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Posts from the "California" Category

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New Bills in CA Legislature Send Mixed Messages for Livable Streets

weekly update CA legislationThe deadline for introducing new bills to be considered in the 2015 California legislative session passed last Friday. Out of the total 2,295 bills, there are not very many pertaining to bicycling and walking, and some of those that do are not very bicycle-friendly. Overall it may end up being a lackluster session for bike policy.

However, there are several  “spot bills” that could go either way. These are bills that make very minor changes to existing laws and are submitted to meet the deadline, but in such rough draft form that they give little idea what their ultimate intention will be.

For example, a bill from Assemblymember Robert Bigelow, A.B. 208, currently says only that it will be about “bikeways.” Bigelow (R-O’Neals) is a rancher who represents the Sierra foothills, a rural area with narrow mountain roads that draw bicyclists from far and wide to enjoy the scenery. Bigelow’s legislative aide Robert Wilson said the Assemblymember is very interested in improving safety for both bicyclists and motorists, and in “mending the relationship between them.” Bigelow is working with “multiple” unnamed statewide stakeholders to find a way to create “more safety and peace of mind for all road users.” But further details on the bill’s specific intent were not forthcoming.

We’ll keep an eye on the spot bills, as well as the other ones, and update our tracking page here as more information comes in.

More about the current bills after the jump.

Read more…

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CA Coalition Calls for More Funding, Staffing for Active Transportation

Increasing funding for the Active Transportation Program could get more people to walk and bike, especially for short trips. Photo of Sunday Streets in Berkeley, by Melanie Curry/Streetsblog.

A coalition of advocacy groups released a petition yesterday calling for California to increase funding for active transportation to help the state meet its climate goals.

The petition calls on the legislature to increase funding for the Active Transportation Program (ATP) by $100 million from its current $120 million per year, integrate green infrastructure and access to parks and green space in the goals of the ATP, and ensure ATP investments provide meaningful benefits to disadvantaged communities.

The coalition points out that nearly 1/5 of all trips in California are made by foot or by bike (this information comes from the National Household Travel Survey, not the U.S. Census, which only counts commute trips). Despite this high mode share, less than two percent of the state transportation budget is spent on the ATP, which brings all active transportation projects under one funding umbrella.

There are currently only four staff assigned to the program (although Caltrans has approximately 19,000 employees). Those staff oversee the 265 projects that received funding in the first cycle of the ATP, and they are working on revising the guidelines for the second round of funding, which will begin at the end of March. The second round will likely double the number of grants, at least under current funding levels.

Even with the minimal investments made in the past, California has seen an increase in walking and bicycling trips. Properly funding the ATP is a no-brainer, according to the coalition. By building infrastructure that encourages people to walk or use their bikes for short trips of less than a mile, the state could make tremendous leaps towards achieving its climate goals by reducing carbon emissions and poor air quality, at the same time reducing congestion for everyone.

“When the ATP was formed in 2013,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, “the whole idea was to consolidate all of the different pots of funding for bike and walking programs and then grow the pot, by adding cap-and-trade funding. That hasn’t happened and, in fact, the funding seems to be mysteriously shrinking.”

“By forming a single stream of funding, and incorporating climate change goals in the legislation,” added Tony Dang of California Walks, “we were positioning the program to receive cap-and-trade funding.” Instead, the only cap-and-trade money made available for active transportation last year was placed under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

“We’ve worked with the Strategic Growth Council to make sure that active transportation is included in their efforts,” said Dang, “but given the amount of money they have, and their mandates for affordable housing, we really don’t think that’s going to be a big enough source of funding, and it won’t be as transformative for walking and biking as we’d hoped it would be.”

ATP staff held a workshop two days ago on its revisions to program guidelines, and way more people wanted to attend than they could accommodate. “It’s clear that this program has a lot of constituents,” said Dang, “and they really need the pot to grow.”

