State Assembly Undermines Bill to Let California Cities Build Safer Bikeways

On Monday, the State Assembly Transportation Committee passed a watered down version of AB 819, the bill aimed at freeing California planners to install next-generation bikeway designs that other American cities are using to improve street safety and make cycling a more accessible mode of transportation.

CA legislators have removed language from AB 819 that would have facilitated the implementation of bikeways like this one in Chicago. Photo: CDOT via ## Bicycle Blog of Wisconsin##

Assembly members undermined the bill’s original intent by removing language allowing planners to use guidelines that have been established outside Caltrans, like the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, which includes designs for protected bikeways. Instead, the amended bill would only require Caltrans to create an experimentation process through which engineers can establish bikeway standards. That process is likely to be a lengthy one.

Advocates say the amended bill could be an improvement over the status quo, but it’s a far cry from giving local transportation agencies the freedom to implement bikeway designs that cities such as Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C. have rolled out with impressive results.

“The committee’s amendment is a step toward our goal of permitting the kind of bike infrastructure that we need,” said California Bicycle Coalition Communications Director Jim Brown. “How big a step this will be depends on the kind of experimentation process Caltrans comes up with. But it’s not the blanket authorization we’re seeking for local agencies to design the safest possible bikeways.”

Local transportation officials can still implement protected bikeways, but the process is much more complex than it needs to be. Without a set of approved standards to work from, agencies are subject to greater liability, and each project must contend with the red tape of Caltrans approval — a time-consuming and expensive process.

Brown said the AB 819 amendment was passed without deliberation but still requires approval by other committees as well as the State Senate. It was introduced by the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, a group which distrusts the NACTO guide and has traditionally resisted protected bikeways despite their proven benefits in safety and increased ridership in California cities, other American cities, and abroad.

“Whether through legislation or other means,” said Brown, “we’re continuing to work with Caltrans to figure out how innovative bikeway designs already used in other parts of the U.S. and Europe can be implemented in California.”

  • “the amended bill would only require Caltrans to create an experimentation process through which engineers can establish bikeway standards”

    How is that different than the current pilot project application process through the CTCDC?

  • J

    You may want to link to what CABO says about the law, in order to provide both sides of the story. I don’t know the organization well. What protected facilities have they opposed? What have they said specifically about the NACTO guide?

  • Dave Snyder


    It’s the same, except for highway design, for which there is no experimentation process currently. Highway Design standards are updated periodically at the instigation of Caltrans. The CTCDC process is for traffic control devices.

  • J

    Also, based on these events, it seems that we are a long way away from protected bike lanes becoming part of the standard highway design manuals, which is a real shame. In the mean time, cycling growth will continue to be stymied by crappy bike facilities. NACTO designs may not be perfect, but the “approved” bike lane designs are much worse, especially for the young, the old, the beginners, the parents, those who don’t like swerving around double parked cars, those who don’t like cars swerving into the bike lane, those who are scared of fast traffic whizzing by them…

  • Aaron Bialick

    I added a link to their statement, and their voice was also in Friday’s article.

  • Steve Piercy

    What’s the reasoning behind watering it down?

    And to whom do we write to right this wrong?

  • mikesonn

    Car parked on top of soft hit post in the above picture. Thank goodness for the buffer area.

  • Jakewegmann

    This makes my blood boil.

    CABO’s letter explaining their opposition talks about the risk that “cyclists may be exposed to unsafe facilities.” Well, what about RIGHT NOW, where cyclists are exposed to Caltrans-sanctioned facilities that are life-threatening, such as unbuffered bike lanes located immediately next to parked cars on busy streets, every single day? 

    Why on earth does CABO think that Caltrans’ review process is superior to the processes that have produced bikeway designs that are successful in places that have made far more progress with bike facilities than anywhere in California?

    Bike advocacy is hard enough when we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, as CABO has done. Thanks a lot, CABO.

  • Anonymous

    What groups are members of CABO because I want to let them know why I am immediatelt cancelling my membership and withholding any further contributions.

  • Anonymous

    Hah! For once the bicyclists can’t blame it on the eeevil auto industry. They got screwed by their own organizations!

  • Anonymous

    No, we got screwed by a bizarre cult-like sect:

  • Anonymous

    All hail the vehicular cyclists and their triumph to keep bicycling a fringe activity!

  • TwinPeaks_SF

    And those are tougher bollards than we have.

  • …or should we be hailing Caltrans’ triumph to maintain their grip on CA street design standards?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, we must congratulate Caltrans as they have long been welcoming of and advocates for non-Automobile-based transportation modes…NOT!!

  • Anonymous

    That’s just wack!

  • Dennis Hindman

    Hopefully, Chicago’s new mayor will put in his promised 100 miles of protected bike lanes in the next four years, these would provide much more data of this type of design in practice utilizing the national traffic control device standards that are in the MUTCD. Their data on the before and after results hopefully would be sufficient enough examples to convince Caltrans that this does not impede traffic and provides enough safety to include this design in their state version of the MUTCD..

  • Lets hail ignorant cycling getting cyclists killed for another two decades  

  • El Barto

    FUCK Dan Gutierrez and CABO.

  • Roadblock

    CABO needs to be dismantled and their vehicular lunatics need to be launched into space.

