of doubling active transportation trips, reducing GHG emissions to 40% below 2007 levels, and reducing fossil fuel use for transportation by 20% funding should be increased commensurately.
The Active Transportation Strategy identifies the provincial goal of doubling active transportation trips by 2030. This is a laudable goal, and HUB Cycling fully supports this. The steps taken with the Active Transportation Strategy and Design Guide are great first steps toward this goal. However, more than plans are needed to double active transportation trips within a decade.
Infrastructure and promotion spending is required to boost Active Transportation
This increase will not only ensure that there are enough funds to cover the increased number of projects now that the grant has been expanded beyond cycling, it will also help the province meet its mode share and sustainability goals.
Research shows that increases in cycling rates, and declines in crashes, are directly tied to safe and comfortable bicycle infrastructure. The recently released State of Cycling report in Metro Vancouver shows that 46% of the bikeway network in the region is comfortable for most people. This leaves slightly more than half of the bike network that is not comfortable for most people. The areas that showed the greatest growth in ridership levels were also the ones that built infrastructure that was comfortable for most people. More needs to be invested in Metro Vancouver and across the province to ensure there are safe, comfortable, and connected facilities for people to walk, cycle and use other forms of active transportation.
Municipalities need to have access to sufficient funding to build active transportation networks that are safe and comfortable for most people. In order to achieve the goal of doubling active transportation in the province by 2030, that money needs to be invested soon. The earlier the investment, the greater the return.
Research from New Zealand and the UK shows that investment in active transportation facilities such as cycling infrastructure has a return on investment between 5:1 to 11:1 considering the health improvements and injury and C02 reductions.
Spending on non-infrastructure items such as education is necessary and needs to be paired with spending on physical infrastructure spending. Cities across the province have made significant strides in the development of active transportation infrastructure. Physical improvements alone, however, will not be enough to attract more people to switch to active transportation. Many external factors like cultural practices, social influence, emotions, and attitudes all influence which mode of travel people will use. Spending on education and promotional events programs costs a fraction of infrastructure investments, yet can be very effective in increasing ridership to maximize the use of new as well as existing infrastructure. In recognition of this, BC Active Transportation Infrastructure grants should include a mandatory minimum amount to provide promotion of the new infrastructure, similar to the BICCS cost-share funding criteria at TransLink.
Proactive investment in projects that serve underserved and racialized communities
Transportation is the linchpin that allows us to function in our daily lives. The lack of active transportation options in racialized communities has become increasingly clear. Lack of access to safe active transportation infrastructure has contributed not only to rising obesity and diabetes rates but also contributes to a mounting toll of injuries and fatalities to people walking and cycling without other options than travelling on unsafe streets. Research1 shows that people with low-income walk and bicycle more than people in the upper-income brackets, but safe active transportation options are often limited for low-income individuals and families. Lack of transportation options often leads to restricted employment possibilities and low school attendance.
Providing safe and convenient walking and cycling infrastructure in racialized and marginalized communities can help to overcome these challenges. Many studies2 have shown the need to create networks of wide, barrier-protected, bicycle-exclusive cycle tracks in lower-income ethnic-minority neighbourhoods to help these communities get to work affordably, quickly, and safely, and improve public health and quality of life in communities where these benefits are most needed.
The province should encourage that funding for active transportation projects is targeted for these communities and not encourage the philosophy that communities that already bike the most deserve more additional resources. This philosophy perpetuates a vicious cycle where cycling grows quickly in some neighbourhoods, while underserved communities continue to stay underfunded.
Moving toward a more healthy and active BC by 2030
BC is making strides to encourage active transportation in the province. The goal of doubling active transportation by 2030 is less than a decade away. Now is the time to significantly increase funding in active transportation infrastructure through the new Active Transportation grants and other funding vehicles to ensure that safe and comfortable infrastructure is being built that is attractive to most people.
Currently, Provincial funding for cycling is far below demand and is missing out on the huge potential benefits of more people using active transportation. As HUB Cycling has identified, Metro Vancouver’s cycling network is full of gaps3—or areas lacking cycling infrastructure—and safe, connected infrastructure is needed now, more than ever before to #UnGapTheMap.
HUB Cycling encourages the Province to increase investment in cycling to ensure environmentally and economically healthier communities, assisting the Province in reaching its goals for active transportation, the climate plan, and poverty reduction and ensuring an innovative, equitable, and sustainable public health system.