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Tell Your State Senator to “Give Me 3″ This Thursday

Senate Bill 1464, the three-foot bike passing bill proposed by California Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), heads back to the Senate on Thursday, May 24 after sailing through committee last week. Buoyed by a strong campaign by the California Bike Coalition (CBC) and TransForm, thousands of supporters have already written letters to their senators urging them to pass the bill.

The first Give Me 3 poster on 1st and Main in Los Angeles, 2010. Photo: LADOT Bike Blog

“The community of people who care about the safety of bicyclists continues to be the backbone of support for this bill,” said Jim Brown, spokesperson for the CBC. “Nearly 1,800 people have contacted their state senators to urge a yes vote this Thursday. This is a very large response by any measure, especially for bike-related legislation. It shows how strongly people care about making our roads safer.”

If passed, SB 1464 would require drivers to give cyclists a three foot passing berth when passing them. A nearly identical proposal, SB 910, was vetoed by Governor Brown in October due to pushback from AAA and the CA Highway Patrol (CHP), despite making its way through both houses of the legislature. As reported in Streetsblog  last month, the CBC worked with AAA and the CHP to revise the language they objected to and propose a new bill.

SB 1464 differs from last year’s bill by allowing drivers to cross a solid double yellow centerline (when safe) if necessary to give a bicyclist at least three feet of space. If three feet aren’t available, the bill requires drivers to pass by slowing down to a “reasonable and prudent” speed and giving bicyclists as much space as “feasible.”

The CBC launched the “Give Me 3” campaign to support the bill last year using imagery from Los Angeles’ bike safety campaign in 2010. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told Streetsblog that the passage of a safe passing law in Sacramento is “a top legislative priority” for him.

If the Senate passes SB 1464 on Thursday, it would then head to the State Assembly for approval by the appropriate committees and the full assembly. After that, it’s back to the Governor Brown’s desk, where he could sign it into law or veto it again.

TransForm and the CBC partnered to provide an easy form which supporters can use to write their legislators. By clicking on this link and entering your zip code on TransForm’s website, you can generate an email addressed to your senator. You can also modify the email with a more personal message, which is especially powerful if you know someone who was injured in a crash. If you would prefer to use email or regular mail, click here for instructions from the CBC.

Sample letter. Click here to generate your own.

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East Bay BRT EIR Approved, Final Agreements Set for June

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Image via TransForm

Bus rapid transit (BRT) between Oakland and San Leandro in the East Bay cleared a major hurdle this week after AC Transit unanimously approved the project’s environmental impact report. Agreements with the cities of Oakland and San Leandro must still be finalized in June before the project can officially break ground.

“This plan represents a big step in making bus service significantly better in the East Bay,” said Marta Lindsey, communications director for TransForm. “But it’s also a big step for the entire Bay Area, as it will showcase what’s possible: faster, more reliable, and more frequent buses – plus a better experience for riders all-around and at an incredible value.”

Marta noted that East Bay BRT has the highest cost-efficiency rating from the Federal Transit Administration of any public transportation project in the nation currently competing for federal funds.

The full Oakland-to-Berkeley corridor won’t get true BRT after merchants in Berkeley complained about losing car parking to dedicated bus lanes. But this section will bring substantial benefits on its own: 22 community organizations have signed a letter [PDF] cheering the estimated 39 percent improvement in travel times, 300+ jobs, and transit-oriented growth the project is expected to bring along the International Boulevard corridor.

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Coalition of California Advocates Headed to Sacramento to Save Transit

Members of a broad coalition hailing from throughout California are headed to Sacramento next week to push policymakers to save transit funding and enact sustainable transportation planning reforms.

The Oakland-based transit advocacy group TransForm has amassed about 150 advocates to descend on the capitol for its two-day Transportation Choices Summit, the first known event of its kind, where they will meet with state representatives and urge them to prioritize walking, bicycling, and transit.