  • Freecell Lover

    The list of CABO member orgs are here:

    Almaden Cycle Touring ClubGrizzly Peak CyclistsEagle Cycling ClubFresno County Bicycling CoalitionFremont Freewheelers Bicycle ClubCycle California!San Louis Obispo Bicycle ClubChannel Islands Bicycle ClubWestern Wheelers Bicycle ClubFresno Cycling ClubSkyline Cycling Club

  • Freecell Lover

    Here is the list of members on the Assembly Transportation Committee that listened to CABO to begin with.

  • John E

    Anyone claiming that vehicular bicyclists are lunatics needs to be able to spell, to define, and to pronounce each of the following terms and use it in a complete sentence: door zone, door prize, right hook, left cross.

  • Aaron Bialick

    Anyone claiming that separated bicycle infrastructure makes these problems worse needs to do some research. In 2007, the Netherlands, which has built a widespread network of protected bikeways, had an 1.1 cyclist deaths per km cycled (and 1.4 injuries). Comparatively, the United States, which has certainly taken the “vehicular cycling” approach, saw 5.8 deaths/km and 37 injuries/km in the same year.


  • Freecell Lover

    Re: Doorzones…
    In Orlando, no one single cyclist was doored.
    North Carolina? 0.2%
    NYC – 0.03% of fatalities were due to dooring.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Freecell Lover!

    The biggest city in that list  is Fresno? 

    And the link from BikinginLA is priceless.  Sounds like CABO needs to be investigated and “outed”.

    CABO seems to be the Bus Riders Union of Bicycling!

  • I don’t think vehicular bicyclists are lunatics. They are obviously very comfortable riding in traffic and perceive bicycle infrastructure as a threat to their safety and/or convenience. But the fact is vehicular cycling means 1-2% of the population will ever be comfortable bicycling for transportation. Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure means up to 70% of the population will be comfortable bicycling for transportation. (70% of Dutch citizens bicycle at least once a week. This is a truly remarkable statistic achieved over the last thirty years by the country making bicycling convenient, safe and pleasant for all its citizens. Please see this website for many, many video examples of excellent Dutch bicycle infrastructure: )

    I’ve been riding in traffic for three years now. It wasn’t until San Francisco started developing a network of bike lanes that I was willing to become an urban cyclist. Even after three years, I still find riding directly with cars extremely unpleasant, and I take bike lanes whenever I can. I do worry about door zones, right hooks and left crosses. I am extremely careful going through intersections. Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure eliminates these dangers and it saddens and frustrates me that we are doing our best to prevent its adoption in California. However, vehicular cyclists are right that bicycle infrastructure may slow them down. Since in Holland people from ages 8 – 80 bicycle, it may mean that the small number of bicyclists wishing to bike really fast (1 – 2%) are sometimes inconvenienced by slower riders and the sheer number of riders on the cycle paths.

    The question is, should our roads encourage 1 – 2% of our population to bicycle or 70%?

  • peternatural

    “Lunatics” isn’t quite right… “Spawn of Satan” might be more accurate (as explained here:

    Karen makes good points. One thing I don’t understand though is how bicycle infrastructure like bike lanes could possibly inconvenience or endanger vehicular cyclists. And I don’t see what right hooks and left crosses have to do with it.

    I’m mainly familiar with bike lanes in SF, which all morph into right turn lanes near intersections. The bicyclist (vehicular or not) who is not turning right should move to the left side of the right lane. Right-turning cars make their turns from the right side of the bicyclist, so there is no problem.

    If you know how to avoid oncoming left-turners, a bike lane isn’t going to make that any harder. Nor will sharrows. Basically, if you know how to ride safely and avoid common pitfalls, the presence of a bike lane or sharrows won’t make that any harder. On the other hand, a bike lane can definitely help you stay safely out of the door zone (stay on the very left side of the lane!) while reducing the likelihood of a rear-end collision (the most common type of accident).

    So, yeah… “Lunatics”, no… “Spawn of Satan”, sure!

  • Jim Baross, CABO President

    There was and is no process for experiments to qualify for updates to the HDM. The current bill will require Caltrans to add one. The sooner that better “bikeway” and roadway designs get adopted for Statewide use the better, right? A “free-for-all” quite frankly is scary given the examples of “stupid bike lanes” and similar “bikeways” we still see.

  • MikeOnBike

    Meanwhile, there is nothing preventing NACTO-style designs in California.  It’s already common practice.  The original bill language would not have changed that.
    For example:
    Or this: 

  • Roadblock

    Experimentation is NOT common practice!! Common practice is for DOT’s to claim their hands are tied because of state guidelines! Allow NACTO designs and see where it goes or stick with the status quo of miniscule mode share and high death rate.

  • Dave Snyder

    Breaking news: the Assembly Appropriations Committee passed AB 819 despite a letter from Caltrans saying it would cost them $240,000 to implement the experimental program called for. In these times, a bill that costs money normally dies in Approps, but  thanks to some clever political work by the CBC’s lobbyist, Will Gonzalez, it passed. Now, we have to work with Caltrans to make some lemonade out of this bill and get an “experimentation program” that looks very similar to straight-up authorization of the designs in the peer-reviewed NACTO manual. In fact, such a program can be designed to avoid costs incurred by Caltrans.

    If by “free-for-all” you mean a proliferation of separated bikeways designed by qualified engineers according to professional guidance and appropriate for the context, then, yes, a free-for-all is exactly what we want. That’s much less scary than the status quo of qualified engineers being limited to the designs in the current Highway Design Manual, perpetuating low rates of cycling, dangerous streets, obesity, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and unlivable neighborhoods. 

    See this letter for an endorsement of separate pathways by a large number of leading engineers: 


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