CalBike signed on to this letter in support of the California Transportation Commission’s request for $2 billion of supplemental funding for active transportation projects. Our letter, joined by key long-term allies in advocacy for active transportation, differs from the Commission’s request in that it suggests spending half of that $2 billion on unfunded applications in the last cycle of the Active Transportation Program instead of three-quarters of the funding. We agree the balance of the funding should be used for bicycle highways and complete bicycle networks as suggested in AB 147
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
COURT OF APPEALS RULING AFFIRMS RIGHT OF CYCLISTS TO SAFE ROADS
The California Court of Appeal recently rejected an appeal by the County of Sonoma that would have threatened the safety of everybody who rides bikes on roads “for recreation.”
The case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Catherine Williams, who suffered severe and permanent injuries when she struck a large pothole on a county road. The 4-inch deep, 13 square foot wide pothole had been reported to the County six weeks earlier. The jury sided with Williams, declaring the road to be an illegal “dangerous condition.”
The County’s appeal claimed that Williams was engaging in a “sport” and therefore had to assume the risk of a crash, according to state law that exempts the state from liability for dangers inherent in a sport. The Court disagreed, stating that the County already owed a duty to other foreseeable users of the road to repair the pothole, the policy reasons underlying the primary assumption of risk doctrine support the conclusion that the County owes a duty not to increase the inherent risks of long-distance, recreational cycling.
The decision is incredibly important to everyone who rides a bike on public roads.
Eris Weaver, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, hailed the victory. “As California burns, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get people out of cars is visible in the smoky air. The vast increase in bike sales since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates great interest and willingness among our residents to shift their mode of transportation. The ruling in this case affirms the rights of ALL users to safe transportation and puts cities and counties on notice that cyclists cannot be treated as second-class citizens.” with the County, the government would have no expectation of safe conditions on the roadway
Napa appellate specialist Alan Charles “Chuck” Dell’Ario represented Williams on appeal following an excellent trial presentation by Oakland lawyers Todd Walburg and co-counsel Celine Cutter. “This is an important victory for the cycling community statewide,” Dell’Ario said. “All public entities have a duty not to increase the inherent risks of cycling.” The state association of counties and league of cities had filed briefs supporting the county.
“We’re grateful that the Court demonstrated common sense. Bicycling is a joyful thing and not a dangerous sport if the government maintains the roads in the condition that they should,” said Dave Snyder, Executive Director of the California Bicycle Coalition.
CalBike is delighted to endorse Abigail Medina to represent Senate District 23.
As Executive Director of Inland Region Equality Network (IREN), Abigail Medina has championed environmental protections, educational improvement, equality, and fair treatment of LGBT+ individuals in San Bernardino and throughout the Inland Empire. When she is elected to represent Senate District 23, Medina has identified unsafe conditions for pedestrians and cyclists and unsafe communities that allow diesel trucks to enter low-income communities bringing in emissions and toxic air as two of her top priorities in the transportation sector. Medina’s environmental justice and safe streets vision is long-needed in SD 23, where the outgoing incumbent has ignored both.
Senate District 23’s sprawling and oddly-shaped region is comprised of some of the state’s highest peaks, with the communities of the San Bernardino mountains, and some of the lowest valleys, including the cities of Rancho Cucamonga and Hemet. This is definitely some of the most difficult biking and walking terrain in California, but that doesn’t stop Medina from supporting policies that make streets more walkable and bike-able vs. car-oriented infrastructure updates. She is appalled that pedestrian and cyclist deaths “continue to happen and that elected officials have done very little to address these tragedies.” CalBike enthusiastically supports Abigail Medina for SD 23.
The rest of her questionnaire responses are equally impressive for their breadth and depth of knowledge. For these reasons, we are excited to see Abigail Medina emerge as a prominent candidate in the SD 23 race. We look forward to seeing her provide the leadership needed to work toward safer and more sustainable transportation alternatives for all Californians.
CalBike endorses Abigail Medina for Senate District 23. Please visit her website to find out how you can pitch in and vote for Abigail Medina by November 3, 2020.
CalBike enthusiastically endorses John Laird for Senate District 17.
As former California Secretary for Natural Resources, John Laird is well-poised to create a stronger climate policy through a cross-sector approach. This includes building higher housing densities in major urban areas, restoring the commitment to operations funds for public transportation, and making a financial commitment to underserved communities so that they are not priced out of being a part of the transportation solution. These may seem like minor proposals in combatting our climate crisis, but transportation advocates know these will be bold and important moves for Senate District 17 and all of California.
SD 17 covers California’s central coast from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo. The area is highly dependent on cars. Laird still understands that significantly increasing the Active Transportation Program and creating alternatives to cars are important for his constituents. In his response to whether 1.6% of the total transportation budget is enough for biking and walking investments, Laird said he is “clearly committed to doing significantly more” as he did for nine years as a member of his local transportation commission. And that “more” includes prioritizing state transportation allocations for low-income populations, according to Laird. He has already shown his commitment to increased funding for under-served communities during his eight years at California’s Strategic Growth Council.