“When you combine all walking and biking trips,” he added, “they account for nearly 20 percent of all the trips taken every day in California. And yet funding for those trips is less than 2 percent of the transportation budget.”

“Californians are clearly not sitting around idle waiting for increased funding, but the state should step up for what people want.”

Read more…

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Caltrans Report Celebrates Its Support of Active Transportation

Caltrans Directory Malcolm Dougherty seems to take bicycles seriously. Image: Caltrans, The Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities Report to the California State Legislature, Fiscal Year  2013–14

Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, just released its annual report to the legislature [PDF] on its achievements last year in the area of “non-motorized travel,” and this year the document is more celebratory than it has been in the past.

With good reason. It shows a new side of Caltrans, starting with its cover. Instead of a blurry, weirdly stretched-out photograph of bicycle riders, as on previous reports, this year’s edition features Caltrans Executive Director Malcolm Dougherty standing with his bicycle—and looking like he knows how to ride it.

This new, bike-friendly tone at Caltrans is a welcome change from the past, when the department was  focused on moving cars, and it’s in keeping with other efforts it has been making in the last year. When a report  from the State Smart Transportation Initiative thoroughly drubbed the department for being risk-averse and dysfunctional, its leaders responded by reworking its mission statement, endorsing the principal of more flexible street design guidelines, and creating a new position of Director of Sustainability.

These achievements are celebrated front and center in the new report.

“We are taking a different look at transportation,” said Director Dougherty. “It’s a change in perspective. Before, we saw the need to solve car-oriented transportation problems. Now, we see that there are transportation problems that need to be solved, and multimodal needs have to be considered in those solutions.”

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The cover from the 2011-12 report. “Young child experiencing the joys of nonmotorized transportation,” says its caption. Image: Caltrans

Just saying the department has a new focus, however, isn’t going to change a thing. Dougherty has been traveling the state, meeting with Caltrans district staff to discuss the new mission, its accompanying vision statement, and the objectives and goals that are being developed to go with them. “A fair amount of our employees were already sensitive to and incorporating bicycle and pedestrian concerns into their planning,” he said, “and some of them have stated that they’re glad we’re going in this direction.”

Caltrans still has a long way to go to become a truly multimodal state transportation department. Renaming the report would be a start. “Non-motorized transportation” smacks of Old Engineer Speak, and describing bicycling and walking that way is a little like calling women “nonmen.” Nevertheless, the 2013-2014 Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities report does highlight some real achievements.

Read more…

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New Report Tells CA How to Get More Bang for its Transportation Bucks

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This report from the University of California’s Climate Change and Business Research Initiative tells California how to put its money where its mouth is.

A new report [PDF] offers suggestions for ways that California could better spend the roughly $28 billion it invests in transportation every year, both to be more cost-effective and to better align with the state’s environmental goals.

Authored by researchers at the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, a partnership between the law schools at UCLA and UC Berkeley, the report stemmed from a day-long workshop last fall with a group of California policy makers, transportation experts, and advocates that included some of the top minds in the industry.

“We could put money towards making roads safe for people who ride bikes, people who want to walk, and people who take transit,” said Ethan Elkind, lead author of the report. “At the same time, that would help manage traffic congestion.”

Other ideas include:

  • Develop state project performance standards to make sure that new transportation projects align with state environmental and energy goals. There are some good models already in existence, including the project performance analysis for Plan Bay Area, which scores projects on things like integrating land use and transportation as well as cost-benefit ratios.
  • Lower the current 2/3 voter threshold for local transportation funding measures, and tying the measures to metrics related to environmental goals.
  • Fix existing infrastructure before building new roads–and make sure that repairs and maintenance include safety for all road users, not just people driving cars.
  • Require local governments to reduce parking requirements in transit-intensive areas to give developers room to meet actual parking demand more cost-effectively while reducing the cost of transit-oriented projects.
  • Develop mileage-based user fees for transportation funding in place of the shrinking gas tax, which decreasingly reflects actual road usage as vehicles become more fuel efficient.
  • Amend Article XIX of the California Constitution, which restricts the use of state gas tax funds for transit operations.

