Positive Results for Active Transportation, Amid Disappointments
On Friday, October 8, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a list of bills he had signed or vetoed. The list included vetoes of three of the most important bills that would have made our streets and communities safer and more livable.
While we were extremely disappointed by the vetoes, there were some bright spots for active transportation in the 2021 legislative session. California assemblymembers and senators introduced a raft of legislation that could transform our communities for the better. Many of these bills would have served to slow our trajectory toward climate catastrophe.
Some outstanding bills got stalled out in committee long before they could reach the governor’s desk—you can read about those in our mid-session and post-session legislative recaps. But several bills did make it into law, and those that didn’t still succeeded in adding critical issues to statewide and national discussions about who has the right to be safe and comfortable using public streets.
Progress happened through several channels
While legislation got most of the attention, wins for people who bike came from other government actions this year, too. For example, several of the candidates CalBike supported in 2020 showed that they are true bike champions by supporting bike-friendly bills and active transportation funding.
And it’s hard to understate the consequences of Laura Friedman becoming chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee. We knew Friedman was an ally when she attended the last California Bicycle Summit in Los Angeles. She earned cheers at the Summit for challenging the comments of a Caltrans speaker and saying that safe roads for our children are more important than the convenient delivery of products from Amazon. Still, she has exceeded our expectations, authoring impactful legislation (though AB 1147 was the victim of one of the Governor’s vetoes – see below) and shifting the focus of the committee’s efforts toward building the green transportation networks we will need to navigate a world wracked by climate change. We are lucky to have champions like Assemblymember Friedman supporting active transportation in California.
We also saw progress through the work of the California Walk and Bike Technical Advisory Committee, of which CalBike is a member. The committee submitted a promising request to narrow the minimum lane width to 10 feet. The current minimum width of 11 feet often precludes the ability to install a bicycle lane or widen a sidewalk. The committee proved that there is no evidence that wider vehicle lanes are safer, and plenty of reasons to allow narrower lanes, including lower vehicle speeds. We are optimistic that Caltrans will accept this road design change, which could have a major impact on street redesign across California.
And, of course, CalBike won a big victory for biking by getting our $10 million E-Bike Affordability Program fully funded through the budget process. Now, we are working with CARB to shape the structure of the program, which will begin to distribute e-bike grants in July 2022. Sign the form below to get notified when purchase incentives are available.
Governor Newsom’s lack of vision
A few weeks after the governor survived a recall, with the support of CalBike and other active transportation advocacy organizations, he showed us why he might not be the visionary leader that California needs in a time of climate crisis. He relied on selective and biased data in his veto statements for CalBike’s bills, showing that he’s out of touch with the needs of people who bike and walk, particularly communities of color.
The legislature recognized that the Freedom to Walk Act and the Bicycle Safety Stop Bill would have made the streets safer for the most vulnerable users but, unfortunately, the governor was swayed by the “windshield perspective” of law enforcement, a group that has historically been biased against bike riders.
Another disappointment was Newsom’s veto of AB 1147, which CalBike strongly supported. The bill would have initiated coordination among California planning agencies to help reach our climate goals. It calls for the prioritization of 15-minute communities where low-carbon living becomes possible because goods and services are no more than 15 minutes from any residence. The bill does not fund these projects but begins the process of planning them, making this a powerful climate-reduction tool.
“The climate crisis is real, and it’s here now. We need to reduce the impacts of our transportation system quickly, not years in the future. AB 1147 would have given California communities crucial tools to add safe biking and walking infrastructure so that everyone from 8 to 80 years old has the option to choose active transportation to get around their communities. We are disappointed that Governor Newsom lacked the vision to see that this bill is essential to a happier, healthier, and more climate-resilient California.”Dave Snyder, CalBike Executive Director
In his veto message for AB 1147, the governor cited ongoing negotiations to allocate additional funding to active transportation and rail projects. That’s a weak excuse for his lack of support of a bill that would have allowed communities to embark on the radical infrastructure changes we will need if we have any hope of combatting climate change. CalBike hopes the ideas articulated in Assemblymember Friedman’s visionary bill, which both houses of the legislature endorsed, will not die with this veto.
Now, some good news
Governor Newsom did sign AB 43 to give communities more leeway to lower speed limits to make streets safer for people who walk and bike.
Bills that pass the legislature but don’t get a veto or a signature from the governor automatically become law. Several bills that CalBike supported fell into this category:
- AB 773 will make it easier for communities to continue or expand Slow Streets programs like the ones put in place during the pandemic.
- SB 69 advances a rails-to-trails project to create a bikeway from Sonoma County to Humboldt County.
- SB 339 expands a pilot project in what we hope will be a move toward mileage-based road user fees that will discourage driving and encourage alternate transportation modes.
- SB 671 is an essential step toward reducing toxic emissions from diesel trucks in freight corridors, which are often adjacent to disadvantaged communities.
Left in limbo
Several bills on CalBike’s watchlist became two-year bills. This means that the legislation may come back in 2022, with a shorter path to passage or failure. One of the bills we’re watching most closely is AB 371, which includes insurance requirements that could end bike-share in California if it passes as currently written. We will work with the author to try and craft a bill that meets the need for better liability insurance for shared micromobility while ensuring that Californians still have access to this vital transportation option.
You can see the final status of all the bills CalBike followed on our legislative watch page or in the chart below.