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2015 CA State Transportation Budget: More of the Same

California Governor Jerry Brown explains the need for fiscal restraint as he presents the preliminary 2015 state budget.

Governor Jerry Brown released his preliminary budget proposal [PDF] today in Sacramento, missing the opportunity to articulate the connection between spending on roads and meeting the climate change goals he proposed Monday in his inaugural speech.

The draft budget holds no huge surprises for sustainable transportation advocates. It mostly follows last year’s budget for transportation spending. Brown made no move to change the allocations of cap-and-trade funds, which include a 25 percent for high-speed rail, with the rest of the expected $1 billion going to other projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The budget mentions the $350 million for last year’s Active Transportation Program, but makes no mention of increasing that amount.

At the press conference, Brown highlighted funding for road maintenance and repair, but failed to connect spending on roads with his stated goal of reducing fuel consumption by 50 percent over the next fifteen years. That goal won’t be easy to reach, and will take more than high-speed rail and electric cars.

“Getting people biking and walking is a critical part of that effort,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the National Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. “Yet the Active Transportation Program is only one percent of the budget—less if you include cap-and-trade money,” which the governor’s office expects to add another $1 billion to next year’s budget.

“Yes, we have unfunded highway maintenance needs,” she added, “but as long as we keep building highways, we always will. We need to focus on shifting people to other modes.”

Instead Brown emphasizes high-speed rail as his main solution for reducing fuel consumption. His budget lists HSR among “healthy transportation alternatives,” alongside transit and walkable and bikable communities, that will receive half of cap-and-trade revenue.

But high-speed rail won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions any time soon, and the amount of money allocated to it dwarfs the Active Transportation Program, which has the potential to increase the number of people who choose bikes and walking.

Read more…

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CA High-Speed Rail Breaks Ground in Fresno

Photo by Alex Brideau III

At today’s groundbreaking in Fresno, Governor Jerry Brown celebrates construction of California’s High-Speed Rail. Photo by Alex Brideau III

California signaled its commitment to high-speed rail with a groundbreaking Tuesdayday in Fresno. The ceremony, featuring a speech by Governor Jerry Brown, marks the official beginning of construction on the long-awaited train.

It also puts California on track to be the first state in the nation to build high-speed rail. That depends on how you define it, though; Amtrak’s Acela Express service between Boston and D.C. comes close, getting up to 150 miles per hour on some sections.

The first section of track to be constructed will run 29 miles between Fresno and the town of Madera to the north. It includes two viaducts, a trench in downtown Fresno, and twelve grade separations—most of them lifting existing roads over the at-grade tracks.


Route of high-speed rail between Madera and Fresno. The first construction phase ends at Avenue 17, just south of Avenue 19 1/2. Image: CAHSR Authority

Tuesday’s groundbreaking was held at the site of the future downtown Fresno high-speed rail station. It was largely ceremonial, as actual construction may not start until April. However, pre-construction activities have been underway, including archaeological and geotechnical preparation work.

In his speech Governor Brown addressed project criticisms, saying it is necessary to be critiqued to build a better project.

“It’s not about money,” he added. “You’ve got to get something in the ground. You’ve got to put the building trades people to work.”

He compared building high-speed rail with other large projects that have met with opposition, like the Central Valley Water Project, the Golden Gate Bridge, and BART. “All those projects were a little bit touch-and-go,” he said.

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SFMTA to Push for Speed Camera Enforcement Through State Legislation

Speed cameras could reduce speed-related crashes like the one at Pine and Gough Streets that killed a teen and put his mother in a coma in 2013. Image: NBC

The SFMTA wants to legalize life-saving speed enforcement cameras, and plans to campaign for a state law that would enable San Francisco to install them, the agency’s director of government affairs, Kate Breen, said today.