Read more…

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Coming Soon: Streetsblog California

Following the launch of Streetsblog in Texas, Ohio, Saint Louis, and the Southeast, we have more good news to bring. Starting in early April, Streetsblog will launch its newest news site, Streetsblog California.

SBCA will feature Melanie Curry’s coverage of policy issues in Sacramento and around the state and some of the work being done in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The site will also feature writing by a network of reporters throughout the state in areas that don’t have a Streetsblog.

As part of the grant from The California Endowment that will allow us to launch the new Streetsblog, we’ll be hiring a writer in Fresno to cover the Livable Streets beat in the Central and San Joaquin Valleys.

We’ll have a lot more news on the site as it develops. In the meantime, check out and share the job announcement for the Fresno writer after the jump. Read more…

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Senator Introduces Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Law in CA

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Senator Carol Liu’s S.B. 192 would require all bicycle riders to wear helmets, a move that would likely cut the number of people who ride bikes. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Yesterday, Senator Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced a bill in the California legislature that would require all bicycle riders, including adults, to wear a helmet, and to wear reflective clothing at night.

Senator Liu has been an ally for active transportation and bicycling, including supporting the three-foot law that took so long to get passed, and she has promoted safe walking and bicycling during her long tenure in the legislature. But if, as Liu staffer Robert Oakes told Streetsblog, Liu’s “point of view is that we should do everything to encourage active transportation,” this bill will not achieve that.

Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious calls S.B. 192 the

“Remove Cyclists From California Roads Law of 2015″ or, alternatively, the “Harass Minorities On Bikes Law of 2015.”

Oakes said the Senator and her staff looked at youth bike helmet laws as a model. Seeing that more and more states have adopted them encouraged the staff to think that California could be the first state to impose a mandatory helmet law on adults. They say that the youth helmet laws heard similar arguments—that fewer people would ride bikes—before they were adopted.

“But no one in 21 years has proposed a bill to repeal the youth helmet law,” he said.

Streetsblog would like to suggest the Senator review the research on the effects of bike helmet laws on the number of kids who ride bikes, including this gem of a conclusion from one paper: “Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.”

Another area of research might be in how this law might be applied inequitably to different types of bicycle riders; the Senator and her staff might want to start with this recent Streetsblog story. Or this one.

Read more…

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Bay Area’s New “Vital Signs” Website Tracks Transportation Stats

Data lovers can now nerd out on a new website that collects Bay Area transportation data and puts it into customizable maps and charts to play with.

MTC’s new Vital Signs website provides data on bicycle commute rates and other transportation states for the Bay Area. Image: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

Vital Signs is part of an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to make its performance measures and data more accessible to the public. It also lays the groundwork to measure the effects of Plan Bay Area, which was adopted in July 2013 after a state law mandated each region to produce a plan for smart growth oriented around transit.

The first rollout of the interactive website includes transportation data from a variety of sources, including the US Census. Land use data is scheduled to be added in March, followed in June by stats on the economy and the environment including job creation, housing affordability, emissions, fuel sales, and traffic injuries, according to Dave Vautin, a senior planner at MTC who is managing the project.

“This project is about transparency,” said Vautin. “We’ve opened up the data so anyone can do an analysis, mixing and matching data in about forty issue areas.”

Currently, users can inspect and play with data on commute mode, congestion, transit ridership, vehicle miles traveled, and pavement and road conditions.

Read more…

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CA Taking Applications for Cap-and-Trade Transit-Oriented Housing Funds

[Update: the date of the workshop in Oakland was changed on 2/4/15; change is reflected below.]

The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) Program has issued its call for projects [PDF], and a series of technical assistance workshops begin today in San Diego.

