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CA Legislators Turn Their Attention to Transit Funding

San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu proposed a packet of bills to fund transit, flanked by local transit agency reps and advocates, with Assemblymember Kevin Mullin behind. Photo: Melanie Curry

California legislators held press events in Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday to present new bills to boost transit funding as part of the special legislative session on transportation infrastructure.

“Anyone who hits a pothole or sits in traffic knows that our transportation system is in crisis, but so does anyone who has to rely on a late, crowded bus to work, school, or do errands, or who would take the bus if one was there,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who introduced a package of bills. “California needs more transit funding to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to prevent gridlock from strangling our economic recovery.”

Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) said better transit options are key to reducing congestion. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the major transit systems including BART, Muni, and AC Transit “are at or near capacity already,” he said. “Increasing capacity of public transit systems must be part of the solution.”

The proposed bills would triple the diesel fuel tax, with the money to be distributed to transit agencies througout the state, and raise the portion of cap-and-trade money currently allocated to transit.

This was far from the first set of proposals for the special session, which focused on solving transportation issues with the creation of new committees and a legislative process parallel to the regular legislative session.

Much of the focus so far has been on increasing funding to fixing potholes. Democrats have proposed an increase in the gas tax and Republicans called for using cap-and-trade revenue (a likely illegal idea). Estimates put the backlog of deferred road maintenance at over $100 billion.

Read more…

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It Just Works: Davis Quietly Debuts America’s First Protected Intersection

Images: City of Davis

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

The city that brought America the bike lane 48 years ago this summer has done it again.

Davis, California — population 66,000, bike commuting rate 20 percent — finished work last week on a new intersection design ordered up by a city council member who had decided that initial plans didn’t measure up to streets he’d ridden in the Netherlands.

A year later, with the help of Dutch consulting firm Mobycon, Council Member Brett Lee’s proposal for a protected intersection has arrived at Covell Boulevard and J Street. And as the Davis Enterprise reported Sunday, it’s working perfectly:

There were no standing diagrams on the street, no big street signs attached to traffic light poles announcing the difference between a standard American intersection and the Dutch-styled one people were passing through.

Everyone went in blind.

Yet for busy lunch hour traffic — well, for summer — on a Friday afternoon, motorists along Covell Boulevard zipped on through, with bicyclists, pedestrians and skateboarders seamlessly following their paths across the so-called “Dutch junction” — modeled after designs in the bike-friendly Netherlands.

No one died. No near misses. Nothing even close. Just history in the making no one seemed to notice.

It’s exactly what fans of protected intersections would have predicted for a design that arranges traffic so people on bikes and in cars can easily make eye contact with one another without looking over their shoulders.

Davis, it turned out, wasn’t alone in its vision. Austin has already built two protected intersections in a still-uninhabited part of a new development and expects people to start using them in the next few months. It’s planning two more.

Salt Lake City is currently building another downtown and plans to open it in the first week of October. Boston and Sacramento are planning their own.

“What did surprise me was how intuitive the intersection is,” Davis bicycle coordinator Jennifer Donofrio said Monday. “Observing people use the intersection, they are able to use it without any sort of education or any sort of guidance.”

Read more…

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New Website Tracks How Well CA Cap-and-Trade Fights Climate Change

TransForm’s new Climate Change website shows California’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities projects. This screenshot shows the San Joaquin Valley. Data on greenhouse gas reduction hasn’t been incorporated yet.

TransForm has unveiled the Climate Benefits Map, an interactive online tool that provides a centralized source tracking the benefits of California’s cap-and-trade program, which helps fund transit and development projects.

The map, currently in beta, will feature all the data available about the various programs and projects funded by the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) and make it available to the public.

TransForm, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainable transportation and land use across the state, aims to highlight the environmental and economic benefits of California’s climate change-fighting programs.

“We really believe that California is benefiting from its climate change policies,” said Shannon Tracey, TransForm’s communications director. As the state legislature considers further programs to help reduce greenhouse gases, “it’s important for people to see what we’re getting from these investments.”