TransForm State Policy Director Graham Brownstein said the action came out of the organization’s Invest in Transit campaign, launched last year to address the “very, very serious crisis” facing transit systems in California. The state has made dramatic funding cuts totaling more than $4 billion over the last decade, and TransForm recognized the immediate need for “creative policy reforms that will stabilize, and then grow transit funding in California,” said Brownstein.

The cornerstone of the campaign is a push to ensure that a major portion of the revenue from California’s nascent cap-and-trade program will be dedicated to transit operations and affordable housing projects located near transit.

The cap-and-trade revenue could go a long way toward restoring the damage done to transit funding under the Schwarzenegger administration. By selling emissions permits, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration anticipates the cap-and-trade program will generate $1 billion in the 2012-2013 budget and $10 billion annually by 2020, according to TransForm [PDF].

Brownstein said transit agencies need all the help they can get to avert a much deeper statewide crisis.

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House Transportation Bill: What’s at Stake for the Bay Area

Reliable transit and safer streets in San Francisco and the Bay Area could be crippled by what U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has called ”the worst transportation bill [he's] ever seen” making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.

As Streetsblog Capitol Hill has been reporting, H.R. 7, the federal transportation bill being pushed by House Republicans, would be disastrous for transit riders and crippling for programs that fund pedestrian and bicycle safety.

In the Bay Area, the damage would be especially severe: “California receives a huge share of the federal funding for public transportation because of our extensive systems, and the House bill could end up zeroing out federal support for transit,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, a Bay Area transit advocacy group that lobbies at the state and federal level. Instead, transit “would have to battle in the ever-shrinking general fund.”

Transportation for America spokesperson David Goldberg told the San Francisco Examiner today that about $638 million annually could be withheld to Bay Area transit agencies, which “could ultimately lead to service cuts, fare increases and deferred maintenance on vehicles.”

Yesterday, Bay Area mayors Ed Lee of San Francisco, Jean Quan of Oakland, and Chuck Reed of San Jose expressed their opposition to the bill in an op-ed in the Examiner, calling on Congress to protect their cities’ transportation funding:

While roads and bridges are a critical component of California’s infrastructure, diverting vital funding for sustainable modes of travel is unwise. If this wrongheaded approach moves forward in the House, the nation’s transportation network will take a giant step backward to a “roads only” policy for dedicated funding…

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Bay Area’s First BRT System Coming to the East Bay By 2016

Transit riders in the East Bay will get a boost in 2016 with the arrival of the region’s first Bus Rapid Transit corridor, connecting San Leandro and Oakland. The project recently reached a major milestone with the release of its final environmental impact report (EIR). AC Transit will begin fielding public feedback on the EIR next week, and construction could begin as soon as next year.

The project will speed up service on AC Transit Rapid Bus Routes 1 and 1R, primarily along International Boulevard from San Leandro BART Station to downtown Oakland. The BRT line is projected to increase transit speeds 39 percent, reduce automobile travel by 21,000 miles each day, lower operating costs, and spur transit-oriented growth along the roughly 14-mile corridor.

“BRT will bring a whole new level of efficiency, which will translate into quicker rides, more comfortable and more reliable rides that will attract more riders and dramatically improve this service that riders currently experience along the corridor,” said Joél Ramos, a community planner at the Oakland-based TransForm who also sits on the SFMTA Board of Directors. San Francisco is currently developing BRT routes on Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue, but the East Bay project is expected to open first.

East Bay BRT will be “the first significant amount of infrastructure investment in east Oakland for over 35 years,” said Ramos. The route currently sees over 20,000 riders per day, and although BART runs parallel to it, Ramos pointed out that BRT improvements will create a more attractive option for those who can’t easily walk to a BART station or only want to travel locally.

“The bus service actually serves people who live between BART stations,” he said.

