Audrey Wennink, Metropolitan Planning Council
Regional leaders from the City of Batavia, Chicago Metropolitan Agency of Planning, Active Transportation Alliance, and Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways discussed funding sources for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure during a webinar event hosted by the Metropolitan Planning Council, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and Active Transportation Alliance. Improving biking and walking infrastructure is vital to building resilient, healthy, and affordable communities. Funding opportunities for non-motorized transportation in Illinois include:
- Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
- State Motor Fuel Tax from Rebuild Illinois
- Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ)
- Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)
- Safe Streets and Roads for All Grant Program
- Safe Routes to School (SRTS)
- Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP)
- Invest in Cook
- Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBG)
- Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG)
Moderator Audrey Wennink noted that while communities say one of the largest barriers to expanding active transportation infrastructure is funding, many funding opportunities are expanding. Rebuild Illinois was passed in 2019, doubling the state Motor Fuel Tax, half of which goes to local jurisdictions. The Illinois legislature clarified in a law passed in 2021 that northeastern Illinois counties may spend these Motor Fuel Tax dollars on sidewalks and shared-use paths like bike paths. The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) is also making more funding available to municipalities and counties.
The Climate, Affordability and Safety Imperative
Moderator Audrey Wennink, Director of Transportation for the Metropolitan Planning Council, framed the need for more and better infrastructure for biking and walking as critical for improving environmental sustainability, transportation affordability, and traffic safety. In Illinois, greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are second only to that of buildings. As noted in the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Regional Climate Action Plan, our region must accelerate improvements to active transportation to mitigate climate change. Electrification of vehicles is not enough. We need to increase active transportation and shift away from expanding auto-oriented infrastructure, which locks communities into expensive maintenance requirements, increases driving, and worsens the climate and traffic safety crises.
Not only are biking and walking more affordable than driving, they also offer critical connections to low-cost public transit. Forced reliance on automobiles increases the financial burden on household budgets. The average cost of a car is over half the median household income in our region and gas prices are surging.
Preventing deaths and serious injuries on the roadways creates intense urgency for improving places for people to walk and bike safely. The traffic safety crisis has heightened in the past five years, with Illinois pedestrian fatalities up 46% and bicyclists fatalities up 34%. In just the past year (2021 vs. 2020), both pedestrian and bicycle fatalities were both up 22%. We must prioritize safety of vulnerable road users in how we design our transportation system.
Community Leader Perspectives on the Importance of Investing in Biking and Walking
Abbey Beck, the 5th Ward Alderperson from the City of Batavia has aggressively advocated for active transportation in her first term. She attests that walkability is a measure of achievement of key goals for municipal governments: social equity, environmental sustainability, and economic resilience. Beck expanded on the importance of economic resilience:
“Too large a portion of our municipal budget, I can say is going towards the construction, maintenance and safety enforcement on our roadways. And we’re not generating enough tax revenue on those roads to cover those costs. As leaders, we are the stewards of our tax dollars, and we are the stewards of those lands between our boundaries. It’s our charge to make efficient and productive use of both.”
Batavia has successfully removed parking minimums downtown. Beck believes policy changes like this one have the power to change the default mindset that everyone has a car and should be driving. She asserts that leaders must shift the narrative by connecting active transportation to broader community issues and prioritizing those investments today.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and CMAP Regional Funds
Lindsey Bayley, a senior planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), discussed how the agency is able to help communities access funding opportunities in the region. There are two major funding opportunities for municipalities: those from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and federal funds disbursed by CMAP at a regional level.
As the federally designated planning agency for the seven-county region of northeastern Illinois, CMAP’s role with BIL is to implement relevant policies for current funding programs, prepare for new regional formula funding, and coordinate more than 20 new competitive programs. This graphic illustrates how money gets from federal authorities to northeastern Illinois communities through the Surface Transportation Program, the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Program, the Transportation Alternatives Program, and the Metropolitan Planning Program.
Changes under the BIL to CMAP core funding programs include:
- Expanded Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality eligibility - Infrastructure for micro-mobility projects and zero emissions vehicles and charging equipment are eligible
- Expanded Transportation Alternatives Program eligibility - Safety projects to protect vulnerable road users are included under expanded eligibility and Highway Safety Improvement Program funds may be used as a local match
- Expanded Surface Transportation Block Grant program eligibility - EV charging infrastructure, cybersecurity, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), and resilience improvements are included under expanded project eligibility
Bayley emphasized that multiple jurisdictions should avoid applying for the same federal grant programs. For example, the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) Grant allots $5-6 billion over five years to designing and implementing traffic safety action plans. This grant is awarded considering social equity, traffic safety data, and commitment to vision zero. Bayley recommended that anyone interested in applying to any of these programs reach out to CMAP for application support and regional coordination.
Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP)
Maggie Czerwinski, Advocacy Manager at Active Transportation Alliance (ATA), provided information on the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP), which is the state’s largest source for funding walking and biking projects. For the 2022 application cycle, $125 million is available, capped at $3 million per project.