“This tool will help people evaluate whether we’re doing the right kinds of investments,” she added.

The California Air Resources Board is developing its own online tracking tool for climate change policies, but it’s not close to being ready.

California’s GGRF currently funds a wide range of programs, administered by different state agencies:

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California Legislative Update

bikeatCapitollabel2In Sacramento, bills are beginning to move more quickly through the committee process as this week’s policy committee deadline approaches. Below are highlights on some of the bills pertaining to sustainable streets issues.

Cap-and-Trade Funds for Transit: After Streetsblog wrote about its focus on large projects, author Jim Beall (D-Santa Clara) amended S.B. 9 to allow projects of any size to compete for funds in this program. TransForm says the bill still includes a provision that would make it hard for disadvantaged communities to access the grant funds, by giving priority to projects with non-state funding. The main benefit of the bill is that it allows a commitment to funding larger projects over time, making it easier to secure financing and leverage other funding. S.B. 9 still eliminates operations funding from this program in future cycles, but that change has caused no ripples. Operations were nominally eligible during the first round, but none of the first year’s recipients won operations funding–perhaps because the grants are one-time-only, and operations are an ongoing expense.  The bill goes next to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

Parking Requirements: It wasn’t as exciting as the tiff in the Labor Committee hearing, but the conversation in the Transportation and Housing Committee last week about A.B. 744 did get strange. The bill, authored by Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), would lower parking requirements to make developing affordable housing easier. Ultimately it passed the committee this week and moves next to Governance and Finance. See Streetsblog’s coverage here.

Slow Vehicles Ahead: A.B. 208 from Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) was originally an attempt to clarify the three-foot rule on rural roads and has undergone a number of changes, reflecting legal semantics more than anything. For example, one amendment would have changed the word “roadway” to “highway,” but that was an awkward change that would have left no legal place for slow vehicles to pull out and let others pass. In its latest iteration the bill settles for language making it clear that bicycles are included in the definition of “slow-moving vehicle” and must pull aside if there are five or more vehicles piled up behind them. The bill is now on the Senate consent calendar, which means it could be passed without further discussion.

Bus Cameras to Catch Parking Violators: A.B. 1287 from David Chiu (D-San Francisco) would allow San Francisco Muni to keep using cameras on its vehicles to catch people parking in transit lanes. Muni did a study that found that the program could help reduce delays. There was no opposition to the bill, which passed the Transportation Committee and now goes to the Judiciary Committee. The bill applies only to S.F. Muni, but there’s no reason it couldn’t open the door to other transit agencies; L.A. Metro experiences similar issues.

Read more…

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Save the Date: CalBike Summit Coming in October

The 2015 CalBike Summit’s theme is equity. Photo: Melanie Curry

The California Bicycle Coalition’s 2015 Bike Summit will take place in San Diego in late October, providign an opportunity for bike advocates from across the state to gather and discuss issues of this year’s theme: equity.

Executive Director Dave Snyder pointed out that equity is becoming a focus in California, especially in the legislature, where climate change legislation increasingly includes requirements to consider fairness across income groups and locations.

“Bicycling is one solution to addressing inequities,” said Synder, “and the more that legislators and the people who elect them understand this, the more success we’ll have in making all our communities healthier, safer, and more prosperous.”

The summit will feature three days of learning sessions and networking events, starting on Sunday, October 25.

“It’s a chance to bring together all of the advocacy organizations around the state to share information and learn from each other,” said Stephan Vance, a planner at San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and a member of CalBike’s board of directors. “It also includes a professional engineering and planning component. Our advocates are very savvy about these topics, and can share information about what cities are doing around the state to help meet our goals. It’s the convening of a high-powered advocacy group with the addition of a professional bike planning and engineering conference.”

Or, as Snyder put it, “It’s our state’s version of three national events, combining the professional quality of the national ProWalk ProBike Conference with the political savvy of the National Bike Summit and the advocacy expertise of the Alliance [for Biking & Walking]’s Leadership Retreat.”

