- Freshman Assemblymember Kansen Chu (D-San Jose) has listened to feedback and amended his bike light bill, A.B. 28. It started out badly, requiring a flashing white rear light on bikes at night, which would have been a recipe for disaster and confused everyone. That was quickly changed from a white light to red, in keeping with standard practice on all vehicles. Now it has been improved further. As currently worded, it would allow bicycle riders some flexibility in how they make themselves visible at night: they could use a red light, either solid or flashing, or the currently required red rear reflector.
- Assemblymember Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) has been working on a bill to clarify last year’s Three Feet for Safety Act. His district sees a lot of bike riders out enjoying the hilly rural routes, as well as drivers now confused about when it’s okay to pass safely. The early draft of A.B. 208 was an amendment to the current law about when bicyclists must pull over to let other vehicles pass. That change turned out to be unnecessary, as bikes are covered by the standard slow-moving vehicle rule, to wit: if there are five or more vehicles lined up behind a vehicle moving slower than the “normal flow at that time and place,” the slower vehicle, be it a truck, car, or bicycle, shall pull over to let the vehicles pass. Right now A.B. 208 makes a minor clarifying amendment to that part of the code. It should be heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee next week.
- Senator Fran Pavley’s (D-Agoura Hills) bill to increase the number of stickers allowing low-emission vehicles access to carpool lanes, SB 39, passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee 9 to 1, and now moves on to the Committee on Appropriations. The bill’s supporters say that these stickers are necessary to encourage people to buy electric vehicles, but others have pointed out that there are already many other incentives for doing so. And free passes to the HOV lane may slow traffic there, thus removing the incentive to carpool.
Posts from the California Category
For those of you just joining us, we try to provide a regular roundup of legislation of interest to livable streets advocates. Highlights from the current session are included the bills below. Let us know if we missed anything in the comments.
Mandatory Helmet Law Dropped: As we wrote about last week, Senator Carol Liu rewrote her S.B. 192 to ask for a study of helmet use and helmet laws, instead of requiring all bike riders to wear helmets and high-visibility clothing. The new bill is currently set for a hearing in the Transportation and Housing Committee in two weeks.
Proposal to Raise the Gas Tax: Brave Senator Jim Beall finally broached the Subject That Will Not Be Named: raising the gas tax to pay for road maintenance. His SB 16, amended this week, also proposes raising vehicle registration fees and imposing a $100 vehicle registration fee on electric vehicles, the drivers of which pay no gas taxes. The bill is set for a hearing in two weeks in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.
Caltrans has a new goal of tripling California’s share of bicycling trips, and doubling that of walking and transit by 2020.
Caltrans’ new Strategic Management Plan [PDF] includes performance targets for advancing its new stated priorities, at the top of which are increasing active transportation and reaching Vision Zero — an end to traffic deaths. The message demonstrates a departure from the agency’s historical focus on moving motor vehicles.
Caltrans’ new “sustainability, livability, and economy” goals also include reducing vehicle miles traveled (15 percent by 2020) and reaching state-mandated targets to reduce the share of greenhouse gases from transportation.
The Strategic Management Plan is an in-house document, meant to guide decisions made by planners and engineers in the course of planning and completing projects statewide. It stems from the new Caltrans mission, to provide “a safe, sustainable, integrated, and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.” The new mission statement was a response to criticism of the department’s old way of doing things.
“This is a pretty major shift for the department,” said Steven Cliff, newly appointed Assistant Director of Sustainability, and leader of one of the teams working on the plan. “We’ve been working hard to develop new metrics which speak to what we’ve been doing the last couple of years, with our new mission, vision, and goals.”
“It’s meant to be our plan for how we manage our work going forward.”
A California Assembly bill that would prohibit tolls for pedestrians and bicycle riders on state-owned bridges passed the Assembly Transportation Committee with a vote of 31 to 2. Assemblymember Phil Ting’s A.B. 40, originally drafted to apply only to the Golden Gate Bridge, was amended to apply statewide.
A.B 40 was a response to a proposal last year from the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District to study tolling bicyclists and pedestrians as one solution to its budget shortfall. Advocates argued that it would discourage walking and biking and generate little revenue.
