We're Funders for Climate, Health, Equity and Community

Emissions from transportation are now the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. Our current mobility network exacerbates the underlying historic and current inequities in the system. Transportation touches many of the goals that funders prioritize. With this understanding, a group of funders came together to form the Collaborative on Sustainable Mobility and Equitable Access. We don’t think of ourselves as transportation funders; we are funders working on sustainability, on climate, on social justice, on economic opportunity, on labor, on health, and on community priorities. We see how Americans' mobility, or lack of it, laces through all of those broader goals. 

The Collaborative is a “learning and doing” effort, as big (and quick) solutions are needed to limit the climate change catastrophe. The activities are designed to engage and be relevant to place-based, regional and national funders. The Collaborative will share stories, best and promising practices among funders and explore issues together to build a bigger coalition.  The Collaborative has identified particular areas of interest and will continue to develop opportunities to align investments, pool funds or use the matching fund to catalyze additional investment to advance the most effective strategies, including supporting existing efforts and building new approaches as needed.  

The Collaborative is now led by a core group of regional, place-based and national funders known as the Design Committee. They shape and guide the work plan and fund the effort. Members include the Houston Endowment, TransitCenter and the Barr, Bullitt, George Gund, Joyce and Summit foundations.

The broader Collaborative now includes 110 funders who have joined our listserv. They represent a range of interests including climate, health, social justice, equity, recreation, and workforce and economic development. 

Our work plan for the next year is to:

  • Support local advocacy: The Design Committee understands that local advocacy is key to systems change in mobility. We will continue conversations with other funders and advocates to develop additional strategies to better support advocacy, including ensuring the financial sustainability of local groups. The matching fund is one strategy we have developed and deployed and we will explore opportunities for future rounds of the fund. The June 2020 planning session will help us define our next priorities in the space. One strategy may be focusing on organizational development among local groups, another may be helping other foundations be more comfortable with supporting advocacy.

  • Engage in the development of federal policy: After being off the agenda for the last few years, federal policy has jumped back into view with the response to coronavirus. We are working with Transportation for America and others to help educate funders about opportunities to advance mobility goals in coronavirus packages and the reauthorization of the surface transportation bill (work that focuses on education, not lobbying). Local advocates will play a key role in watchdogging and directing federal funds to impactful projects as the money flows into states and regions.

  • Advancing quick builds and accelerate project implementation: On our list since the 2018 workshop, Design Committee members are exploring how we can help local advocates advance projects using the tools of tactical urbanism to quickly build out networks of bike lanes and reallocate street space for transit. The pandemic has triggered a wave of tactical urbanism to reduce through traffic on neighborhood streets and repurpose travel lanes for biking and walking. The recovery path of transit is likely to be slow, so we will explore the idea of pairing temporary networks of bike lanes and pedestrian pathways to relieve pressure on transit for short trips on key corridors. The Merck Family Fund and other funders have commissioned work by the Eno Center for Transportation on why big transit projects take so long to deliver and are so costly. We’ll use its findings to consider funders’ roles in speeding delivery of bigger projects.  

  • Advance big picture work on mobility choices: The Collaborative has been tracking the emerging efforts to develop 2030 goals for equitable and livable mobility, using vehicle miles travelled (VMT) as a metric. It’s intriguing work as VMT reductions can translate directly into estimates of greenhouse gas emissions. New modeling work funded by Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge is showing the VMT reduction potential of specific policy interventions—like adding more bus service or implementing roadway pricing—allowing for the development of scenarios that show a credible path to significant VMT reduction to stand alongside efforts to electrify vehicles as a combined strategy to addressing transportation emissions. The Collaborative can help funders understand this work and engage in the development of these frameworks.