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SB 1183 No Longer a Bike Tax

Senate Bill 1183, the bill from Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) which was originally proposed as a “bike tax,” is no longer a bike tax. This time the change is not just in the bill’s title – the bill, which originally proposed a sales tax on bicycles to create a stable source of funding to maintain bicycle facilities in regional parks, now proposes a fee on motor vehicle registrations instead.

The Iron Horse Regional Trail in Contra Costa County, one of the East Bay Regional Parks facilities.

The Iron Horse Regional Trail in Contra Costa County, one of the East Bay Regional Parks facilities. Photo: Rails to Trails

If passed, S.B. 1183 would not automatically impose any fees, but allows cities, counties, and regional parks to propose them for the ballot and seek approval from two-thirds of local voters. The new vehicle registration surcharge would be capped at $5.

The original proposed tax was opposed by the California Retailers Association as well as the usual anti-tax organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. In addition, the Senate’s Governance and Finance Committee analysis pointed out serious concerns with how a bicycle tax would be administered. It would have necessitated the unfunded creation of a new set of procedures by the Board of Equalization.

A motor vehicle registration fee, on the other hand, could be administered easily by the DMV without having to set up a new system.

“We were looking for a different mechanism to raise the funds,” said Doug Houston, legislative advocate for the East Bay Regional Park District, the sponsor of the bill. “There was consternation about a sales tax on bicycles, a social good, with some advocates asking why we would want to penalize or discourage bike riding.”

The fee was conceived as a way for regional parks to create a stable, if small, source of funds to pay for the maintenance of bike facilities, including paved trails.

Robert Doyle, the East Bay Regional Park District’s general manager, said the district has grants to complete ten projects that link existing trails within the system. “But then we have to patrol and maintain them,” he said.

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Pandering to the Parking-First Contingent Won’t Win Transportation Funding

Some pretty specious rationales are being used to peddle some pretty terrible recent transportation policy decisions in San Francisco. Yesterday, the SFMTA Board of Directors repealed Sunday parking metering, caving to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee. Board members said they bought into the mayor’s thinking that bringing back free Sunday parking would help win support for transportation funding measures on the November ballot.

We’ve explained why the mayor’s claims of an anti-meter popular backlash are unfounded, as the real push appeared to come from church leaders. But at City Hall, this faulty strategy of backtracking on solid efforts to improve transit and street safety seems to be popular among among decision-makers besides the mayor. In another recent case of the city watering down a great project, the SFMTA downsized transit bulb-outs in the Inner Sunset to preserve parking for a vocal minority who complained. Supervisor London Breed basically said that tip-toeing around the parking-first contingent is necessary to ensure that voters approve new funding for transit improvements down the line.

“They’re pandering to a specific group of motorists — the loudest opponents — who are never going to support these programs,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.”

Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener debated the merits of pandering to cars-first voters last week. Photo left: Office of London Breed, Photo right: Aaron Bialick

Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener debated the merits of pandering to cars-first voters last week. Photo left: Office of London Breed, Photo right: Aaron Bialick

At a supervisors committee meeting last week on the SFMTA’s budget, which relies heavily on the ballot measures to fund planned transit and safety improvements, Breed said she’s ”trying to understand how we’re going to convince voters, especially drivers, to spend a lot of money.”

Breed said that while city officials like her might understand the connection between making walking, biking, and transit more attractive and cutting congestion and parking demand, many voters may not be so savvy. ”We’re asking drivers to basically foot the bill for all of the improvements, and we’re taking away parking spaces, making things a lot more — what drivers believe, and have expressed in my district — more difficult,” Breed told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

Breed also said she was concerned that the city doesn’t have a plan B for funding the Bicycle Strategy, the WalkFirst pedestrian strategy upgrades, and the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project. The three ballot measures would fund about half of the bicycle and pedestrian improvements called for, and most of the Muni TEP. “It sounds like we’re taking it for granted that this is actually going to pass,” said Breed.

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CA Sen. Steinberg Proposes New Spending Plan for Cap-and-Trade Revenue

Senator Darrell Steinberg’s new proposed spending plan for CA cap-and-trade revenue.

Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) announced a proposed plan to create a permanent spending strategy for cap-and-trade revenue [PDF] that prioritizes investments in affordable transit-oriented housing, transit expansion, and CA High-Speed Rail. Unlike the Governor’s plan for this year’s budget, Senate Bill 1156 also proposes investments in “complete streets” and transit operations.

Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento)

Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento)

Calling the plan a “long-term investment strategy in greenhouse gas emissions,” Steinberg said he wanted to spark a “healthy debate” about how the state should spend the revenue collected via the state’s cap-and-trade system created under A.B. 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act.

“This strategy is designed to achieve the objectives of A.B. 32 through significant reductions in greenhouse gas and the direction of public and private investment to California’s low-income and disadvantaged communities, which are disproportionately burdened by air pollution and the effects of climate change,” Steinberg said in a press release.

Steinberg’s staff emphasized that the plan provides a permanent funding stream for affordable, transit-oriented housing and mass transit, which are key to reaching the goals of A.B. 32 yet lack stable sources of funding. 

The proposal replaces a bill Steinber introduced in February to replace cap-and-trade with a carbon tax. Steinberg acknowledged that the carbon tax proposal was “not that popular.”

A.B. 32 requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and calls for the California Air Resources Board to create a market system for helping achieve those reductions. In response, CARB created a cap on emissions from GHG producers and an auction system to allow those who don’t meet the cap to buy emission “credits” from those who do. This cap-and-trade system currently applies to the state’s manufacturing sector, and is scheduled to include fuel producers next year.

Meanwhile, the auctions are producing revenue, which by law must be spent on further reducing GHG emissions to help California reach A.B. 32′s the goals.

Steinberg’s proposal was well-received by transit advocates.

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SFBC, Walk SF Push SFMTA to Make Room for Bike/Ped Projects in Its Budget

Bike and pedestrian advocates are pushing the SFMTA to make more room in its budget for safety projects and programs as the agency’s board of directors weighs its priorities.

Image: SFBC

Image: SFBC

Bike/ped funds currently make up less than 1 percent of the SFMTA’s operating and capital budgets; the vast majority goes towards Muni. And although the agency has professed its commitment to Vision Zero, as well as its Bicycle Strategy and the WalkFirst plan that lay out the map to safer streets, funds for street safety are competing with other funding pushes. Yesterday’s SFMTA Board meeting was packed with dozens of commenters calling for the expansion of free Muni pass programs to low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and extending the youth program to 18-year olds.

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, pointed out that “there is not a more affordable option than” walking and biking, and urged the board to “include [those] in the equity lens.”

The SFBC and Walk SF have highlighted that the SFMTA’s operating budget devotes more money to office supplies, over $5 million, than to bike and pedestrian safety programs, which each get about $3 to $5 million.

Shahum pointed out that the proposed SFMTA budget calls for 1.9 new miles of bike lanes, and 4.5 miles of upgraded bike lanes, per year. The middle of the three scenarios laid out in the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy calls for upgrades to 10 new miles of bike lanes each year.

Bike and pedestrian funding are poised to get only a slight increase in the share of the SFMTA’s existing revenues in the next budget [PDF]. The agency is banking on three proposed funding measures headed to the ballot this November that altogether could provide about half the funds needed for WalkFirst and the “medium” Bicycle Strategy scenario.

“We did work to find ways to put more revenues in here, although we don’t have a whole lot of flexibility there,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “You could argue it’s never enough, but it’s a significant investment we’ll be making.”

SFMTA Board Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman asked Reiskin to address the comparisons between bike/ped funding and office supplies at a later meeting. “I know it’s a great rallying cry… safety is our number one goal, but I’d like to know where that number comes from. Hopefully it’s not true that we spend more on paper than we do on bicycle safety.”

“We can’t meet our bike and pedestrian mode shift goals without increasing safety, and we can’t meet our transit demand without including our bicycle and pedestrian mode shift goals,” she added.