“More bicycling solves so many problems in California that government agencies, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, should welcome and encourage bicycling,” wrote the California Bicycle Coalition in support of the bill. “The idea that ‘everyone should pay their fair share’ is a noble one but to use that argument to justify charging people when they walk or bicycle reflects a naïve and erroneous understanding of how we pay for the benefits and impacts of our transportation system.”
The Assembly Transportation Committee analysis concluded that “if free bridge access for those walking and using bicycles is good policy on the Golden Gate Bridge as a means of promoting these modes of transportation and their many benefits, surely it is good policy on all toll bridges.”
Assemblymember Ting accepted the suggested amendment to apply the prohibition universally to all state-owned bridges. With the amendment, the Golden Gate Bridge Authority removed its opposition to the bill, although did not go so far as to support it, stopping at a neutral stance.
A similar bill, also written in response to a Golden Gate Bridge Authority proposal to charge bicyclists and pedestrians toll, got all the way through the legislative process in 2005, but it was vetoed by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Did you know the movement to create a state highway system came not from automobile drivers or manufacturers, but bicyclists?”
As part of Caltrans’ 125th Anniversary, the agency is creating a video series about the history of the state’s agency. The first video highlights Caltrans’ current shift away from auto-centric planning to multimodal planning by acknowledging that the push for safe bicycling in California actually predates the state’s transportation agency.
In the video Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty defends the agency’s history as “trying to move people and moving goods” before getting into how exciting the new plan for multimodal planning is.
“We need to be looking at transportation a little bit differently than we did in the past. It needs to be a multimodal, integrated transportation system so that people can move around the state as efficiently as possible,” says Dougherty, ending his interview.
TransForm, an Oakland-based organization that advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth, and affordable housing throughout California, will hold its annual Transportation Choices Summit in Sacramento in two weeks, and invites all interested parties to register for the event.
The day-long summit offers the opportunity to connect with agency officials, advocates, transit riders, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, researchers, and policy makers working on transportation, and to influence the outcome of current legislation.
“This summit really is the primary opportunity for advocates to create a statewide collaboration about legislative priorities,” said Denny Zane of MoveLA. “It expands the universe of voices in the capitol and coordinates them also. That’s a remarkable service and I really appreciate the efforts of TransForm and its partners to put this together.”
At last year’s summit, participants learned about and worked to influence issues including where cap-and-trade funds should be invested. In 2015, California is facing new possibilities for transforming its future transportation landscape, with a second round of funding for Active Transportation Programs coming online, increased interest in sustainable transportation from Caltrans, and several proposed laws moving through the legislature that could benefit—or compromise—bicycling and walking in California.
“There are some really big opportunities this year,” said Zane. He pointed out A.B. 1135, the Building Homes and Jobs Act, authored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. “Maybe not everyone gets the connection between affordable housing and transit, but we do,” he said. “If you’re going to build a transit system that is both equitable and effective, you need to have high propensity users living nearby. Affordable housing is crucial to our transit system.”
This year’s summit will have sessions on a range of issues, and a keynote speech from Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and member of the Strategic Growth Council. The full agenda is here [PDF].
California is seeing a transformation in transportation, and now Streetsblog is expanding to cover stories throughout the state, not just those in Greater L.A., the Bay Area and the corridors of power in Sacramento. Led by the excellent writing of Melanie Curry, Streetsblog California will continue to cover statewide policy and expand to cover major issues in cities large and small throughout the state.
In addition to Melanie and myself, we’ll be hiring a part-time writer to cover the Central Valley later this month. (For details on that job, click here.) We’re working on finding funding sources for Sacramento and San Diego and are looking to add “syndication partners” similar to the partners Streetsblogs in Ohio, Texas, Saint Louis and the Southeast already have.
But that can wait for tomorrow. Today we launch. Anyone interested in learning more should read our press release, after the jump.
The mandatory bicycle helmet bill, Senator Carol Liu’s Senate Bill 192, has been dropped—or rather amended. Instead of requiring bicyclists to wear helmets, it calls on the Office of Traffic Safety to conduct a study of bicycle helmet use.
