Summit Grantees Discuss the Future of Transportation Advocacy at Funder Summit

In July, philanthropic organizations from across the Northeastern U.S. gathered in New York for a one-day conference sponsored by the Climate and Energy Funders Group to discuss opportunities and threats for climate and clean energy in the Northeast. Participants heard from advocates across a wide range of topics, from federal policy to local challenges in some of the region’s most recalcitrant states.

Among the speakers were two of the Summit Foundation’s grantees: Felicia Park-Rogers, Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Director of Infrastructure Projects; and Kate Slevin, Regional Plan Association’s Executive Vice President. In a panel led by the Summit Foundation’s Sustainable Cities Program Director Nick Sifuentes entitled “The Transportation Transition,” Park-Rogers and Slevin highlighted the Northeast’s major victories, including New York City’s forthcoming congestion pricing program and securing transit operations funding in both the federal COVID rescue package known as the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Both speakers noted the significance of these federal programs’ transit funding: ARRA provided critical operations dollars to help keep transit workers employed as ridership plummeted during the height of the COVID pandemic, and the BIL includes funding for major infrastructure programs and transit electrification.

The speakers then highlighted the next major fights they anticipated in the coming years: implementation of the BIL at the state level and the need for state Department of Transportation reform to ensure that states spend BIL funding on climate-forward projects rather than simply expanding highways and building new roads. They discussed the threat of a “business as usual” approach at state Departments of Transportation that could actually increase greenhouse gases as they invest heavily in new roads and highways. The panel offered an alternate approach that focused on electrification and transit expansion. The speakers closed the event with a discussion on how philanthropic partners should respond by increasing support for grassroots and equity organizations focused on improving transit, active transportation, and electrification infrastructure to prevent state Departments of Transportation from making investments that would exacerbate the climate crisis. With funders’ help, they argued, advocacy organizations could play a critical role in reforming these state agencies and ensuring Northeastern states meet their ambitious climate goals.


Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Regional Plan Association

Biodiversity Funders Group