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Governor Brown Signs Protected Bike Lane Bill, Car Fee for Bike Paths

Governor Brown recently approved A.B. 1193, which would allow protected bike lanes, like this one on 3rd Street in Long Beach, CA, to be more easily implemented throughout California. Photo: Joe Linton, Streetsblog LA

Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills on Saturday that will make it easier for California cities to build better bike infrastructure.

The governor approved Assembly Bill 1193, which means protected bike lanes, or cycletracks, will become an official part of Caltrans’ guidelines on bike infrastructure. Brown also signed Senate Bill 1183, which will allow local governments to use a vehicle surcharge to pay for bike paths and bike facility maintenance.

State to Create Standards Supporting Protected Bike Lanes

A.B. 1193, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will require Caltrans to create engineering standards for protected bike lanes, which until now have been discouraged by a complex approval processes and a lack of state guidance. This new class of lane — called cycletracks, or “class IV bikeways,” in Caltrans terms — are separated from motor traffic using a physical barrier, such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.

Protected bike lanes have been shown to increase the number of people bicycling on them, to make cyclists feel safer, and to decrease the number of wrong-way and sidewalk riders on streets that have them.

The new law will also allow cities and counties to build cycletracks without consulting Caltrans, unless the facilities are built on state highways. California cities that build protected bike lanes will have the option of using the standards to be developed by Caltrans or some other generally accepted standards, sparing them from Caltrans’ arduous approval process.

Locals Can Now Pass Vehicle Fees to Build and Maintain Bikeways

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“Not a Freeway” — Re-Branding the Excesses of the $1.4B Presidio Parkway

A temporary bypass road, with a movable median barrier, runs by the Main Post Tunnels under construction for the Presidio Parkway early this year. Photo: Presidio Parkway

When visitors land on the front page of the Presidio Parkway’s website, they see an animated pelican emerging from beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, gliding across green hills and blue skies. When the bird lands, you can “Meet Parker” with a click and learn all about the Presidio Parkway Pelican.

The PR team for this freeway project wants you to know that Parker the fictional pelican is “very excited about the improvements the new Presidio Parkway will bring to his favorite national park!”

This “former military pilot” even has his own color-within-the-lines page [PDF] that parents can print out for their kids to fill in. Perhaps that helps distract the whole family from the $1.4 billion taxpayers will be forking over for the next 30 years to build a one-mile freeway connecting the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco’s Marina District.

The Presidio Parkway probably needs a re-branding campaign like this to make it palatable to the public. With the images of birds, clouds, and rolling hills, you can’t really tell that this project is about building a gargantuan concrete structure. In fact, the website insists that it’s “a parkway, not a freeway” with a logo depicting a quaint, narrow road, somehow free of motor vehicles, snaking through the grass to everybody’s favorite bridge.

Screenshot of the banner on PresidioParkway.com

There’s no doubt the depression-era Doyle Drive needed to be replaced, and there’s good reason the design of its successor has been deliberated since the 80s. The elevated highway was crumbling and would likely have succumbed to the next big earthquake. Designed to steer the motoring public around the former Presidio military base, it cut off the national park from the Bay.

The new road will be less of a monstrosity, and the temporary structure built in the first phase has already provided a “seismically safe” road for drivers. Car traffic is currently routed through the first of four planned tunnels via a temporary bypass road. In 2015, both pairs of tunnels are expected to open, and on top of them will be 13 acres of parkland that people and wildlife can traverse freely to Crissy Field.

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Protected Bike Lanes Bill Passes CA Senate Transportation Committee

The “Protected Bikeways Act,” A.B. 1193, passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Thursday on a 10-0 vote, despite opposition from some quarters. The bill must still be approved by the full Senate and Governor Jerry Brown.

A protected bike lane in Temple City. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would compel Caltrans to create guidelines for protected bike lanes, a type of facility that is not currently allowed under California law.

A second measure in the bill would give local jurisdictions — cities and counties — the freedom to follow Caltrans standards for bicycle infrastructure or to choose some other guidance. Currently all bicycle infrastructure in California must adhere to Caltrans standards, whether it’s built on state highways or local streets. There are a few limited exceptions to this, generally through cumbersome experimental processes, but overall Caltrans’ antiquated standards have limited implementation of infrastructure that has proven safe in other states and other countries.

“This comes down to an issue of local control,” said Ting. “Cities have control over every aspect of their streets except when it comes to bikes.”

Supporters at the hearing included representatives from Napa County, the city of San Jose, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

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CA Senate Committee to Consider Protected Bike Lanes Bill Tomorrow

A key hearing will be held in Sacramento tomorrow on legislation that would pave the way for more California cities to build protected bike lanes, also known as “cycle tracks.”

