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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

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Here’s Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of legislation and events related to sustainable transportation at the California capitol.

The big news out of Sacramento is that Caltrans endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide.

S.B. 1183, Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord): this is the so-called “bike tax bill”– oops, sorry, the “Local Bike Infrastructure Enhancement Act of 2014.” It was set to be discussed on Wednesday in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, but the hearing was postponed after committee staff released its analysis. The bill, which would allow park districts to impose a tax on bicycles, is supposed to be a user tax that provides a small but regular flow of funds for the maintenance of trails, including paved bike trails, in the parks. Staff identified several problems with it, including potential difficulties for the Board of Equalization in administering the tax, and the lack of a direct connection between the buyer of a bicycle and the user of a bike path. “The Committee may wish to consider whether S.B. 1183 represents wise tax policy,” says its report.

A.B. 2398, Marc Levine (D-San Rafael): the “vulnerable road user law” was amended in the Assembly’s Transportation Committee this week. The bill would raise fines for drivers convicted of causing bodily injury to a vulnerable road user, including pedestrians and bicyclists. The amendment raises the lowest level fine to $220, which becomes $1,031 after the court adds its fees. In addition, the amendment requires a 6-month license suspension for anyone who has a repeat violation within three years. This bill will be heard again on April 21, when the legislature returns from spring recess.

A.B. 2197 from Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco): It takes a while for the DMV to issue license plates to newly purchased cars, and, in the meantime, those cars can be driven as long as they display a DMV-issued, numbered form. This bill would require the DMV to come up with a system for issuing temporary license plates that can be attached on the front and back of a car at the time of purchase. The bill cites a lack of license plates “on hundreds of thousands of vehicles across the state” as a problem for law enforcement and toll collectors. Meanwhile a petition in support of the bill has been started by the family of a hit-and-run victim killed by a driver in a car without plates. Administrative amendments were made to the bill in the Assembly Transportation Committee, and it is scheduled to be heard again on April 21.

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How Will a New FRA Rule Affect Commuter Rail?

Misguided safety rules from the Federal Railroad Administration are cited as the cause for all sorts of problems, from high-construction costs to pedestrian hazards to, ironically, worse safety outcomes.

Transit observers are concerned that a new FRA regulation may hamper commuter rail expansion. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Which helps explain why Jarret Walker at Network blog Human Transit is alarmed about a new rule “requiring two-person train crews… for most main line freight and passenger rail operations.” It’s “much too soon to panic,” Walker says, but he was still compelled to send the FRA his concerns about how this might play out for commuter rail:

The language creates a reasonable suspicion you are about to ban one-person crews on urban commuter rail services regulated by the FRA, which usually fall within FRA’s use of the term “passenger rail.” While the text is unclear about what “minimum crew size” standard it proposes for “passenger rail,” it makes no sense that you would need to “establish minimum crew size standards” if the intended minimum were one.

Your release mentions later that the rule is expected to contain “appropriate exceptions.” It would be wise to give the transit and urban development worlds some assurance that you don’t plan to shut down the possibility of one-person-crew urban transit — using FRA-regulated rail corridors — through this rule. Such services — similar to existing commuter rail but with higher frequency and smaller vehicles — are one of the best hopes for cost-effective new rail transit in the US.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Velo reports that Indianapolis is getting ready to launch its bike-share system. Strong Towns gives advice for communities that don’t have much of a biking and walking culture but are trying to change that. And Urban Review STL reports that a new hospital expansion in St. Louis is coming with an immense parking garage.

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Today’s Headlines

  • SFMTA Board Could Vote on Budget Tomorrow (SF Examiner)
  • Even Willie Brown Supports Sunday Parking Meters (SFGate); Mayor Lee: No Compromises (CBS, SFist)
  • SFPD Arrests Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed Oi Tenug, 82, on Bayshore Blvd (CBSSF Examiner)
  • More on the SFMTA’s 24 Safety Projects: Howard and Sixth Upgrades Completed (SFBay)
  • With Bike-Share Coming, the East Bay Also Needs More Bike Lanes (SF Weekly)
  • Despite New Golden Gate Bridge Toll Hikes, GG Transit Fares are Still Rising Faster (Greater Marin)
  • SMART’s Larkspur Ferry Extension Moves Through MTC Committee Approvals (Marin IJ)
  • Menlo Park Council Looks to Weigh in on Caltrain Electrification EIR (Almanac)
  • CAHSRA Adopts New Business Plan With Revenue Projections Down 5 Percent (SM Daily Journal)
  • Santa Clara Driver Crashes Into House, Causing Evacuations Due to Gas Leak Threat (KRON)
  • Hayward Police Crack Down on Street Racing (NBC)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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SFMTA Announces 24 Vision Zero Bike/Ped Projects for Next 24 Months

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At this morning’s Walk to Work Day press conference, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin announced a plan to implement 24 bike and pedestrian safety projects over the next 24 months [PDF]. This is the most concrete safety plan unveiled so far, ever since city leaders pledged to pursue Vision Zero.

