Our goal: Approve for use in California safer and more protected bikeway designs so that everyone, from the 8-year old child to the 80-year old grandmother, can enjoy bicycling on facilities largely protected from car traffic.
Right now, many of the bikeway designs that provide the most protection from car traffic are not approved for use in California. California leads the country in our ambition to tackle global warming, but our Transportation Department is far behind their peers in encouraging the roadway design necessary to increase bicycling and reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, Chicago plans to build as many as 100 miles of protected bikeways by 2015, and Portland and New York and Seattle are joining them in building the bicycle networks that are necessary to help everyone from the age of 8 to 80 feel safe riding bicycles.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) provides the Urban Bikeway Design Guide and U.S. D.O.T. Secretary Ray LaHood encourage these newer, safer designs, but traffic law restricts local agencies to just Caltrans’ out-of-date designs.
Paradoxically, state law is considerably more liberal when it comes to local streets and roads; the HDM is just one of the several design standards and guides that cities and counties may follow in creating their roadway networks. Why is state law so restrictive when it comes to bikeways?
With the City and County of San Francisco, whose Municipal Transportation Agency has adopted a strategic goal of increasing the share of trips made by bicycle in San Francisco from about 3.5% today to 10% by 2018, we are sponsoring AB 1193, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting.
AB 1193 is intended to allow more local control over which design standards to consult for bicycles on local streets. It would amend the the California Streets and Highways Code that currently mandates that local agencies must abide by Caltrans’ Highway Design Manual for bicycle design on local roads. This mandate regarding bicycle facility design differs from the treatment of all other roadway design, where the Highway Design Manual only applies to highways and state routes. The special treatment for bicycle design was put in place several decades ago to provide guidance in the early days of bike design. Given the wider range of design standards available today, the former reasoning for the provision no longer applies. It’s an important issue because the Highway Design Manual precludes the development of certain kinds of protected bikeways that local agencies throughout the country are installing with great success in terms of bicycle safety and increased ridership.
To put it another way, jurisdictions outside of California have found a “medicine” that has proven to cure the problem of dangerous streets, but California’s burdensome regulatory environment has made this medicine off-limits to Californians. Residents are unnecessarily suffering from a lack of safe bike routes and the medical consequences are severe: severe and fatal injuries, obesity, and expense. AB 1193 makes this medicine available to local agencies provided they follow a certain protocol to administer it. The result will be safer streets for everyone. Californians from the age of 8 to 80 and older will find it possible to ride bikes on streets they currently deem to be too dangerous, and public health and economy will improve as a result.
This bill does not simply create a free-for-all where local agencies may implement whatever designs they wish. The most important limitation on designers’ freedom would still apply: the need to comply with proven safety standards in order to avoid significant liability. Beyond that limitation, this bill only exempts a local agency from the mandate to follow the Highway Design Manual if that agency prepares a comprehensive bicycle plan in compliance with Section 891.2 of this Code, and specifies in that plan which proven safety standards they are applying in their design recommendations.
Here is an incomplete sample list of treatments that have proven to promote safe bicycling which are either effectively prohibited or discouraged in California: cycletracks (bikeways between the curb and the sidewalk); raised bicycle lanes; contraflow bike lanes (bikeways in the opposite direction of a one-way road, to provide a key link in a bicycle network); bike lanes with door zone warning markings. Chapter 9 of the Los Angeles Bike Plan is entirely dedicated to nonstandard designs they would like to implement but are discouraged from doing so. Many local agency representatives complain of extra cost and long delays in implementing bikeways due to the restrictions imposed by the current system.
Passage of this bill would usher in a new era of bikeway development in California. It would not make California a trail-blazer, but would allow the state to keep pace with the nation’s leaders.
Download a sample letter here.
Download the latest amendments here.