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Joél Ramos’ SFMTA Board Nomination Moves Swiftly to Board of Supes

Photo courtesy of Marta Lindsey

The SF Board of Supervisors Rules Committee approved the nomination of transit advocate Joél Ramos to the SFMTA Board of Directors today without deliberation, and his final confirmation is expected by the full board on Tuesday.

“Joél is the real deal,” said Andy Thornley, the policy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, who turned out with fellow advocates in uniform support of Ramos’ confirmation. “He is a transit advocate, a transit lover, and a champion for equity and social justice. He’s very qualified to join this important body and lend his intelligence and energy to it.”

Advocates roundly praised the Mayor’s nomination of the TransForm community planner to the board in April after a seat was left vacant by the passing of Cameron Beach, a veteran transportation professional who was being considered for reappointment.

“The appointment of Joél Ramos to this board could be a step forward in actually making the real change we need on our streets,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “Joél Ramos will speak up for sustainable streets, and we also know that he will speak up for the underserved communities who face a disproportionate risk of being hit by cars on our streets while walking and who depend the most on public transportation.”

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Advocates Laud Mayor’s Nomination of Joél Ramos to the SFMTA Board

Photo: TransForm

When TransForm’s Joél Ramos led the community outreach charge on the International Boulevard Transit-Oriented Development Plan in Oakland, he went to “ridiculous lengths” to bring everyone to the table.

“He really educated people on the potential of the project so they could plug in in a way that’s really more sophisticated,” said fellow TransForm advocate Marta Lindsey. “By the time it got to the city council, there was no one to get upset and surprised.”

With Ramos’ reputation as a sustainable transportation advocate dedicated to social justice issues, advocates couldn’t be happier about his nomination to the SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday by Mayor Ed Lee.

“The guy is a dedicated activist and he knows the policy. He’s a perfect appointee,” said Dave Snyder, Relaunch Director/CEO of the California Bicycle Coalition and former coordinator of the SF Transit Riders Union. “I’ve spent time with Joél on the 14-Mission, reaching out to riders in Spanish and English, urging them to get involved with actions to improve service for everyday riders.”

Ramos currently works as a community planner at TransForm, an Oakland-based advocacy group for walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly communities in the Bay Area and across California. Last year, he helped win approval from the Oakland City Council to move a bus rapid transit plan on International Boulevard forward.

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California’s Climate Laws Undermined by Weak Transpo Policies, Investment

California's lack of good transportation policies and transit investment points to a failure in Sacramento. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/aquafornia/2731909303/##aquafornia##

California's lack of bold transportation policies and transit investment points to a failure in Sacramento. Photo: aquafornia

A new report from NRDC and Smart Growth America — which examines what all 50 states are doing to curb greenhouse gas emissions from transportation — lauds California as the most progressive state on policy, but points out that its transportation and spending priorities don’t match the bold blueprints, particularly as it relates to public transit.

It all points to Sacramento, where legislators have continuously raided the only dedicated fund for transit, leading to massive cuts statewide.

The report praises the state’s smart-growth law, SB375, as a model for other states, noting that “it puts in place a strong framework that can be used to drive better coordination between transportation and land use, and, of particular relevance to this analysis, to do so in a way that reduces GHGs.” It remains uncertain, however, “whether SB 375 will deliver results on the ground as opposed to just changes in planning documents.”

In September, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 2035, a move that will compel the state’s metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to better integrate land use and transportation planning. The real test for SB375 will come at the local level as MPOs draft plans to meet the targets.

Unless the state prioritizes investments in sustainable transportation, California’s progressive policies will continue to be undermined.

“Huge cuts to public transit threaten these (policy) gains and could lead to even more devastating consequences for California communities and the economy,” said a joint press release from Smart Growth California, NRDC, TransForm and the Sierra Club of California. “In California, transportation policies and spending decisions are not in line with the state’s bold commitments to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide and other emissions being pumped into the air.”

