Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan presented the county's $1.56 Billion budget last month that included an "optional slate of cuts for the Board to consider."
The “budget reduction options” include $4.1 million in cuts and savings in various parts of the budget, including:
- Reductions to bike and pedestrian programs
Donnellan said her suggested cuts wouldn’t result in “totally outraged” community members, but would likely receive some push back from “interested parties.”
“They’re not core services in the sense of how we deliver day-to-day business,” Donnellan said of the proposals.
Specifically the possible cuts include
- Loss of the remaining dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian safety and access construction projects known as the "decal fee".
- Elimination of one of DES's dedicated bicycle and pedestrian staff. This will reduce DES's bike/ped staff from two down to one.
From the budget document on how the 1% cuts were determined
My approach was to propose no “Washington Monuments;” to not fully eliminate any program or service; and to largely focus on programs that are not core to public safety or health. Details follow later in this section; this category reflects savings from ...reduction of bike / pedestrian programs previously funded by dedicating a portion of the County’s decal fee;
The impact of reducing one staff member includes:
- Reduces ability to provide timely and complete input on a wide range of planning and policy efforts including sector plans, small area plans, phased development site plans, and County/APS facilities.
- Defers any major updates to the Bike and Pedestrian elements of the Master Transportation Plan.
- Reduces the capacity to develop and secure state and federal transportation grant funds for pedestrian and bicycle safety projects.
- Reduces capacity to scope transportation capital projects
- Reduces support for pedestrian and bicycle analysis supporting County and Arlington Public Schools facilities.
- Limits the County’s representation in regional and state pedestrian and bicycle planning, policy and project initiatives.
- Reduces staff support and participation in established County transportation committees.
David Patton and David Goodman are the County's two bicycle and pedestrian planners, so one of them would go if this option were selected.
The loss of decal fee money would allow them to reduce funding to Pay-As-You-Go capital by $812,121.
The Pedestrian and Bike Safety program in PAYG has been funded by dedicating monies received from the vehicle decal fee
The loss of this revenue adversely affects neighborhood arterial street safety and accessibility improvements projects. There are few funding sources that provide the flexibility to fund safety and accessibility improvements in these corridors. These improvements are eligible under several grant programs, allowing the County to use a modest amount of funding to leverage external funding for these neighborhood safety activities.
Many of the projects supported by the Decal Fee are matched with state Revenue Sharing and federal Transportation Alternatives grants. If the Decal funding is no longer used for Transportation Capital, these projects and associated grants will have to be cancelled, or other matching funds would have to be identified. This means that 13 residential arterial safety projects would be delayed or cancelled, touching every part of Arlington County.
The County will hold a Board Workshop on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 24th, followed by a public hearing that evening to discuss these items. Those interested in participating in the public discussion are encouraged to attend those events.
Martin Di Caro has good coverage of this same issue.
Five years ago the county increased the decal fee on car owners to $33 to specifically fund “complete streets” and other progressive transportation initiatives, such as Capital Bikeshare. Over the decades Arlington has earned a reputation for providing commuters alternatives to the automobile, minimizing traffic congestion on its main arterial roads despite adding millions of square feet of office space. But the proposed cuts have transit-bike-walk advocates feeling betrayed.
“The programs that are currently funded by the decal fee are programs that really help increase bike ridership in Arlington, and increased ridership is really the key to safety,” said Gillian Burgess, the chair of Arlington’s bicycle advisory committee, whose members are appointed by county officials.
Burgess said Donnellan did not consult the committee before submitting the optional cuts to the board.
Board member Jay Fisette, a long-time advocate of transit and smart-growth initiatives, said he would like to avoid taking any money out of the "complete streets" program. The proposed $800,000 cut would still leave $4 million in the program, however.
“I know there are a lot of people in this community that use those trails, use the on-street lanes, and use the Capital Bikeshare. We need to hear from them, and we need to decide how this stacks up relative to the other priorities in our community,” Fisette said.