Nicole Schneider presented Walk SF’s “Street Score” report card for pedestrian safety in SF today, alongside Supervisor Malia Cohen (left). Photo: Aaron Bialick

The projects (listed below) include bulb-outs, traffic signal changes, road diets, turn restrictions, and even a conceptual “raised cycletrack” on upper Market Street. Half the projects are funded (one “partially”), and the SFMTA hasn’t assigned an order to them yet. Some of the projects have already been in planning, like the Second Street and Polk Street redesigns, and at some locations the “WalkFirst improvements” have yet to be designed.

Vision Zero “is something that we’re united around as a city family,” said Reiskin on the steps of City Hall, surrounded by a full roster of elected officials and department heads, minus Mayor Ed Lee.

The 24-project list wasn’t heavily discussed at the city’s second official Walk to Work Day press conference, where city leaders re-iterated the urgency of Vision Zero — the goal of ending traffic deaths within 10 years. Every member of the Board of Supervisors and other officials walked to City Hall, starting at points around the city. The furthest trekkers included Reiskin, who walked from west of Twin Peaks; Supervisor Eric Mar, from Arguello Boulevard; and Supervisor John Avalos, from the Excelsior.

Walk SF also presented a “report card” grading pedestrian safety in San Francisco:

  • Overall progress towards Vision Zero: C+
  • Walkability: A+
  • Pedestrian Safety: D+
  • Funding: D+
  • Engineering: C+
  • Enforcement: B
  • Education and Outreach: B-

“We have the fabric of a walkable city,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “But unfortunately, we have a relic of an older generation with our transportation system. We have streets that were designed for speed and not for safety… This isn’t something that our current administration came up with, but it’s going to take a lot of funding and a lot of work to change.”

Read more…

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Highway Safety Projects Ineligible for Highway Funds in San Mateo County

Shoulder of Highway 1 Coastside San Mateo County

Walking or biking in this shoulder on Highway 1 is often the only option available to get between coast-side towns in San Mateo County without driving. Photo: Matt Hansen, Peninsula Press

San Mateo County’s Mid-Coast Multi-Modal Trail just barely made it into the list of Pedestrian and Bicycle Program projects approved for funding by the Transportation Authority (TA)’s Board of Directors last Thursday. Despite this step forward, building the trail will be difficult thanks in large part to restrictions on how TA funds can be spent, which hamper walking and biking projects.

The $165,000 allocated to the mid-coast trail will only pay for the engineering design and environmental review of the first of four phases, from Half Moon Bay to El Granada. Funds to actually construct the trail and design the three remaining sections to the north, from El Granada to Montara, haven’t yet been identified.

“The coast-side trail is among the most important projects to my constituents since I’ve been elected,” said Supervisor Don Horsley in March. “And this is the first opportunity we’ve had to apply for funding.”

This trail has been recommended by several transportation planning studies over the past ten years, most recently by the 2010 Highway 1 Safety and Mobility Improvement Study, which cites improved safety for people walking and bicycling and a reduction of traffic on Highway 1 among its benefits.

During its March 4 review of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Program projects, the TA’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) “noted concerns regarding safety, traffic congestion, access to schools, and access for people who don’t have cars as strong reasons in support of the Mid-Coast Multi-Modal Trail.”

But this type of project — infrastructure that reduces highway congestion by providing safe alternatives to driving — is surprisingly difficult to fund in San Mateo County.

Read more…

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Bike Lanes Don’t Lead to Congestion, But Some of Them Should

After bike lanes were installed in Minneapolis, there were more cars per unit of road space, but still not enough to meet the threshold for congestion.

Gretchen Johnson and Aaron Johnson have posted a nice debunking of typical “war on cars” rhetoric over at fivethirtyeight.

Johnson and Johnson gathered before-and-after traffic data from 45 miles of streets where Minneapolis installed bike lanes. They also looked at how Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West bike lane affected traffic conditions.

They found, in short, that after the installation of bike lanes, traffic conditions did not meet the threshold of “heavy congestion,” and the impact on space for motor vehicles was moderate enough that drivers’ travel times would likely be unaffected.