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California Reps Urge FTA to Show Support for OAC Ahead Of Board Vote

HegenbergerRd_P1_HRes3000px smallOn the eve of another significant vote to proceed with the contract to build the controversial Oakland Airport Connector, BART and project supporters received a positive indication from Federal Transit Administration (FTA) head Peter Rogoff of his agency’s commitment to give BART $25 million in New Starts funds for the project, a necessary step to close the funding gap resulting from the loss of $70 million in stimulus funds earlier this year.

BART staff had been scrambling to replace the $70 million denied to the agency for failure to adequately analyze the federal Title VI civil rights impacts of the OAC. Without the $25 million, BART would have had to proceed by borrowing more and increasing its already significant debt load on the airport connector.

In the letter [pdf], Rogoff reaffirmed to BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger that the FTA had set aside $24.9 million and would “process a grant after determining that BART has adequately addressed all of the Title VI deficiencies for the OAC Project. The grant will include conditions that allow BART to draw down the funds upon BART’s demonstration of completion of the Title VI Corrective Action Plan that was approved by the FTA on April 16, 2010.”

BART called a special meeting of its Board of Directors for today to address the looming contractual deadline with the Parsons/Flatiron team, who won’t delay the bid beyond September 21st, two days before the next regularly scheduled board meeting.

Board action is required before proceeding because Vice President Bob Franklin in July added conditions to a motion to proceed that required any change in funding to come back before the board of directors. Specifically, Franklin was concerned about the $25 million in New Starts money, $39 million from an airport passenger surcharge to be levied by the Port of Oakland, which runs the Oakland International Airport, and a $20 million state funding swap still to be authorized by the California Transportation Commission. The CTC has agendized the swap and plans to vote on the matter at its September 22nd meeting, the day after the Parsons/Flatiron deadline.

Franklin told Streetsblog, given the lopsided votes in favor of the project in the past, he believed the directors would vote to move forward with the project despite the funding gaps today. He said he would act to put in as many safeguards as possible and noted that if directors voted to proceed and the contractors started hiring, it will be that much more expensive to terminate the contract in the future should BART not secure federal loans or should the Port money not come through.

“I will see what I can do. I obviously don’t want to put the public money at risk. I will see if we can somehow add more protections,” he said.

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The Oakland Airport Connector: BART’s Little Engine that Could?

Image: Parsons/Flatiron

Image: Parsons/Flatiron

The fatigue is palpable, but the battle over BART”s Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) is nowhere near its conclusion. That’s the message coming out of yet another marathon hearing today at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the region’s transportation planning body, over the merits of the airport connector, which I would argue has now become the second most controversial regional transit proposal behind the California High Speed Rail Peninsula alignment.

Despite a long history of protests by a coalition of transit advocates, the MTC’s Programs and Allocations Committee voted to endorse a $20 million swap of money from two freeway projects to the airport connector, a shifting of highway money to transit those same advocates would probably support if it were being geared toward other projects, instead of a $500 million, elevated tramway.

In a scene that has repeated itself many times, scores of people testified for more than an hour at the MTC hearing, offering nearly verbatim testimony to what has been said over the past year at numerous BART, MTC, Oakland City Council and Alameda County Congestion Management Agency hearings. On one side were the construction and trade unions desirous of jobs BART has promised will be created by the OAC, on the other transit advocates who think the $500 million for the OAC could be used on a more economical bus rapid transit option and for core capacity investments at BART and AC Transit.

BART likens the struggle over the OAC to other cornerstone transportation projects like the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, or even the creation of BART itself.

“This is the same argument of the opponents of BART in the 1960s who didn’t want BART being built at all,” said BART spokesperson Linton Johnson. “It’s really difficult for us and frustrating for us, trying to do what you know is right, building for the future, but ten years from now we’re going to be vindicated, twenty years from now we’re going to be vindicated. We’ve got to think generations ahead.”

“The people of yesteryear had to fight like hell to get BART and today we have something that is priceless,” he added.

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