Legislation by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-SF) aims to make protected bike lanes, such as this one in Long Beach, more common throughout California. Photo: Gary Kavanagh

Currently the California Highway Design Manual does not allow protected bike lanes, and state law requires local jurisdictions to follow Caltrans specifications for bicycle facilities on all roads, not just state-controlled highways. No such requirement exists for any other type of street infrastucture — just bicycle facilities.

A.B. 1193, the “Safe Routes for Urban Cyclists,” from Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would require Caltrans to develop standards for bike lanes that are physically separated from motor traffic. At the same time, the bill would permit cities to opt out of using Caltrans specifications for bike facilities on local streets and roads.

The legislation follows the spirit of a recommendation from the recent State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report on Caltrans that Caltrans “support, or propose if no bill is forthcoming, legislation to end the archaic practice of imposing state rules on local streets for bicycle facilities.”

Caltrans recently complied with another SSTI recommendation when it endorsed design guidelines for bicycle infrastructure from the National Association of City Transportation Officials. However, while that endorsement adds some tools to the toolkit for planners, the NACTO guidelines are not yet included of the California Highway Design Manual, which local jurisdictions are still bound to.

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Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

For social media coverage of California’s statewide transportation issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like the Streetsblog California Facebook page.

Here’s Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of legislation and events related to sustainable transportation at the California capitol.

  • News on the implementation of S.B. 743, which removes Automobile Level of Service from consideration as an environmental impact in areas with robust transit. The state’s Office of Planning and Research released the public comments it has received on its update of CEQA guidelines and its draft guidelines for S.B. 743, which Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) introduced and was passed last year. S.B. 743 requires the OPR to come up with a new urban planning metric to replace LOS that measures the effect of development and transportation projects on all traffic, not just car drivers. Proponents are enthusiastic about eliminating an outdated, car-centric measure that has led to wider, faster streets. Critics worry that longer have the means to require developers to improve streets. The next steps: drafting the actual guidelines, releasing them for public comment in late spring, and producing a final draft version of the guidelines by July 1.
  • Caltrans published a new mission statement: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.” This is a vast improvement over the old one, “Caltrans improves mobility across California,” and it contains all the right buzzwords. The mission statement was the first item on the Early Action Plan outlined in the State Smart Transportation Initiative report urging deep reforms in Caltrans. Check — now to work.
  • More extensive senate hearings saw debates about the governor’s cap-and-trade expenditure plan and high-speed rail, this time in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation. CA High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales defended the use of cap-and-trade funds for high speed rail, and Senator Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) attacked cap-and-trade as a slush fund and high-speed rail as an expensive project that will produce a “puny” reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Plenty of comments from the Legislative Analyst’s Office and various interest groups.
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Spectacular New Devil’s Slide Trail Difficult to Reach Without a Car

A 1.3-mile section of abandoned Highway 1 south of Pacifica was converted into the new Devil’s Slide Trail, seen here just before its grand opening to the public on March 27. Photo: Andrew Boone

The 1.3-mile “Devil’s Slide” segment of Highway 1 just south of Pacifica is the latest addition to San Mateo County’s 20 parks. The freshly-paved walking and biking trail offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and its coastal cliffs, and it’s by far the widest trail in the San Francisco Bay Area, with 12 feet striped for walking and 12 feet for bicycling.

“This is inarguably one of the most beautiful segments of the California Coastal Trail,” said Coastal Conservancy Executive Officer Samual Schuchat at the trail’s ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday. “It’s incredibly exciting to open it, after years of driving through here and wanting to take in these views but being afraid that you would crash.”

The geologically hazardous section of highway was closed to cars in March of last year with the opening of the twin Tom Lantos tunnels, which Caltrans constructed to bypass this stretch. As Deidra Kennedy of the Pacifica Historical Society told the SF Chronicle last week, Caltrans originally planned to build an inland bypass and bury the Devil’s Slide highway, but local activists persuaded them to instead build a tunnel and re-purpose the coastal road.

Construction included re-paving the road, building parking lots, bus stops, and public restrooms at both ends, and adding three overlooks, 12 benches, and a variety of educational panels alongside the trail to help visitors learn about the area’s geology and ecology. The San Mateo County Parks Department spent $2 million on the highway-to-trail project, and will invest another $492,000 per year to maintain it, or roughly 5 percent of the department’s annual budget.

Getting to the new trail without a car, however, is a challenge. Since the trail was carved from Highway 1, the highway remains the only way to get there.

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California Biking, Walking, Transit Use Up Despite Little Investment

Caltrans' latest Household Travel Survey report shows significant increases in walking and bicycling

The news from Caltrans’ 2012 California Household Travel Survey is not too surprising: Californians are making more trips by walking, bicycling, and transit than they were in 2000. The survey found the percentage of trips by these modes doubled in ten years and make up nearly 23 percent of all trips in the state.