The call for ITEP proposals opened August 1, 2022 and closes September 30th. Any local entity with taxing authority is eligible to apply, including municipalities, county governments, school districts, parks/forest preserve districts, and transit agencies. Eligible projects are pedestrian facilities (sidewalks, paths, signals, refuge islands, pedestrian crossings), bicycle facilities (lanes, paths, routes, trails, bike racks) and rail-to-trail conversion projects. Projects must serve a transportation need and not only a recreational purpose, so applicants should focus on projects that maximize access to community and regional destinations. Routine maintenance projects such as re-paving or re-striping are not eligible.
One-quarter of total ITEP funding is set aside for high-need communities. Using a sliding scale, the local match requirement is determined based on community size, total property tax base, percent below poverty level, and median household income. Typically, ITEP requires the sponsor to pay for 20% of cost; however, this will range from zero to 20 percent based on the scale of community need.
For technical assistance with ITEP, Czerwinski suggested applicants reach out to ATA, which is partnering with the Illinois Public Health Institute and IDOT to help communities with ITEP grant applications. ATA is hosting a three-part webinar series on July 20, August 24, and September 14, 2022 (recordings of all sessions are available). Other resources include the ITEP FAQ page on IDOT’s website, a list of engineering firms offering pro-bono support for high-need communities, and ATA’s ITEP resources.
County Funding: Invest in Cook
Laura McFadden, a transportation planner at Cook County's Department of Transportation and Highways, highlighted how the department is increasing investments in pedestrian and bicycle projects. The agency is also working on a bike plan to advance multimodal transportation countywide. According to McFadden, Invest in Cook is by far the most successful way CCDoTH has increased nonmotorized investments, with $14.08 million in funding awarded between 2017 and 2021 prioritizing equity and innovation. High-need communities are not required to provide a funding match.
McFadden attributes CCDoTH’s success to experience working across jurisdictions and with multiple stakeholders. Most notably, CCDoTH:
- Works across municipalities to fill in gaps in the network
- Funds early phases projects like feasibility and planning studies and preliminary engineering to position communities for federal dollars
- Provides financial and staff support to low-capacity local governments seeking to advance regional bicycle infrastructure
- Improves connections between bicycle infrastructure and transit through directed funding
- Funds maintenance
- Increases investments in bike infrastructure at all county facilities, including courthouses, hospital campuses, and more.
Community Success: Batavia
Laura Newman, the City Administrator of Batavia, noted that the community prides itself on its commitment to active transportation, demonstrated through having a dedicated bicycle commission and many recent investments in bicycle and pedestrian projects.
Newman highlighted the TIF-funded Dutch-style shared street, or woonerf, with a layout blurring the lines between pedestrian and vehicle space that encourages cars to drive slowly and safely. Batavia considers this space a community gathering and entertainment area.
Batavia seeks funding for active transportation projects on an ongoing basis. For example, sidewalk connections have been funded via state Safe Routes to School grants and the city allocates $100,000 in local funds per year to address sidewalk gaps. Batavia requires developers to build sidewalks that connect to regional paths or pay an impact fee to fund other sidewalk projects in the community. The city also incorporates complete streets design into road reconstruction projects.
Moving forward, Batavia has proposed a road diet for Illinois Route 31, from four lanes to three lanes to create a shoulder area of refuge for bikers and walkers. Another project for which Batavia is seeking funding is a tunnel under Randall Road and Main Street. With the help of ATA, Batavia is currently updating its community bicycle and pedestrian plan.
Newman closed with a reflection on the significance of Batavia’s investment in active transportation: “By making a commitment to improving biking and walking we improve equity, it has an impact on our environment and it has an impact on our economic vitality, so the city strives to be a thought leader in this area.”
McFadden provided advice for other counties interested in starting a program like Invest in Cook, highlighting that the key is looking at where county transportation dollars are going now and seeking to set aside an amount each year for local impact projects while still meeting the demand for maintenance. Refocusing highway expansion dollars to cycling network expansion projects is one way to do this.
Newman noted that communities should always be on the lookout for funding opportunities by being a part of CMAP, a member of the National League of Cities federal funding listserv, and tapping into engineering staff's knowledge about funding.
Wennink described how MPC is convening an advisory committee with advocates, county and city governments, and community members to gather public input and coordinate ideas for projects for potential funding via the federal Reconnecting Communities grant program. Residents are invited to provide input via a community engagement site featuring an interactive map, with the goal of creating a highly competitive application for each grant cycle from the Chicago region.
A new structure has been established through which environmental justice communities are included in active transportation planning and funding: the Transportation Equity Network (TEN) is a group of over 40 community-based organizations engaging on transportation policy. Members of TEN are involved in numerous studies and projects relevant to mobility justice and transportation. TEN also works with government agencies, including CCDoTH, CMAP, and ATA.
Wennink concluded by noting that the way we allocate our public resources shows what our priorities are. Investing in biking and walking speaks to a commitment to addressing climate change, promoting economic resilience, and improving traffic safety.
One additional event in the series will be held on October 13, 2022 on ADA transition planning – check the event website to access resources shared during the event and to register.
MPC thanks HDR, our sponsor of this event in our series on biking, walking, and climate change.