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Via Streetsblog California
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CA Legislative Update: Budget, Cap-and-Trade, LOS, Gas Tax

bikeatCapitollabel2This week the California legislature was mostly focused on the budget, since the Assembly and the Senate must by law present a budget bill to the governor by midnight on Monday, June 15. The joint Budget Conference Committee succeeded in producing an agreement [PDF] well before the deadline; their budget bill, A.B. 93, should be available later today, ready to be voted on in both houses on Monday.

To help meet the deadline, the Conference Committee punted decisions on cap-and-trade revenue expenditures by separating them from the budget process. This will give the legislature more time for discussions on how to allocate the 40 percent of cap-and-trade revenue that is not already assigned to programs by last year’s statute. Of the three spending plans—from the Governor, the Senate, and the Assembly—only the Assembly plan included an allocation for Active Transportation. The Assembly version called for an additional $50 million for transit pass programs and for infrastructure and programs to increase bicycling and walking.

There is still some disagreement about how much money will actually be available from the cap-and-trade program and how much should be allocated. Governor Brown’s May Revise budget proposal outlines expenditures of $2 billion, while the Legislative Analyst Office projects the proceeds to be closer to $2.3 billion. An LAO outline of the different proposals is available [PDF].

Bill to Delay Level of Service (LOS) Reform Amended: A.B. 779, from Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), was amended last week. The Office of Planning and Research (OPR) was required by last year’s S.B. 743 to come up with a way of measuring the effects that new development has on traffic without focusing solely on congestion and delay, as Level of Service currently does. OPR issued a preliminary draft of new guidelines that propose using Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) instead of LOS [PDF], but the guidelines are neither final nor legally binding, yet. As first written, A.B. 779 would have broadened the definition of where the LOS reform could happen automatically; then it was amended to delay the substitution of VMT for LOS. Now, however, it simply authorizes OPR to make the determination that residential and mixed-use projects in areas where transit is frequent are exempt from having to analyze traffic impacts.

Like the rest of California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), this bill is messy, and its outcomes are uncertain and open to political interpretation. Conservatives generally dislike the CEQA rules, and push to gut its environmental protections. Livability advocates generally appreciate CEQA, but oppose the ways that pro-car pro-sprawl LOS has degraded its intent.

The true intent of the bill’s sponsors, the Infill Builders Federation, is not clear. According to the legislative analysis, the group is concerned that having to analyze VMT would create an additional burden that could put infill at a disadvantage—despite the fact that many developers already conduct a VMT analysis, which is simpler than analyzing LOS. The infill group also states that the new guidelines could create an “added litigation burden.”

Under CEQA, if an agency determines that a project will have a less-than-significant impact, it can skip spending time and money on extensive environmental analysis. But CEQA also allows people to sue to force agencies to do a full analysis.

This week’s A.B. 779 amendment would authorize—but not require—OPR to define parameters that, if met by a project, would automatically exempt it from having to analyze its traffic impacts. This may shift the burden of proof away from cities and agencies and on to those who claim an impact. Overall that sounds great for infill and for livability, but the devil is in the details. And as currently written, the bill may have the effect of slowing down OPR’s process for finding a replacement for LOS—as its previous, now amended, iteration would have regulated outright.

Like any bill, A.B. 779 is still in flux. Currently it is in the Senate, waiting for a committee assignment.

Senate Bill to Raise Gas Tax Is Not Dead Yet: Although S.B. 16 did not get out of the Senate before last week’s deadline, an urgency clause attached to it means it is still alive. This bill, from Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would raise money to fix roads in one of the most sensible ways: by raising the gas tax. It would also raise the annual vehicle registration fee, and add a new annual  registration fee to zero-emission vehicles, which pay little to no gas tax. This bill will require a two-thirds vote, and it likely will face an uphill battle.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to melanie@streetsblog.org.

For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

Via Streetsblog California
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California Legislative Update

This week Sacramento saw long hearings in the Senate and Assembly, as both houses pushed to meet their deadline to pass bills. Any bill that doesn’t pass its house of origin by the end of this week is dead–for this year at least.