The SFMTA will continue to drill down the details of its two-year budget next budget at a hearing on April 15.

“I’m very worried about what happens in November,” said Brinkman. “Do we have a plan B to improve the safety of our streets if we’re not successful?”

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Advocates Push for Bike/Ped Funding From CA’s Cap-and-Trade Funds

A coalition of bike and pedestrian advocates are inviting organizations to sign on to a letter [PDF] asking the state legislature to recommend allocating $50 million of the state’s cap-and-trade revenue towards the Active Transportation Program. Currently, none of the $850 million in cap-and-trade funds are allocated specifically for walking and bicycling in this year’s budget.

Bicycles produce zero greenhouse gas emissions but get zero funds from cap-and-trade. Photo by Brian W. Knight from Streetsblog’s “Kids + Cities Photo Contest, 2013″

Caltrans recently released its first ATP call for projects, and applications are due May 21. Eligible projects support walking and bicycling, and must compete for funding that will be awarded according to a formula in the ATP guidelines, recently adopted by the California Transportation Commission. Applications are expected to request and amount exceeding the program’s current funding levels of $120 million per year.

Revenue from cap-and-trade, the system chosen by California to meet the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32, must be spent on activities and projects that help meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The governor’s proposed expenditure plan for cap-and-trade funds includes $100 million for the Strategic Growth Council for transit oriented development grants, which may include some bike and pedestrian infrastructure as part of larger projects. However, there is no cap-and-trade money specifically allocated to those modes.

The governor’s plan proposes an allocation of $250 million to high-speed rail, $200 million to the Air Resources Board for low-emission vehicle rebates, and $50 million to Caltrans to improve intercity rail, in addition to $250 million for other projects including energy efficiency, clean energy, and natural resource programs that will help reduce GHG emissions.

Building infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians, and educating and encouraging people to use these emission-free modes, can reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. In their letter, advocates argue that bike/ped projects are crucial in meeting the state’s emission reduction goals, though they do not specify what budget line should be reduced to create the $50 million cap-and-trade allocation for active transportation.

“There is a lot of demand for the ATP program,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, one of the organizations putting together a letter asking the legislature to consider the allocation from cap-and-trade funds. “There are projects that are ready to go, and ready to start reducing emissions in the short term.”

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A Reminder: Congestion Pricing Will Save Lives

The Department of Public Health estimated in 2011 that a $3 congestion fee would prevent loss of life due to air pollution and traffic violence.

Congestion pricing resurfaced this week thanks to an SF Examiner article that was picked up by several other media sources, rightly framing it as a way to save lives.

The Examiner highlighted a Department of Public Health report from 2011 [PDF], which estimated that in 2015, if drivers were charged $3 for heading into downtown SF during rush hours, pedestrian injuries would be cut by 5 percent citywide, and 9 percent within the fee zone in the city’s northeastern quadrant. For people on bikes, those numbers are 2 and 3 percent, respectively.

Hyde at Turk Street. Photo: ibtsteward/Flickr

As we’ve written, congestion pricing is a crucial tool to make streets safer for walking and biking and allow transit to move more efficiently, all while raising a sorely-needed $60 million per year for transportation improvements to make non-driving options more attractive. Cities like Stockholm and London have reaped major public health and economic benefits from their congestion pricing programs.

But the SF County Transportation Authority, which completed a study of congestion pricing scenarios in 2010, quietly shelved the idea after it was met with fierce political opposition. If San Francisco is serious about achieving Vision Zero — an end to traffic deaths within ten years — however, congestion pricing must be revisited as part of the strategy sooner rather than later. The life-saving benefits have been demonstrated in London, which implemented a fee of roughly $15.60 to drive into or within the charging zone between 7 am and 6 pm on weekdays in 2003. London saw its lowest annual traffic fatalities on record in 2011.

The current administration seems to be in no rush to back congestion pricing. A spokesperson from the Mayor’s office told the Examiner that it is not a priority for Ed Lee. “There are more effective pedestrian safety measures Mayor Lee believes we should fund and prioritize before pursuing so-called congestion pricing, which is more a regional traffic-management proposal,” he said.

