Opponents have argued that it is not the right time to bring our vehicle registration fee back to what previously was because people are struggling to make ends meet, or that they do not wish to “subsidize” programs that in their opinion, do not directly benefit car drivers. However, I would argue that the opponents are wrong. First, the midst of an economic crisis is the right time to launch initiatives that will boost our economy, create jobs, and create a healthier environment, as Measure W will do. And second, everyone benefits when we invest in practices that make local roads safe and convenient for ALL modes of transportation, including bicyclists, pedestrians and transit.
In the past generation, our dependence on the automobile has drastically increased. Four out of five trips in Sonoma County are in single-occupant vehicles, and over 60% of GHG’s are transportation based. Furthermore, thirty years ago, over 50% of children living within a 2-mile radius of school walked or bicycled to school. Today, that number has dropped to less than 15%.
At the same time, we have seen the child obesity rate triple, a sharp rise in preventable childhood diseases such as diabetes and asthma, and far worsening air quality and traffic congestion. On average, 20-25% of morning traffic is parents driving their children to school. If you have ever spent 20 minutes driving ½ mile down West Avenue past Sheppard Elementary School in the morning, or any other school with similar traffic problems, you know that percentage is often much higher.
We must reverse these trends by investing in progressive transportation programs that will support and encourage people to choose alternatives to single-occupant vehicles.
Sonoma County Transit has seen drastic cuts in the past few years, resulting in reduced service. As a result, fewer people take advantage of transit and consequently, more cars are on the road. Measure W provides funding for transit. Whether you utilize transit or not, everyone benefits, because more people will have alternatives to the automobile, and fewer cars on the road means less traffic, less pollution, etc. Furthermore, everyone benefits because people who may otherwise struggle to get to their jobs, or to the shopping center, can contribute to our local economy.
Measure W also provides funding for a County Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. Safe Routes to School organized International Walk and Roll to School Day this past October 6th, and over 10,600 students at 73 Sonoma County schools participated. At Evergreen elementary, congestion is normally so bad that neighbors avoid leaving their homes during drop-off or pick-up time. Typically, about 20% of Evergreen students walk or bike to school. On October 6th, 70% walked or biked. Emily Drive was free of traffic, the parking lots were nearly empty, and the bike racks were overflowing. This is what happens when families are empowered to use human power instead of the automobile. What would our roads look like if families did this every day? Safe Routes to School programs encourage and support families to walk, bike, or carpool regularly. More families walking and bicycling means more cars off the road and a healthier society and environment. It means kids can learn how to be safe and responsible pedestrians and bicyclists, and grow up to be responsible drivers as a result. Everyone benefits.
In addition to encouragement programs, Students at schools that have a Safe Routes to School Program in place also receive pedestrian and bicycle safety education, and learn about the benefits of alternative transportation to their health and the health of the environment. Furthermore, parents, administrators, and teachers get involved with identifying and prioritizing the barriers to walking and bicycling and advocating for engineering improvements that will make the roads safer for everyone – even drivers. The 16 Sonoma County schools with federally-funded, short-term Safe Routes to School programs have received these services and have seen improvements as a result.
For example, last February, thanks to the federally funded South Santa Rosa SRTS program, city and county engineers accompanied SRTS staff, school administration, concerned parents, and law enforcement representatives on walking audits of the routes surrounding six South Santa Rosa schools. As a result, the city and/or county quickly addressed the barriers to walking/bicycling that they could within the scope of their budget, such painting or repainting crosswalks, replacing a deteriorated barricade, installing or correcting signs, and installing bumpers to protect pedestrians at a street corner that had visibility problems. The city of Santa Rosa also applied for – and was recently awarded – CA SRTS infrastructure funds to install pedestrian activated flashers, crosswalks, and curb ramps near two of the identified problem locations. The South Santa Rosa SRTS grant also enabled the county to purchase a speed trailer that has been deployed at various locations identified by the participating schools as areas of concern. Another SRTS success story occurred at Sebastopol Independent Charter School where a group of active parents, supported by a Safe Routes to School program manager, launched nine ongoing “walking school buses,” enabling many children who may not have normally walked to school to walk safely with a responsible adult or adults.
Unfortunately, we cannot count on continued federal funding to sponsor these types of activities at additional schools. The local funds generated by Measure W are necessary to sustain our Safe Routes to School efforts countywide, potentially benefitting everyone. Safer routes to schools are safer routes for everyone!
Finally, Measure W provides a significant amount funding for road improvements. Road improvements that will benefit everyone, such as fixing potholes, crosswalk treatments and bike lanes.
For the cost of a fast food meal, Measure W will generate approximately $5 million per year that will stay right here in Sonoma County and directly and indirectly benefits every single person in the county.
It is the right time for everyone to start investing in sustainable alternative transportation choices and return to healthier, safer, simpler lifestyles. Establishing a secure and reasonable source of local funding will greatly increase our ability to do so. Please vote yes on Measure W.