California currently has no law to allow and regulate the use of speed enforcement cameras, though red-light enforcement cameras are allowed. Speed cameras have been proven to reduce driver speeding, traffic crashes, and fatalities in cities around the U.S. and in other countries. Notably, since France adopted them about a dozen years ago, speed cameras are credited with saving more than 15,000 lives throughout the country.

The SFMTA, however, plans to take a tepid approach in its requests from the governor and the state legislature. Breen told the SFMTA Board of Directors that the agency will be seeking to authorize speed camera use only in areas around schools and senior centers, and that the legislation would also “de-criminalize citations” and set a “$100 flat fine.” The bill would have to be authored by a state legislator such as SF’s recently-inaugurated Assemblymember David Chiu, a former supervisor.

The limitations, Breen said, are mainly aimed at making the legislation palatable for Governor Jerry Brown, who is generally wary of raising fines. In September, Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased fines for dangerous driving in school zones and given the revenue to safe street improvements.

The SFMTA, said Breen, hopes to craft a proposal that “we can build a coalition around, that doesn’t necessarily engender out of the gate what we’ve seen, as practiced by the governor, his propensity to want to veto those things that really raise fines so significantly that the average motorist or person who is receiving one of these citations is unduly burdened.”

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Governor Brown Vetoes CA Bill to Increase Fines in School Zones

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 1151, which would have raised fines for traffic violations in school zones. The legislation, authored by Senator Anthony Canella (R-Ceres), was co-sponsored by the Safe Routes to School National Coalition, transportation advocates TransForm, and the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program. The bill was designed to reduce traffic violations near schools, and money raised from the fine increases would have been earmarked for programs that encourage walking and biking.

CA Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased driver violation fines and dedicated the revenue to providing safer passage for students walking to school. Photo: Elizabeth Edwards,

Governor Brown, who is known to dislike bills that raise fines for revenue, called S.B. 1151 regressive in his veto message [PDF]:

Increasing traffic fines as the method to pay for transportation fund activities is a regressive increase that affects poor people disproportionately. Making safety improvements is obviously important, but not by increasing traffic fines.

“The governor’s framing is unfortunate,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. “We see it differently, because the revenue would have funded infrastructure to address the underlying problem of lack of safety near schools. We thought it was a positive way to achieve results.”

The bill originally would have doubled fines in school zones, similar to temporary fine zones instituted to protect workers in construction zones. However, that would have required local jurisdictions to post signs around schools warning of the double fines, and legislators said they didn’t want to impose the cost of new signs on school districts and cities.

Under the compromise passed by the legislature, the bill would have raised the base fines for violations by $35. That would have raised the current range of fines from $238 to $366 to between $273 and $410.

“We are really disappointed, obviously,” said Ward-Waller. “Especially after the legislature supported it unanimously.”

“Children are overwhelmingly the victims of car collisions near schools, especially in low-income communities where there are no safe sidewalks or bike lanes,” Bianca Taylor of TransForm wrote in a blog post. “As the cost of driving gets more expensive, we need to make sure that low-income neighborhoods have equal access to safe, affordable alternatives to cars, so that all children can safely get to school.”

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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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Bill Streamlining Protected Bike Lanes in CA Awaits Governor’s Signature

With Governor Brown’s approval, protected bike lanes like these ones on San Francisco’s Market Street could become easier for cities to build. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

A bill that would make it easier for California cities to build protected bike lanes was passed by both houses of the state legislature this week and only awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

The bill, A.B. 1193, was authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition.

The bill serves several purposes. First and foremost, it requires Caltrans to establish engineering standards for protected bike lanes or “cycletracks,” a new category of bike lanes for cities to use.

At the same time, it removes a provision in the law that requires that any bike lane built in California adhere to Caltrans specifications, even if it is built on a local street that is not under Caltrans’ jurisdiction. This frees up local jurisdictions to choose other guidelines, such as the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide, if the Caltrans standards do not adequately address local conditions.

Caltrans endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide earlier this year but has not adopted it, meaning that cities that want to build separated bike lanes must still go through a process to get an exemption.