The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program will support projects that transform neglected, auto-dependent streets into vibrant mixed-use transit corridors. Image: Strategic Growth Council

The AHSC, which receives 20 percent of its funding through CA cap-and-trade, is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting affordable, compact housing, active transportation and transit, and land preservation projects. It has ambitious goals, ranging from reducing air pollution to improving public health and conditions in disadvantaged communities. Eligible projects must fulfill a wide spectrum of criteria, and must incorporate several separate project components. For example, an eligible project might include affordable housing as well as a bike path connecting that housing to services.

These projects will require coordination between separate entities with differing mandates such as housing developers and transportation planners. Active transportation projects, including infrastructure and programming, can be eligible for funding from the AHSC.

Read more…

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CA Active Transportation Program Funding Unchanged for Next Two Years

Although Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed FY 2015 budget showed a decrease in the line item for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), Caltrans Budget Chief Steven Keck assured the California Transportation Commission at its meeting last week that the change was technical and the funding level would be the same as last year’s.

The Complete Streets plan for San Pablo Avenue in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in the 2014 allocation. Image: Wallace Roberts & Todd, via City of Albany

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty later confirmed that “as of today going forward, our plan is: no change in the ATP budget.”

While the funding is not being cut from 2014 levels, there is still concern that the need to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists is far greater than the funding provided in the ATP.

And the commissioners seem to agree.

Commissioner Yvonne Burke expressed surprise that there wasn’t more of a fuss kicked up at the meeting. Commissioner Carl Guardino was the only speaker who called attention to the program’s paltry funding, noting that the need for it “greatly outstrips the amount of funding available.”

The ATP allocates most of the state’s funding targeted at increasing walking and bicycling. It was created by statute [PDF] in 2013, combining state and federal funding for bicycle infrastructure, Safe Routes to Schools, and other similar funds into a single pot. In its first two-year cycle, it awarded a total of a little over $350 million for 267 projects throughout the state.

Tracing the sources of money in the ATP can be tricky. Early budget proposals typically incorporate some uncertainty about funding levels, since calculating the state’s revenues from taxes can be an inaccurate science. Other budgetary practices, like last year’s repayment of $9 million that had been borrowed from the ATP’s precursor, the Bicycle Transportation Account, further muddy the waters.

Whatever the reasons for it, the confusion over an issue as simple as “how much money will the state be spending on walking and bicycling infrastructure” adds to the impression that Caltrans is not a very transparent organization.

At last week’s meeting, commission staff presented and discussed draft revisions to the program guidelines [PDF] for the second two-year cycle of funding, set to begin in June.

Read more…

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CA Adopts Guidelines for Cap-and-Trade Affordable Housing Program

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 11.50.22 AM The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program hopes to support projects that transform neglected, auto-dependent streets like the one on top into vibrant mixed-use transit corridors. Image: Strategic Growth Council

Yesterday the Strategic Growth Council adopted guidelines for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program and scheduled workshops for early February to provide technical assistance to potential applicants.

California’s Strategic Growth Council is a state committee that coordinates a variety of activities by multiple state agencies, including efforts to improve air and water quality, increase affordable housing, improve transportation, and other issues related to quality of life in California. The Council was given the task of overseeing the AHSC program, created last year during negotiations on how to spend cap-and-trade revenue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The AHSC is tasked with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the development of affordable housing near transit and by creating walkable, bikeable communities that encourage few car trips.

There is $130 million in AHSC’s first round, and staff estimate it will be able to provide partial support for between 15 and 25 projects. The second round of funding is slated to receive $300 million, pending how much revenue cap-and-trade raises this year as well as final budget decisions in June.

The AHSC is a new program, and the process of creating the guidelines has been on a fast pace. After a series of intensive public workshops held throughout the state, proposed guidelines were released in October. At yesterday’s hearing, speaker after speaker remarked that SGC staff succeeded in creating a remarkable, important program in an extremely short time.

And almost everyone agreed it still needs work. Read more…