Liu’s office released a statement, first reported by former Streetsblog San Francisco editor Bryan Goebel, explaining the decision.
The bill was amended to create a comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use in California and evaluate the potential safety benefits of a mandatory helmet law. Carol believes in consensus-driven policy, and there were too many conflicting opinions about helmet use. A study will provide the data needed to guide us to the next step.
This is good news, on many fronts. There is no more threat of a mandatory helmet bill, which would have had all kinds of unintended consequences for bicycling in California. The silly requirement for bicyclists to wear high-visibility gear after dusk is also gone. And a study of bicycle helmet use may actually get people to stop harping on the subject of helmetless bicyclists.
“CalBike asked her to pull the bill,” said Dave Snyder, of the California Bicycle Coalition.
“I think [Senator Liu] expected more support from the bicycle community, but instead she got near unanimous opposition.”
Another possible benefit of a study of bicycle helmet use: this could be the right time to revisit the unhelpful youth helmet law.
A bill that would allow bicyclists who are ticketed for traffic violations to reduce their fines by attending a traffic safety class was introduced in the California Assembly last week. Assemblymembers Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco) amended A.B. 902 to repeal a provision in the vehicle code that currently prohibits such diversion programs except in the case of “minors who commit infractions not involving a motor vehicle for which no fee is charged.”
The bill, sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition, would allow local jurisdictions to create a diversion program and expand it to all bicycle riders, including adults. It could also make it possible to offer all bicyclists, ticketed or not, more opportunities to learn the rules of the road and safe bicycle handling skills.
Robert Prinz sees the bill as an opportunity to increase bicyclist safety and awareness of traffic laws. As Education Director for Bike East Bay, he’s in charge of a program that offers free classes on bike skills and safety, including everything from adult learn-to-ride to advanced street skills classes. Bike East Bay also coordinates with the University of California Berkeley police department on a campus-wide diversion program, offering classes in exchange for reduced fines for bicyclists who are ticketed on campus.
But the violations currently eligible for the reduced fines are only those that violate the campus code—such as riding through the “dismount zone” in the central plaza—not the California Vehicle Code.
“It kind of seems silly that only the campus code violations are eligible, especially when things that have a much bigger impact on safety are not included,” said Prinz. “We should be able to turn these tickets into valuable educational opportunities.”
Despite predictions that California’s climate change policies would destroy its economy, recent data seems to show that the opposite is happening.
Derek Walker, writing for the Environmental Defense Fund, points out that recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) not only show strong job growth in California, but that clean energy jobs are growing even faster than other sectors.
California, according to the BLS, added almost half a million jobs in 2014. This happened at the same time that the state has put into effect a wide range of policies to fight climate change, including placing a legal cap on greenhouse gas emissions and making industries pay for the emissions they produce.
According to Walker:
The number one argument against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has always been that these policies will hurt economic growth. And yet… and yet… California’s experiences, reinforced by these recent job growth numbers, demonstrate that the opposite may be the truth… Moreover, we looked at numerous indicators to see how the state’s economy was doing while cap-and-trade was taking off, and our conclusion? Good, and getting better. The state’s GDP grew by over 2% in 2013, and overall job growth outpaced the national numbers.
We are also seeing evidence that much of California’s robust job growth is happening because of – rather than despite – the state’s commitment to climate change. Between 2002 and 2012, California’s clean energy jobs grew ten times as quickly as jobs in the overall economic sector.
Unpacking the numbers is a big task, and there are a lot of factors at play. California’s economy has been growing for a while, and although its unemployment rate has been improving, it’s still one of the highest in the nation. Also, climate change policies, including cap-and-trade, are relatively recent. But these latest numbers do seem to show that those policies aren’t slowing down the California economy–which is larger by far than any other state in the US.
Job growth and growth in GDP are two indicators of economic health. “A third one, which has salience to political leaders,” said Walker, “is that California has received more investment in clean energy [industries] than any other state.” Make that more than all the other states combined, according to the CleanTech Group.
Not only that, but early indications are that the climate change policies are succeeding in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.