That means car trips decreased dramatically, from 86 percent of trips to 75 percent. This includes trips where people are passengers in cars — for drivers only, the decrease is from 60 percent of trips to 49 percent. This confirms a recent US Public Interest Group (PIRG) report that got a lot of media attention about millenials choosing to drive less and being more interested in active forms of transportation.

“The California data is the first new travel survey since the last federal National Household Travel Survey in 2009, so it’s very significant that it shows such a steep decline in driving and a doubling in the share of transit, biking and walking,” said Phineas Baxandall of USPIRG. “It shows the last federal survey wasn’t a fluke.” The national survey showed a jump in walking trips, a slight increase in transit trips, and an increase in “other” modes, under which bicycle trips would fall.

“The fact that we’re seeing this in California, the heart of the former car culture, is also delicious,” he added.

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Caltrans on the Hot Seat: Assembly Looks at State, Local Planning Tensions

It was the California State Assembly’s turn to review the recent State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report on Caltrans at a Transportation Committee hearing Monday.

Chair Bonnie Lowenthal addresses the Transportation Committee (find a video of the hearing here)

The discussion played out along the same lines as the Senate Transportation Committee hearing last month, where Professor Joel Rogers, who led the team that produced the report for the California Transportation Agency (CalSTA), presented his findings on the dysfunction at Caltrans.

Rogers drew questions from committee members when he cited the lack of coordination between local transportation planning agencies and Caltrans. 

Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) was defensive of local planning. “Locals need a strong voice in the planning process,” she said. “I don’t see how the state has the resources or ability to do that kind of planning on the local level.”

Rogers was compelled to clarify himself several times. “I do not mean to imply that local control is a bad thing,” he said, but the report was “quite critical that the self-help counties build projects and then push all the maintenance onto Caltrans without doing anything like a lifecycle accounting on the actual costs.”

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

“We just don’t think local control has been well managed,” he said. “Caltrans needs to give locals the flexibility they need. What we heard over and over in our interviews was, ‘It’s such a drag dealing with Caltrans, we just try to go around them.’ As a state agency you don’t want a system that is deliberately at war with itself.”

Rogers skewered both Caltrans and the legislature in much the same words he used in the recent Senate hearing, where he criticized Caltrans for its “hypertrophic aversion to risk” that prevents it from being an effective partner. This time he evoked an appreciative, if sheepish, laugh from the committee members when he remarked that they had a hand in making Caltrans the dysfunctional organization it is today.

Two committee members, Assemblymembers Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) and Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), seemed eager to move reforms along. ”What’s our plan of action? How can we be involved?” asked Daly.

“This needs to be taken care of on a much higher level than the local level,” Achadjian said. “Let’s not let this end up on a shelf. We need a follow up.”

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Senate Hearing Highlights Report on Caltrans’ Car-Centric Ways

Heckuva job, Caltrans. Image:##http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/art-124808/Traffic-on-the-Los-Angeles-freeways-is-frequently-bumper-to##Kids Britannica##

Heckuva job, Caltrans. Image:Kids Britannica

With a recent report calling out the need for Caltrans to focus less on building highways and more on letting cities build people-friendly streets, state legislators have an eye trained on the agency’s progress towards reform.

The California Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee held a hearing yesterday to discuss the new report [PDF], conducted by the State Smart Transportation Initiative and commissioned by the California Transportation Agency (CalSTA), which was formed by Governor Jerry Brown and CalSTA Secretary Brian Kelly last year to oversee all of the state’s transportation agencies.

The report is sharply critical of Caltrans’ “archaic” practices when it comes to imposing automobile-centric design standards on city streets, and says the department should reform its risk-averse culture, which often prevents local city planners from implementing modern designs for bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets.

Two of the report’s authors, Joel Rogers and Eric Sundquist of SSTI, presented their findings to the committee, arguing that the way Caltrans is currently structured prevents it from helping meet state goals like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving transit networks, and building complete streets. A complete, systemic reorganization of the agency is their recommended solution.

The report asks a series of questions on whether the agency has the right tools “to help it achieve the mobility, safety, and environmental stewardship goals that are expected from California’s transportation system.” The answer, the authors conclude, is a resounding “no.”

“Caltrans’ operative mission and goals are out of step and work at cross purposes with the transportation needs and policy framework of the state,” Rogers told the Senate committee. “The skills and technical expertise of its staff are not congruent with modern demands.”

The report criticizes the “rule-bound” culture at the agency that causes employees to focus on avoiding risk rather than streamlining projects that provide cities better transit and safe streets for walking and biking. And, Rogers told the committee, “You, the Legislature, have a heavy hand in making Caltrans as dysfunctional as you now find it.”

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