Last-minute negotiations on the bill addressed concerns about liability by adding several conditions that have to be met before non-Caltrans criteria can be used. A “qualified engineer” must review and sign off on a protected bike lane project, the public must be duly notified, and alternative criteria must “adhere to guidelines established by a national association of public agency transportation official,” which means the NACTO guidelines would could be used whether Caltrans has officially adopted them or not.

And unfortunately for lay people, Caltrans balked at removing its convention of naming bike lane types by “class” and numeral, saying it is just too embedded in its documents. So the new protected bike lanes category would be officially named “Class IV Bikeways,” adding to Class I Bikeways (bike paths or shared use paths), Class II bikeways (bike lanes), and Class III bikeways (bike routes). Memorize that.

“We’re very excited to have gotten to this point after months of harder-than-expected negotiations and stalwart support from Phil Ting,” said Dave Snyder of the California Bicycle Coalition. “He really wants to see protected bikeways get more popular.”

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Four CA Hit-and-Run Bills Await Governor Brown’s Signature

Hit-and-runs have been a problem in California for a long time. In this 1973 publicity still, Adam 12’s fictional television LAPD officers investigate a hit-and-run. Four bills to curb these crimes await Governor Brown’s approval. Photo: Wikipedia

Four bills targeting hit-and-run crimes in California await Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, including two from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who has made hit-and-runs a focus this year. The bills have passed both houses of the California legislature and are awaiting the governor’s signature.

One, a late addition to the legislative calendar (A.B. 47), would allow law enforcement authorities to broadcast information about vehicles suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run collision using the existing “Amber” alert system, which notifies the public about child abductions via changeable message signs on freeways across the state.

The system is strictly limited to avoid its overuse, and the Senate made amendments to the bill to further tightened restrictions. The new “Yellow” alerts would only be allowed when a hit-and-run has caused a serious injury or death. There has to be at least a partial description of the vehicle and its license plate available, and there must be a chance that making the information public will help catch the suspect and protect the public from further harm.

Another Gatto bill, A.B. 1532, would require an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit. Currently, consequences for leaving the scene of a crash are light if the victim has less than serious injuries, but someone who drives away can claim not to know how badly the victim was hurt. With this law, anyone who drives away and gets caught will face more serious consequences just for the act of leaving.

Meanwhile, the bill from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), A.B. 2673, which would remove the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction, has also passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Current law allows someone convicted of a hit-and-run to avoid criminal prosecution if they come to an agreement with the victim of the collision, and this bill removes that possibility.

Yet another bill, A.B. 2337 from Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), would extend the period of time that a driver’s license is suspended for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years. This would apply to anyone caught and convicted of a hit-and-run that caused the death or serious injury of another person.

If stiffer penalties can make people think twice about leaving the scene of a crash, then these bills may well help reduce the incidence of hit-and-runs. As long as people believe they can escape the consequences, however, the heavier penalties may not act as a deterrent. But combined with a new system that will broadcast a car’s description and license plate for all to see, it will be more difficult to escape.

As Assemblymember Gatto said, “Together, these bills will empower the public to help us catch hit-and-run drivers before they can cover up the evidence of their crimes and ensure the perpetrators of these cowardly acts think twice before leaving fellow citizens dying on the side of the road.”

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Infographic: Comparing California’s Three Cap-and-Trade Spending Proposals


In the midst of California’s state budget negotiations, the legislature must separately decide how to spend the state’s cap-and-trade revenue, be it on public transit, high-speed rail, affordable housing near transit, or other emissions-reducing programs.

Three different proposals for slicing this new pie come from Governor Jerry Brown, the Senate, and the Assembly. This week, legislators must find a way to meld these three plans, or just choose one. To help explain the differences between the three approaches, we created the above chart, with more explanation below.

This relatively new pot of money, collected under the authority of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, or A.B. 32, by law must be spent on programs and projects that help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout the state by 2020. The administration estimates that the cap-and-trade system will raise about $870 million in 2015, and various estimates assume it could grow to several billion dollars each year between 2015 and 2020.