Herein, our highly selective look at this week’s activities in the California legislature.

Climate Change Legislation
The big news was the package of climate change bills that passed the Senate. Included was S.B. 350, the “Golden State Standards” that would set statewide goals to reduce fossil fuel consumption, increase renewable energy, and increase energy efficiency. The discussion on the floor was entertaining, if you like dramatic posturing. Senator Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) decried the bill as a job killer that would create “coastal elite winners” and “poor inland losers,” condemning it as market manipulation. “This country is great because we haven’t picked winners and losers, we’ve let the market decide,” he railed–ignoring the bill’s language, which sets goals but doesn’t regulate specific market interventions. The bill’s author, Senate President ProTem Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), responded with a passionate closing speech on current market inequities, citing a recent IMF report on subsidies to oil industries [PDF]. He called the mystery of why fuel prices rise on busy holidays “one of the great conundrums of the world,” comparable to the Bermuda Triangle and Roswell. In the end the bill passed on a party-line vote, and now goes to the Assembly.

The climate change “package” that passed the Senate included, among others:

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Happy Bike to Work Day, California

BTWT2015Ride

Mayor Albrecht Schröter of Jena, Germany follows Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates on a ride to city hall. They’re riding the blue bike-share bikes that will soon be available in the East Bay. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Yes, yes, every day is bike to work day, but today is the day we get to celebrate it. Here’s a photo of one group of happy participants in Berkeley, California, where the mayors of Copenhagen, Denmark and Jena, Germany joined Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates for a “mayorpalooza” bike ride through town.

We’re putting together a post with photos from all over California. Do you have photos of Bike to Work Day, or Bike Month, in your city? Share them with us!

Send them to melanie@streetsblog.org

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California Legislative Update: Parking Requirements, Cap-and-Trade Funds

bikeatCapitollabel2This week we’re tracking some of the bills that got left out of last week’s too-long legislative update. These bills relate to transportation funding, climate change, and urban planning.

PLANNING

Eliminating Parking Minimums: A.B. 744 from Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) would require a city or county to eliminate minimum parking requirements under certain circumstances, upon request by the developer. Special circumstances include housing near a major transit stop or that serves seniors or people with special needs, since fewer residents of those types of housing are likely to be drivers.

It’s a first step towards eliminating minimum parking requirements, which is one of Professor Donald Shoup‘s basic prescriptions for fixing parking and congestion issues (See The Trouble With Minimum Parking Requirements [PDF], a paper he wrote way back in 1999). This bill would only apply if the developer requests an exemption, so it would be a market-driven solution, as it’s fair to assume that developers will want to build parking if the market demands it.

For some reason, the California chapter of the American Planning Association, although officially in support of the bill, has suggested that developers should first produce a parking study, which is a real head scratcher. Why not just support the elimination of minimum parking requirements everywhere and be done with it? Developers will still build however many parking spots they think would be needed to sell units, but if they aren’t required to build a minimum number they can save costs for everybody, including future tenants. If there’s a fault with this bill, it’s that it’s too timid.

More bills after the jump.

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Governor Orders Ambitious GHG Goals, But No Plan on How to Meet Them

California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order calling for an ambitious response to climate change, and the media have been all over it.

GHG chartThe order establishes a new near-term greenhouse gas emission reduction goal– 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 — but it doesn’t outline specific plans for how to get there. It requires state agencies, including the Air Resources Board and the State Transportation Agency, to take climate change into account in their planning and investment decisions.

The order is consistent with similar efforts now going through the legislature, including S.B. 32 and S.B. 350.

TransForm State Policy Director Josh Stark issued a statement applauding the Governor’s announcement. TransForm’s statement included a reminder that “transportation – the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in California – must be front and center in the state’s climate efforts. Creating affordable, walkable communities with great public transportation will be essential to cutting petroleum use by 50 percent, and will make California more healthy, prosperous, and fair.”

Transportation accounts for a large portion of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Even the draft California Transportation Plan 2040 says that without major changes in the way Californians travel, state climate change goals will not be met from that sector. Read more…