The rest of his questionnaire responses are equally impressive for their breadth and depth of knowledge. For these reasons, we are excited to see John Laird emerge as a prominent candidate in the Senate District 17 race. We look forward to seeing him provide the leadership needed to work toward safer and more sustainable transportation alternatives for all Californians.
CalBike is pleased to endorse John Laird for Senate District 17. Please visit his website to see how you can pitch in and vote for John Laird by November 3, 2020.
For immediate release 5/14/2020
Contact: Dave Snyder, email@example.com, 916-251-9433
California Bicycle Coalition Applauds Caltrans Move to Add Complete Streets to SHOPP Projects
At the May 13, 2020 meeting of the California Transportation Commission (CTC), the Director of the State Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Toks Omishakin, asked the CTC to set aside $100 million from the 2020 State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) for bike and pedestrian safety improvements in SHOPP projects. CalBike applauds Caltrans leadership for championing the Complete Streets improvements that many California streets desperately need. Please take a moment to thank Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin.
A technicality at the CTC meeting prevented the commission from approving the whole $100 million. However, the conversation among commissioners made it clear that they intend to approve the rest of the funding at its next meeting in June.
The request came as part of the director’s stated commitment to make good on the governor’s promise that Caltrans will implement the intent of last year’s Complete Streets Act despite his veto. “While the state has a long way to go to turn the SHOPP and other state programs into funding sources for safety and sustainability and equity, this unprecedented action indicates the agency is serious about changing how it implements the SHOPP. These funds are essential to make desperately needed improvements for biking and walking safety,” said Dave Snyder, CalBike Executive Director.
Prior to the meeting, Commissioners received a letter from CalBike as part of a coalition of organizations led by Esther Rivera of California Walks. The letter commended the proposal to set aside $100 million, but expressed concern that Caltrans might not spend that money on the projects that would make the most difference because of its poor record of community engagement. Caltrans did identify 22 projects that would benefit from $50 million of the funding, but at the CTC meeting, Director Omishakin made clear that Caltrans would work with community partners to improve outreach. Several other high-ranking Caltrans staff have already reached out to CalBike offering to collaborate on outreach so that they can make the best decisions on how to prioritize that $100 million.
When Governor Newsom vetoed the Complete Streets for Healthy Living bill (SB 127 – Wiener) last year, it was a blow for the safe streets movement. The bill would have required Caltrans to consider adding Complete Streets elements to repair projects on state routes that double as local streets. It also created a public comment process if Caltrans decided Complete Streets features were infeasible. However, the governor issued a statement with his veto that made it clear that he expected Caltrans to find a way to implement the spirit of the law. With the 2020 SHOPP, we can see that Caltrans takes the need for Complete Streets seriously.
There has never been a more important time to build streets that encourage biking, walking, and taking transit. Changing our transit choices is a critical element of climate change mitigation. In addition, the current pandemic has shown us how vital California’s street spaces are to provide safe places to exercise and get fresh air. And bikes have become an even more important transportation option, to create space on public transit for those who need to ride and provide healthy and inexpensive transit for essential workers.
For bicycles to be truly useful as everyday transportation, people need secure places to park them. CalBike is sponsoring the Bike Parking Bill (AB 3153–Rivas) to encourage housing developers to provide secure bike parking in new housing developments. At the same time, AB 3153 will increase housing affordability and reduce car dependence by allowing developers to build fewer car parking spots.
The Bike Parking Bill is one of the few pieces of legislation not directly related to COVID-19 that is still on track for consideration this year. On May 12, it had a hearing in the Local Government Committee, which is now meeting by remote video conference. The Committee made some smart amendments and passed AB 3153 out of committee.
AB 3153 will not affect every development, but it will have a profound impact on the developments it does impact, if it passes and is approved by the Governor. It will represent a strong statement by the state that preserving every locally required car parking space is not more important than bike parking or affordable housing. CalBike is working with stakeholders to continue to improve this bill as it moves forward. We’ll keep you posted on its progress.
Pedestrian push buttons are the bain of walkers everywhere. You push it and wait for the walk signal. And wait. And wait. Many pedestrians assume the button is broken (or don’t know they need to push a button) and cross against the light. This unpleasant brainchild of car-first engineering is called the “beg” button for good reason: people in cars pass freely, while those on foot must beg for the privilege of crossing the road.
As we all work to stay infection-free during the coronavirus pandemic, beg buttons have become a new threat. It’s hazardous to force pedestrians to touch a surface that many others have also touched. As a result, some California cities have temporarily disabled some or all beg buttons, replacing them with light timing that automatically includes pedestrian cycles and walk signals. On the other hand, officials in some cities still refuse to turn off the buttons, despite the increased risk due to COVID-19.