None of the 10 Minneapolis streets reached a level where “minor incidents can cause traffic jams,” although the bike lanes did edge two streets into the “mild to moderate” congestion category. The authors, a transportation consultant and aeronautics Ph.D., write that this “mild to moderate” level is “where traffic is still moving smoothly but you might notice that it’s a bit harder to move from one lane to another.”

Meanwhile, on Prospect Park West, NYC DOT reported that there was no evidence that travel times increased after the installation of a two-way protected bike lane. The two Johnsons, after reviewing the data, say “we agree.”

These are the findings you would expect to see when a street redesign converts excess space for cars into room for bikes. Afterward, there’s less wide-open road space encouraging motorists to drive fast, and on Prospect Park West the city observed a big reduction in speeding after the bike lane was installed.

Read more…

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Chevy: What Better Way to Explore the Divisadero “Microhood” Than by Car?

The marketers at Chevy totally have this urban millennial thing nailed down. The car manufacturer sponsored this promotional video for a Divisadero Microhood Art Walk held last week, along with the website The Bold Italic.

In this virtual tour of the microhood, local business owner Erin Fong gets into one of Chevy’s electric Volts, driving an entire five blocks from the east side of Alamo Square to Divisadero. The drive is shown in a time lapse from the windshield. (Not shown: the hunt for a parking space.)

If the video leaves you puzzled and thinking, “That makes no sense whatsoever,” you’re not alone. Watching a video about driving is the complete antithesis of actually getting immersed in a microhood, an activity for which walking might be the best mode of transport. Perhaps that’s why the event is called an art walk.

Apparently, this campaign to market cars to urban millennials is no isolated incident. It’s part of General Motors’ Drive the District campaign, targeting major cities around the country, including Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, Portland, and Washington, D.C.. It’s certainly no coincidence that these cities are both seeing an influx of young people, and also making it easier to get around without a car.

Perhaps Chevy doesn’t know how out of touch they appear, trying to sell cars to young folks in one of America’s most walkable neighborhoods. As this generation loses interest in owning and driving cars, auto industry advertising only seems to become more clueless.

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Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

Read more…

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Wisconsin DOT Raises the Cost of Fighting Highway Projects

Wasteful and unnecessary.” That’s how citizens of Waukesha and Washington counties in Wisconsin have described a state plan to fill in wetlands for an 18-mile road widening project on Highway 164.

Highway 164 in Wisconsin, as you can see, is in desperate need of widening. Photo: State Truck Tour

But the Highway J Citizens Coalition isn’t taking it lying down. Along with an environmental group, they took the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to court and the judge sided in their favor recently, finding that the state’s documentation, studies, and hearings for this project had serious flaws.

James Rowen at the Political Environment reports that now the “tone deaf,” “arrogant” state agency appears to be making it punitively expensive for these citizens to challenge its actions:

The Highway J Citizens Coalition, (HJCG), had won a significant victory in federal court, but despite the ruling and direction it gave to WisDOT legal project construction and planning, WisDOT is picking a further fight with the coalition by charging it more than $10,000 in advance for public records as the case continues.

The coalition says in a major filing Monday with Madison prosecutors that WisDOT is withholding the records in part because it doesn’t like how highway critics have portrayed WisDOT.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide and Protected Bike Lanes (PFB)
  • Happy Walk to Work Day — Press Conference Outside City Hall at 10 A.M. (SF WeeklyHoodline)
  • SFPD Chief Talks Ped Safety at Elementary School (ABC, CBS), SFPD and Avalos in Ingleside (CBS)
  • Driver Critically Injures Three-Year-Old Boy on Bike at Fulton and 43rd (SFGate, KTVU 12ABC)
  • Congestion Pricing Coming to Treasure Island (SocketSite)
  • MTC Committee Approves Funds for East Bay Bike Share (SF Appeal)
  • SFBC, Chamber of Commerce: Keep Sunday Meters (SFGate); Matier Thinks It’s All About Money (CBS)
  • Now in SF: “RideScout” App Lists Your Options for Getting From Point A to Point B (TechCrunch)
  • Why Potrero Hill Residents Opposed Muni TEP Changes in the Area (Potrero View)
  • Judge Denies Punitive Damages for Driver Who Crushed Two Boys on Menlo Park Sidewalk (Almanac)
  • Belmont Council Postpones Approval of Ralston Ave Plan for More Public Outreach (SM Daily Journal)
  • As San Jose Looks to Make Diridon Station More Walkable, SAP Arena Wants to Double Its Parking (PTA)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA