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What’s Next for Me — I’m Joining the SFMTA

Since I announced my departure from Streetsblog, folks have asked about my next move. Well, I’m not going far: I’ve accepted a position on the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s public relations team.

In this new chapter, I’m excited about working directly on projects that advance better transportation options in the city. To start out, I’ll be working in a media relations position on Muni-related project and service announcements.

I’ll be in good company with a lot of folks I’ve gotten to know through my years of reporting on the agency’s policies and projects, some of whom have also transitioned from advocacy roles. Former Streetsblog reporter Michael Rhodes is now a Muni Forward planner, and Andy Thornley, whom I first met when I interned at the SF Bicycle Coalition in 2009, manages on-street parking programs. To my mind, when the city hires good advocates, that’s a sign of success for the movement.

I’ll be here at Streetsblog through the end of the month, and after that, you’ll still see me around. I’m changing jobs, but I’ll still be working to make San Francisco and the Bay Area more livable and sustainable.

Also, a reminder that the search is on for Streetsblog SF’s next editor. Applicants can send a cover letter and resume to

Via Streetsblog California
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Governor Brown Signs Law Allowing Bicycle Ticket Diversion Programs

Sgt. David Krumer of the LAPD at a Critical Mass ride in 2010. Image: Damien Newton/Streetsblog

Sgt. David Krumer of the LAPD at a Critical Mass ride in 2010. Image: Damien Newton/Streetsblog

A new law just signed by Governor Jerry Brown will make it possible for bicyclists who are ticketed for certain infractions to attend a class on safe bicycle riding and thus reduce their fines.

The bill, A.B. 902, has been tracked by Streetsblog since it was introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) in February. Sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition, it was amended a few times, but survived the process of squeezing through the legislature with mostly minor changes.

“When a bicyclist is ticketed for a moving violation in California, they by default receive the same monetary fine as when driving a motor vehicle. This means that with court fees added a stop sign violation can cost around $200, and running a red light around $400,” explained Bloom.

“The penalty should be determined so as to encourage safe behavior and not so punitive that it discourages bicycling altogether, especially for low-income individuals who rely the most on bicycling for everyday transportation.”

One of the changes clarified that any class taken in lieu of a fine would have to be “sanctioned by law enforcement.” Robert Prinz, Education Coordinator at Bike East Bay, who worked on putting the bill forward, said this was an important clarification.

“That means there would have to be a certain level of standard for the information provided in the class,” he pointed out. Also, he said, “for the most part law enforcement has a pretty good idea of what’s important for bicycle safety, but some police departments would benefit from attending some of these classes themselves.”

The other change to the bill removed a requirement that classes be offered free of charge. This was originally included because it created more of an incentive for people to take safety classes, and also because it’s the way Bike East Bay handles its education programs. But other advocacy organizations didn’t want to restrict their own, not-yet-in-existence programs in this way.

Whichever way a program is set up, the hoped-for result is a reduced fine and a more educated and knowledgeable bike rider.

Prinz points out that it will take some work to set up education programs where none exist now, and that it’s up to local bicycle advocacy groups to get the ball rolling. To that end, Bike East Bay has been working with other advocacy groups to formulate the best programs for local needs. Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the city of Long Beach, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition have all expressed interest in creating diversion programs. Davis already has an on-campus diversion program and is interested in expanding it citywide. The cities of Huntington Beach and Alameda both used to have programs but suspended them because of a legal prohibition against them in the existing vehicle code. The Marin County Bicycle Coalition already has a diversion program, which it has been able to run because of strong local support from the police and courts.

“For sure it’s going to be easier to get these programs going in areas with established advocacy organizations,” said Prinz. “In rural or less populated areas there is going to be a need for outreach and education.”

Bike East Bay currently incorporates a diversion program into its regular educational offerings. Like Davis, UC Berkeley has its own police department that issues citations on campus. For on-campus infractions, ticketed bicyclists can attend a class, bring proof of attendance to the police, pay a fee, and have the ticket destroyed. The fee, around $50, is much less than what they would have to pay for a ticket if it went through the court system.

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Is Houston Serious About Becoming a Multi-Modal City?

There’s been a fair amount of fanfare recently about the news that Houston is likely to surpass Chicago sometime soon as America’s third largest city. You can debate whether the comparison is very useful, due to variations in land area. But there’s no denying that Texas is growing fast. The Lone Star State is attracting two-and-a-half times more new households from other states than the next biggest gainer: Florida.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Will Houston adapt its transportation infrastructure to accommodate its growing population? Despite smart long-term goals, regional planners are still dumping the vast majority of funding at their disposal into highways, Caitlin McNeely at Houston Tomorrow reports:

The Houston – Galveston Area Council Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has approved recommendations to spend 90% of regionally discretionary transportation improvement funds on roadway projects mostly for cars.

$783,265,000 is being allocated by the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council (TPC) and the TAC as part of the 2015 Call for Transportation Improvement Projects (TIP). Current recommendations propose the region spends roughly $700,000,000 of that on highway and roadway projects. $86 million, or about 11%, of funds will be spent on pedestrian, bike, livable centers and transit projects. These allocations could be decided by the TPC on Friday, Sep 25.

