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Funding Improved Mobility Options in Oakland

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Linda L. Day
December 16, 2016

Communities where private automobiles are privileged in terms of land use and rights-to-use public space, do not support walking, biking or using transit. The United States has a long tradition of supporting state and local government efforts to create and maintain healthful alternatives to living in communities where almost all personal trips must be made by private automobile. Homes that are linked to schools, stores, and activity centers by safe pedestrian and bike paths and by efficient public transit serve community members including children, older persons, persons with physical limitations, and persons who choose not to drive. In the following case study, I will show how national, state and local government entities support the San Francisco Bay Area city of Oakland, California in its goal of “reimagining how city streets are used with an emphasis on serving people with safe, sustainable and affordable transportation, not just moving cars.”

United States Department of Transportation

The United States Congress has legal authority to establish and fund the Department of Transportation (DOT) and its Federal Transit Administration (FTA) programs through authorizing legislation covering several years. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Urban Mass Transportation Act in 1964, he said,

“We are a nation of travelers. You cannot write our history without devoting many chapters to the pony express, the stagecoach, the railroad, the automobile, the airplane, … yet the federal government has done little or nothing to help the urban commuter.”

In the more than half-century that has passed since this important step toward recognizing the need for public support of transit, a series of FTA programs have supported alternatives to reliance on private automobiles. Most recent is The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was signed into law by President Barak Obama in 2015.This $305 billion, five-year bill maintains the highway and transit funding programs established by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill that was passed in 2012 and provides the San Francisco Bay Area region with transit formula funding.

While the DOT and the FTA oversee federal policies and programs, states, regional planning organizations and local jurisdictions have significant discretion in carrying out project implementation. In metropolitan areas, three entities influence how federal transportation dollars are spent: 1) the state transportation agency, 2) public transportation operators (transit agencies) and 3) metropolitan planning organizations.

Caltrans District 4 and the Metropolitan Transit Commission

The State of California’s Caltrans District 4 Transportation Planning & Local Assistance office administers multi-modal transportation studies, programs and projects and coordinates with Bay Area transit operators. Caltrans District 4 covers the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, whose transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency is the Metropolitan Transit Commission. Its Plan Bay Area 2013-2040 sets performance targets for transportation investments and voluntary targets for air quality, reducing the number of vehicle crashes, and enhancing the ability of residents to walk and cycle to their destinations.

Alameda County and the City of Oakland


Oakland Estuary: Courtesy of Metropolitan Transit Commission



Bike lane: Courtesy of Metropolitan Transit Commission


Hydrogen Bus

Hydrogen bus: Courtesy of Metropolitan Transit Commission

Alameda County’s 2014 Transportation Expenditure Plan, funded by voter approval of Measure BB providing nearly $8 billion over 30 years for essential transportation, includes funding for senior, youth and disabled persons fares; senior shuttles, vans and services; student transit passes; using innovative technology to provide clean transportation; expanding bike and pedestrian paths; and expanding BART, bus and commuter rail operations.

In its fiscal 2015-17 budget, the City of Oakland created a new Department of Transportation (OakDOT). Its interim director inaugurated the new department by saying,“Where now many Oakland streets are wide roads that parallel freeways and present unsafe conditions for people who are not in cars, supporting these principles will require a major shift away from business as usual.” Oakland’s Pedestrian Master Plan cites noted architect, urban planner, and Oakland resident Peter Calthorpe as saying,

Pedestrians are the catalyst, which makes the essential qualities of communities meaningful. They create the place and time for casual encounters and the practical integration of diverse places and people. Without the pedestrian, a community’s common ground – its parks, sidewalks, squares and plazas, become useless obstructions to the car. Pedestrians are the lost measure of a community, they set the scale for both center and edge of our neighborhoods.”

Author: Dr. Linda L. Day is emeritus professor of city and regional planning at California Polytechnic State University and contributing faculty of the public policy and administration program of Walden University. Dr. Day is the author of This House is Just Right: A Design Guide to Choosing a Home and Neighborhood, illustrated by R. Thomas Jones (CreateSpace 2014). She blogs for Planetizen.com. She can be emailed at [email protected]. Follow Dr. Day on Twitter at Linda L Day@LindaLouiseDay1.

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