In all three of the plans, there is no set-aside for active transportation. Bicycle and pedestrian planning would be included within a larger group of as-yet-undefined projects and programs, called a “Sustainable Communities” program. Programs in this group would compete for funds based on how well they achieve GHG emission reductions. In each plan, what is included under Sustainable Communities and how much money is allocated to that pot of funds differs.

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Transportation Priorities Jostle for CA’s Cap-and-Trade Revenue

A series of hearings in Sacramento have been revisiting California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill (A.B.) 32, which calls for a statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020. Two recent hearings have opened discussions of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed spending plan for the revenue received so far from the state’s cap-and-trade program, implemented as part of A.B. 32, and another recent Senate hearing discussed the program’s impacts to date.

Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, explains cap and trade.

The auction of cap-and-trade credits is producing money for the state, which, under A.B. 32, must be spent on helping further reduce GHG emissions. Last month, Governor Brown released his cap-and-trade expenditure plan for 2014-2015, in which he proposed to spend $850 million in expected revenue from the auctions. Of that, $600 million would be used for transportation-related projects and programs, with the lion’s share of that ($250 million) for high speed rail.

Other transportation categories include $50 million to Caltrans to expand and modernize existing rail; $200 million towards programs that encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles, including trucks, buses, and cars; and $100 million over the next two years to the Strategic Growth Council for Sustainable Communities programs, including plans that encourage compact and infill development near transit.

The governor’s plan does not include any funds for bicycling, walking, or transit other than what would fall under the above categories, even though these transportation modes offer a huge potential savings in GHG emissions.

At a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday, a long line of public advocacy groups spoke up for reshuffling the cap and trade funds, mostly in the direction of the respective group’s preferred emissions-reduction strategy (better transit, for example, or forest fire prevention given this dry year).

But only a few speakers questioned why so much money was being given to high speed rail. The Legislative Analyst’s report questioned the GHG benefits of California’s planned high speed rail, which would not have any effect on emissions until 2022 at the earliest, and would at best provide a modest contribution to GHG reductions.

“We need to fund GHG reductions in the near term,” said Catherine Phillips of the Sierra Club. “It doesn’t warrant spending 31 percent of the money on high speed rail. Many other programs will get you reductions sooner than will high speed rail.”

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Gov. Brown Finally Signs Bill Requiring Drivers to Give 3 Feet to Bike Riders

Looks like bicycle riders who get brushed by passing drivers can no longer call it getting “Jerry Browned.”

McAllister Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Yesterday, the governor at last signed AB 1371, which will require drivers to provide at least three feet of leeway when passing people on bikes in California. It was the third time the legislature sent the bill to his desk — he vetoed the other two — but this time around, the governor was apparently fine with the fine-tuned language. The bill goes into effect in September 2014.

The law, as passed, will allow drivers who can’t find an opportunity to provide a 3-foot gap to “slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.”

“Bicycling is safer than most people think, but obviously it’s not safe enough,” said California Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Dave Snyder in a statement. “Governor Brown has taken a big step toward improving safety on our roadways by signing this bill.”

Even though 21 other states already have 3-foot passing laws, Brown vetoed the first two attempts, apparently convinced by the California Highway Patrol that the language of the bills would lead to congestion and mayhem. Brown joined Rick Perry of Texas in being the only governors to veto such a bill — twice. The previous two versions of the bill would have allowed drivers to cross double-yellow lines and require drivers who are forced to with less than three feet to do so at 15 mph or less.

According to a news release from CalBike, which rallied support for each iteration of the 3-foot law, more than 4,600 Californians sent messages to Brown asking him to sign AB 1373. “Collisions from behind are the cause of 40% of all fatal crashes between a bicyclist and a motorist and a terrifying deterrent to more bicycling, despite the joy, health and economy that people enjoy when they bike,” the organization said:

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