The vision of H-GAC’s 2040 Regional Transportation Plan is that “In the year 2040, our region will have a multimodal transportation system through coordinated investments that supports a desirable quality of life, enhanced economic vitality and increased safety, access and mobility.”

It is unclear how funding cars and highways at 90% over pedestrian, bike and transit infrastructure achieves this goal and whether this proposed decision would make the region’s TIP and RTP out of sync.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Coverage of Yesterday’s “Bike Yield Law” Press Conference (KTVU, KRON, CBS, ABC, SF Appeal)
  • Pagoda Theatre Site Plans Move Forward With Condos, Not Central Subway Station (Hoodline, Exam)
  • LGBTQ-Themed Plaza on 12th Street at Harrison Endorsed By Eastern Neighborhoods CAC (Hoodline)
  • Activists Still Blaming Tech Shuttles for the Housing Crisis (KRON)
  • Area Q Parking Limits to Increase from Two to Four Hours Within Next Six Weeks (Hoodline)
  • Tonight: Parklet Movie Night (HL); Haight’s Magnolia Parklet Removed for Utility Work (Hoodline)
  • SFBC, CA Legislators Call on Gov. Brown to Sign Bill Banning Bridge Tolls for Pedestrians and Bicyclists
  • More on BART’s “Travel Incentives” Pilot Program Planned to Encourage Off-Peak Rides (SF Exam)
  • Northbound Caltrain Hits Car in San Mateo (SFGate); SB Caltrain Hits Person at San Antonio (CBS)
  • Bus Lanes on El Camino Real Won’t Cause Carmageddon, Audit Concludes (Mercury News, PA Online)
  • 80-Year-Old Livermore Driver Confuses Gas With Brake, Drives Into Gym and Kills Woman (ABC, NBC)
  • North Bay Counties Consider Spending Up to $1B on Highway 37 to Address Traffic and Flooding (MIJ)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA


SFPD Chief Suhr Misses the Point of the “Bike Yield Law”

SF Police Department Chief Greg Suhr doesn’t seem to grasp the point of the “Bike Yield Law” proposed by Supervisor John Avalos.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr. Screenshot from SF Bay Guardian/Youtube

“Stop signs are pretty simple. They say ‘stop,'” Suhr told KQED today. “They don’t say ‘yield,’ they don’t say ‘slow down.'” Suhr added that anyone who violates the letter of the stop sign law “will be cited.”

If only it were so simple. Here’s the problem: California’s stop sign law is based on the unrealistic expectation that people ride 30-pound bikes exactly like they pilot 3,000-pound cars. Just about everybody who gets on a bike, including SFPD officers (see the video below), treats stop signs by slowing down and yielding to others with the right-of-way.

There is an ethic to biking safely at stop signs, and it’s more like the “golden rule,” as Avalos put it, than the letter of the current law. Idaho updated its stop sign law in 1982 to reflect that, and bicycle-related injuries there have dropped since. As bike commuters demonstrated on the Wiggle recently, strict compliance with the stop sign law by people on bikes would result in absurd traffic queues — and no one would be safer for it.

“Our traffic laws have not changed since the mid-20th century, but the way people move around our cities has,” SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick said at a press conference introducing the Avalos ordinance today. “What the Bike Yield Law does is move our city into a leadership position in the 21st century.”

Read more…

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20’s Plenty: The Movement for Safer Speeds in the UK

Five years ago, Streetfilms’ was in the UK town of Warrington to talk with the great folks behind 20’s Plenty For Us, a largely volunteer group trying to get speed limits reduced to 20 mph. The first film drew broad interest in the 20’s Plenty movement, and on a recent trip I caught up with them again.

Founder Rod King MBE reports some amazing statistics: More than 14 million residents of the UK now live on streets with speed limits of 20 mph or less, including 3 million in London. Despite being a very small organization, 20’s Plenty has empowered 263 local campaigns across the UK asking for 20 mph streets. The film captures some of the impact of 20’s Plenty in Central London, Liverpool, and Cambridge. It’s amazing to see energized volunteers deploying all sorts of creativity to get the message out: stickers, banners, yarn-bombing, children’s art, t-shirts. The success has been remarkable.

20’s Plenty is now campaigning for “Total 20 By 2020” — the goal of making most of the streets in the entire country 20 mph. For viewers in the United States, this film is like a road map for building public support and getting your community energized around lower speed limits.
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A Misguided Fix for Traffic Congestion in Silicon Valley

In a study of Denver residents, those who lived near a transit station were less likely to take transit to work than those who worked by transit. Image: CityLab

In a study of Denver residents, working near a transit station was a more important factor leading people to commute by train than just living near a station. Image via CityLab

According to a recent study of transit riders in Denver covered by CityLab, people who work within a 15-minute walk of a rail station are more likely to commute by train than people who live close to transit but don’t work by a station.

