Proposed Law Would Bring the 15-Minute City and Bicycle Highways in California
Despite ambitious goals, California has made little progress toward building safe and convenient bike routes. Safe bikeways don’t connect the destinations people need to reach. Roads and intersections that prioritize cars make bike trips unpleasant at best, dangerous at worst. A bill working its way through the legislature could change this landscape. AB 1147 (Friedman) would emphasize people-centric concepts like 15-minute cities and bicycle highways in new transportation plans.
California’s investments in active transportation infrastructure are not big enough nor strategic enough to create genuinely bike-friendly communities. However, one of California’s strongest champions for bicycling, Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Laura Friedman, has introduced a bill that could make a huge difference.
AB 1147 would hold regions accountable for their goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. It provides tools and incentives to achieve these goals, including a new block grant program that has CalBike very excited.
Onramp to the bicycle highway
The block grant program in AB 1147 supports two kinds of planning and infrastructure efforts. One is inspired by the idea of a 15-minute city. A 15-minute city is a place where practically everything people need is accessible by a 15-minute bike ride or walk. The other is a program to fund the development of bicycle highways.
We’ll repeat that since you probably just dropped your coffee: bicycle highways. A bicycle highway is a limited access, fast-moving, separated route for bikes only. Imagine riding across town without dodging cars or pedestrians.
Of the few examples in the United States, the Minneapolis Midtown Greenway best illustrates a separated bikeway connected to the street grid by highway-style ramps. Bicycle highways create safe places for the majority of people who don’t feel safe sharing streets with cars. At the same time, they also serve confident riders who seek fast and convenient bike trips.
The bill’s grant program for 15-minute cities could provide funding for CalBike’s proposed bikeway network grant program. The program would provide substantial funding to communities willing to design safe bikeways that offer continuous connections to key destinations. It would also include incentives to avoid the compromises that create roadblocks in otherwise connected networks. For example, the bill would discourage city officials from refusing to approve parking or traffic lane removal that’s necessary to bridge a gap in an otherwise safe, low-stress bikeway network.
What is a 15-minute city?
Friedman’s grant program may be Inspired by the commitment of the Parisian mayor to make Paris a 15-minute city. A 15-minute city is a city where residents can reach the services they need within 15 minutes without getting in a car. The 15-minute city requires mixed-use zoning where grocery stores and other shops, schools, medical offices, and workspaces are situated among or near residences.
Cities use different definitions of the 15-minute city radius: it could be walking distance, biking distance, or 15 minutes on public transit.
That’s why Friedman suggested that the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) host the 15-minute city grant program. The SGC brings together people from multiple state agencies to coordinate efforts to create a more sustainable California. AB 1147 would fund multi-faceted planning and land-use changes needed to increase density. This will bring key destinations closer to where people live. The 15-minute city could be coming to a neighborhood near you if AB 1147 becomes law.
Next steps for AB 1147
This bill is a wonky piece of legislation with dozens of provisions about compliance and policies and process. It only has a number, not a name. But sometimes visionary change comes in a deceptively bland wrapper. Assembly Bill 1147 is a truly innovative piece of legislation that could open the door to more liveable communities, more humane commutes, and stronger neighborhoods.
CalBike strongly supports the concepts of bicycle highways and 15-minute cities. We are working with legislators to ensure the bikeway network concepts in AB 1147 are clearly defined and fully funded.
Initially, funding for the projects in this bill was slated to come from the Active Transportation Program (ATP). However, the ATP is already oversubscribed. We don’t want to see funding stripped from other worthy active transportation projects to meet the very worthy goals of this initiative. Instead, a group of nonprofits is asking that the funding come from California’s $15 billion budget surplus.
We are excited to watch the evolution of this revolutionary bill. Stay tuned for opportunities to voice your support as it makes its way through the legislature and to the governor’s desk.