Supervisor Jane Kim, a leading proponent of Vision Zero, told the Examiner that the city should revisit the idea, while Supervisor Scott Wiener said he opposed it until the city first takes other steps to enforce traffic laws and redesign streets.

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SFMTA Confident in Bike/Ped Funds, Says Changing Streets “the Hard Part”

SFMTA officials are growing more confident in obtaining the funding needed to implement the street safety infrastructure called for in the agency’s Bicycle Strategy and Pedestrian Strategy. But no matter how much funding the agency has, the SFMTA needs to address the lack of follow-through and political will to implement street redesigns, which often leaves projects delayed and watered down to preserve traffic lanes and car parking spaces.

“It’s trying to get public acceptance of making that re-allocation,” agency chief Ed Reiskin told the SFMTA Board of Directors at a meeting yesterday on the agency’s Strategic Plan. ”It’s a pretty significant change we would need to be making in the public rights-of-way for transit and cycling and, to a lesser extent, to improve pedestrian safety — changes in the right-of-way that have been largely unchanged for the past 50, 60, 70 years. That, I think, is our biggest challenge.”

Cheryl Brinkman, vice chair of the SFMTA Board, said the agency and its board need to stand up to vocal groups who fight efforts to implement the city’s transit-first policy. “We need to be willing to step up and make those hard decisions, and understand that what we see as the needs for transportation in the city, may not jive with what we’re hearing loudly expressed in certain areas,” she said. ”We do need to step up say, ‘No, we need to re-allocate space, it has been mis-allocated for so long.’”

While no one at the hearing said Ed Lee’s name (many participants were appointed by him), it was hard to avoid thinking of the mayor’s failure to stand up for contentious street safety projects.

Reiskin told Streetsblog the SFMTA is “developing a new agency-wide approach to public outreach” as well as working with the City Controller’s Office to produce economic studies on the effects of street redesigns “to try to validate or disprove some of the concerns that are raised or the benefits that are estimated from these improvements.” The agency is also gathering research from other cities through the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the coalition of city DOTs currently led by Reiskin.

“We need to do a better job of articulating the transportation, safety, health, and economic benefits, not just based on theory, but based on empirical data from the city and elsewhere,” said Reiskin. “Some people are always gonna need to drive in San Francisco. The more people who are walking, on a bike, or on transit make space for those who really need to use a car for any given trip.”

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Is California Ready to Raise Its Vehicle License Fee?

Every state has its “third rail” that politicians are afraid to touch. When I began my advocacy career in New Jersey in 2004, politicians were deathly afraid of raising any tax after Democratic Governor Jim Florio was ousted in the solidly blue state because of tax increases he pushed through. Florio had been defeated over a decade earlier in 1993.

fault

This piece of California roadway needs constant attention because it sits on top of a geological fault. This picture was taken in 2002, but the road was repaired in 2008. Image: Geo Tripper

In California, the third rail is the state’s vehicle license fee, known as the “Car Tax” to conservative and mainstream media outlets. While there were certainly other issues that led to Governor Gray Davis’ recall in 2003, candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned aggressively against the vehicle license fee increase that Davis enacted and reduced it as his first act in office. Southern California Assemblymember Ted Lieu proposed raising the fee in 2012, but quickly backed off after a firestorm of public complaints.

However, two powerful advocacy groups, the labor-backed Rebuild California and Transportation California are proposing to increase the fee from .65% of a car’s value to 1.65% through a voter-approved constitutional amendment initiative that would appear on the ballot this fall. All of the proceeds would go directly to rebuilding California’s roads, highways and bridges. There is a backlog of road and bridge repair projects throughout the state, and other ballot initiatives have failed to fill the funding gap.

Notably, the constitutional amendment proposal skips the legislature and governor’s desk entirely. It would be entirely up to voters to decide whether to increase the vehicle license fee to fix California’s crumbling infrastructure. No political courage will be needed.

The organizations are awaiting imminent poll results on the issue to decide whether or not to continue pushing the amendment. But even if the polling shows it has a good chance of passing in the fall, there’s still the little matter of gathering 807,615 signatures by April 14. Once it is certified for the fall ballot, it needs a simple majority vote to become law.

Will Kempton, executive director of Transportation California, and James Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs, wrote to the Attorney General late last year to certify the legality of the petition. They used the letter to both fill a legal requirement before the initiative can go to the voters and as a tool to make the case for the fix-it-first initiative.

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Biking in SF Nearly Doubled Since 2006; Funding Push Gains Traction

Commute traffic on the Wiggle at Steiner Street and Duboce Avenue. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Despite the slow roll-out of safer streets for bicycling compared to cities like New York and Chicago, San Franciscans are making nearly twice as many trips by bike today as they did in 2006, according to a new count released by the SFMTA. Still, city leaders must significantly increase the paltry amount of transportation funds devoted to bicycle infrastructure in order to reach the SFMTA Bicycle Strategy‘s goal of 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020, according to the City Budget Analyst.

“We’ve been getting lucky for a long time,” said Amandeep Jawa, president of the League of Conservation Voters, at a Board of Supervisors hearing last week. “We’ve been spending less than 1 percent of our transportation budget on bicycling, but we’re already at 4 percent of trips. The opportunity before us is about funding the [bike] network… the more connected a network is, the better it does. If we really get serious about funding the full build-out, the improvements will be much more dramatic.”

As we’ve reported, bicycling has skyrocketed in the most bike-friendly neighborhoods like the Mission and Hayes Valley, where over 15 percent of commuters already get to work by bike, according to the 2010 census. As of 2012, bicycling comprised 3.8 percent of commute trips citywide, according to the SFMTA. Commute trips are only a fraction of overall trips and may not represent overall bike mode share.

Between 2011 and 2013, bicycling increased an average of 14 percent at 40 observed intersections, according to the SFMTA’s new report. At 21 intersections where the agency started counting bikes in 2006, the number has increased 96 percent within the full seven-year period.

Within the last two years, the corridors which saw the highest jumps in bike traffic, each around 35 percent, were Townsend, Second, and Polk Streets, according to the report. At specific points where recent bike improvements were made, the increases were even more dramatic:

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Mayor’s Task Force Proposes Solid First Steps to Fund SF’s Transport Needs

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The funding measures recommended by the Mayor’s Transportation 2030 Task Force are a promising step toward building out the safe, reliable networks for transit, walking, and biking that San Franciscans need. Only a portion of the $10.1 billion needed for improvements identified by the task force would be funded by the measures, but if approved by voters on the November 2014 ballot, they could build traction to help city agencies obtain the rest.

“It is encouraging to see the city beginning to address the capital investments needed to keep our transportation system running,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City. “State and federal funding for transportation continue to decline, so regions and cities are increasingly on their own, and need to make smarter choices about what we fund and how.”

A lack of dedicated funding is currently a major hurdle to building out the SFMTA’s Pedestrian Strategy, the Bicycle Strategy, and the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, not to mention filling a $3.1 billion backlog of Muni vehicle and infrastructure maintenance. The Mayor’s Task Force proposals, which were developed in meetings over the past year, would be a start towards realizing those visions, as the SF Chronicle explained:

The Municipal Transportation Agency expects to receive $3.8 billion in revenue over the next 15 years to pay for transportation needs, but that leaves the city $6.3 billion short. To close the gap, city leaders should ask voters to take three actions that would raise almost $3 billion and help attract federal, state and regional funds to pay the rest, [said Monique Zmuda, deputy city controller and co-chair of the task force].

The task force will recommend that the Board of Supervisors put before the voters three ballot measures that would each raise roughly $1 billion:

– Two $500 million general obligation bonds — one in November 2014 and another in November 2024.

– A measure to raise the vehicle license fee from 0.65 percent to 2 percent — in November 2014. State law allows San Francisco voters to restore the fee, which was cut by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

– A proposition that would increase the sales tax by half a cent — in November 2016. That would raise the city sales tax from 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent.

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