Network blog Peninsula Transportation Alternatives says the study underscores how a proposal aimed at reining in traffic in Palo Alto is misguided. The City Council there is looking to limit office development downtown, where transit access is good:

Palo Alto City Council is about to implement a strict cap limiting new office development to 50,000 square feet per year in the areas closest to the city’s two Caltrain stations, and the El Camino Real corridor with bus service every 10-15 minutes… City Council plans to vote on the cap, which would stay in effect for two years or until the City completes its Comprehensive Plan update in the works.

While one of the goals of the cap was to address parking and traffic challenges, a recent survey found that 45% of the 10,000 employees who work in downtown Palo Alto commute by transit and other non-car modes, even before the implementation of new programs to reduce driving downtown.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Man on Bike Hit By Driver, Fracturing Back, at MLK and Crossover Drives in GG Park (Appeal)
  • Area Q Residential Parking Permit Zone Now Enforced (Hoodline)
  • More on Supervisor Avalos’ Plans to Introduce “Bike Yield Law” Today (SF Examiner)
  • Fire Crews Rescue Driver Who Went Over Cliff, Taking Down Power Lines, at Land’s End (CBS)
  • Two Cars Hit By Objects, Likely Beer Bottles, on Hwy 280 in SF (NBC)
  • “Chariot” Updates Shuttle App With Real-Time Arrival Info and Seat Reservation (Venture Beat)
  • Caltrain’s GoPass Employer Program a Large Contributor to Record High Ridership (Biz Times)
  • Oakland Gets $4.6M Grant for 20th Street Redesign From Caltrans ATP Program (GJEL)
  • Oakland Pays $25,000 in Settlements for Former Mayor Quan’s Car Crash (SFBay)
  • Oakland Residents Rally to Oppose Freight Terminal for Coal Shipment (CBS, SFBay, EB Express)
  • San Mateo Co. Senator Says Transpo Sales Tax Hike Impossible Without Bill (Daily Journal)
  • San Jose’s Lincoln Ave Road Diet Expansion on Wednesday City Council Agenda (Cyclelicious)
  • Motorcyclist Dead After Crash With Two Big-Rigs and Car on Hwy 680 in San Ramon (CBS)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA


Majority of Supes Back the “Bike Yield Law” to Be Introduced Tomorrow

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The “Bike Yield Law” proposed by Supervisor John Avalos is poised to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors Avalos, Breed, Wiener, Kim, Mar, and Campos have all signed on as sponsors of the "Bike Yield Law." Photos: SF Board of Supervisors

Supervisors Avalos, Breed, Wiener, Kim, Mar, and Campos have all signed on as sponsors of the “Bike Yield Law.” Photos: SF Board of Supervisors

The ordinance urges the SFPD to let bicycle riders safely treat stop signs as yield signs. Avalos plans to introduce the ordinance tomorrow, and it has support from six supervisors — the majority needed to vote it into law. It’s unclear if it has support from SFPD officials.

The latest endorsements come from Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar, joining early sponsors London Breed and Scott WienerThe six co-sponsors plan to hold a press conference at City Hall before tomorrow’s board meeting.

At the event, SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick will speak about “the need to provide SFPD the direction and clarity that they deserve in order to achieve Vision Zero and safer streets overall,” according to an SFBC press release.

While local legislation cannot supersede the state’s stop sign law, Avalos’s ordinance would set a “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy” that would “make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority.” In essence, it would legitimize the safe, practical way that people on bikes normally treat stop signs, which has been legal in Idaho for 32 years.

Avalos announced his plans to introduce the legislation last month after SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford called off his letter-of-the-law crackdown on bike commuters rolling stop signs. In an interview with Streetsblog, Sanford seemed hesitant to support the bill, saying that police already use discretion in prioritizing limited enforcement resources.

Support from the SFPD will be crucial for the non-binding ordinance to hold sway over police traffic enforcement priorities. The SFPD’s lagging compliance with its own “Focus on the Five” campaign against the most dangerous driving violations is evidence of how difficult it is to change police practices, even when it’s official department policy. Most SFPD stations have only begun to move toward the enforcement target set in January 2014.

The press conference announcing the “Bike Yield Law” ordinance will be held tomorrow on the steps of City Hall at 12:30 p.m.

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Peninsula Advocates Push For Vision Zero

Safe streets advocates and local government officials met at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit in Palo Alto. Photo: Andrew Boone

A coalition of advocacy groups, local government agencies, and cycling clubs called on cities across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to adopt Vision Zero goals to eliminate traffic fatalities at the recent Silicon Valley Bike Summit in Palo Alto.

In the ten years from 2004 through 2013, 1,236 people lost their lives in car crashes in the two counties, according to the California Highway Patrol. Every year, more than 1,800 people are injured by drivers while walking or biking. In San Jose, the region’s largest city, 44 people were killed in car crashes in 2014, and another 30 people were killed in the first eight months of 2015 – with pedestrians accounting for more than half the victims.

“No fatality and no major life-altering injury on our roadways is acceptable,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Deputy Director Colin Heyne.

SVBC and California Walks released their Vision Zero Toolkit [PDF] at the summit, a how-to guide for advocates and city officials based on the “Five E’s” – Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation. The guide describes how cities can prevent serious traffic injuries and deaths resulting from car crashes, based on current best practices in other cities and US Department of Transportation recommendations.

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