The need to disable beg buttons for infection control will not be transient. As California loosens the stay at home guidelines and people begin to move around more, we will need to be even more careful not to touch surfaces in public places.
Even when the concern for infection dissipates, we should remove beg buttons from California streets. CalBike is ready to throw our support behind local and statewide campaigns to help planners understand why they should #banbegbuttons.
Beg buttons penalize people for walking
Before beg buttons were invented, city engineers would program the lights to switch from green to red and back again on a cycle that promotes the flow of traffic. Each cycle had to include a pedestrian walk phase in each direction; there was no other way for pedestrians to get the all-clear to cross the street.
In an intersection with a beg button, engineers program the traffic signals for cars without regard to people needing to walk across the street. Some green cycles may be so short that a pedestrian has no chance to cross, unless they press a button.
This presents a barrier to walking in several different ways:
- Pedestrians have to wait much longer for a walk signal. If your walk includes multiple beg buttons, this can substantially increase the time it takes to get to your destination. This creates a disincentive for walking.
- Pedestrians often have to wait even when the light is green for cars in the direction they want to cross. A green light for phase for cars may display a red hand for pedestrians unless you push a button. If you push the button in the middle of a green phase for cars, you usually have to wait another full cycle before getting a walk signal.
- Beg buttons are often hard to access, especially for people with disabilities and mobility issues. Engineers often install a beg button on the nearest pole, which may not be near the crosswalk. Beg buttons frequently violate ADA guidelines.
- People often get frustrated with beg buttons or don’t realize they need to push them. Then they cross against the light, putting themselves in danger.
Beg buttons help car drivers by inconveniencing and slowing down walkers. Every time a city installs new beg buttons, that is a physical representation of prioritization of cars and disregard for pedestrians.
Beg buttons are bad for bikes, too
Beg buttons don’t only increase the burden on walkers. They also make it many orders of magnitude harder for bikes to navigate intersections.
- Bicyclists often ride on quieter streets, so they may often end up waiting through long cycles at intersections.
- Loop detectors in the pavement should detect bikes, but they often don’t. Even if they were adjusted to be sensitive enough to pick up a bike, cars passing over the pavement can throw the detectors off. When that happens, bike riders either have to wait for a car to turn the light or dismount and push a beg button.
- Signal detection cameras are somewhat more able to pick up bikes than in-pavement detectors, but they are prone to adjustment problems as well. Grime on the camera lens can prevent them from sensing bikes.
When cities turn beg buttons off, the light cycles from red to green and back again. Everyone gets a turn without hassle: bike riders, walkers, and car drivers.
Local advocates ask cities to #BanBegButtons
There is a small but growing movement to rid California intersections of beg buttons permanently. So far, the action has been at the city level. CalBike supports these local efforts. We will stand with our advocacy partners if a statewide effort seems appropriate in the future.
It’s time to stop penalizing pedestrians and bicyclists. California cities need to #BanBegButtons now!
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life across California. In an effort to enforce physical distancing, many local and state parks have been closed. Yet, people need to get fresh air and they need to exercise. During the stay at home order, many more people than usual are walking, running, or biking. Advocates have been pushing local governments to create Slow Streets – streets that prioritize human movement and provide the space people need to exercise and still stay safe.
Adversity is a great teacher. It shows us what we need more clearly than words can explain.
Like the Open Streets movement, these hyper-local Slow Streets give residents a chance to experience their neighborhoods in a new way. Without cars, streets are wide expanses available for rolling and playing. Kids can learn to bike without worrying about traffic.
Cities around the world and across the US have reallocated street space for use by people-powered movement during the shutdown. California cities, however, have been slow to join the movement. Oakland was the first California city to create Slow Streets for recreation, starting on April 14. As of this writing, Oakland has been joined by neighboring Emeryville and San Francisco. Advocates in Los Angeles, San Diego, Berkeley, Alameda, and other cities are pushing their local governments to follow suit.
If you want to bring open streets to your community during California’s stay at home order (or anytime), here are some tips on how to make that happen.
A Guide to Bringing Slow Streets to Your Community
To compile this guide, we spoke with some of the activists who helped pioneer Oakland’s Slow Streets. Advocates from Bike East Bay, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO), Transport Oakland, and TransForm worked with the city to help launch an ambitious project to create 74 miles of temporary open streets, called Oakland Slow Streets.
While every community has different concerns and considerations, the takeaways from Oakland’s launch are a good place to start. The city established an important principle up front, by committing not to use the Slow Streets program as an excuse to hand out traffic tickets. In addition, Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods and residents provide lessons that will be applicable in many California communities.
It helps to have a strong advocacy community
When the shelter in place took effect in the Bay Area, advocates got together to discuss the changes needed to keep people safe on the streets. They presented a list to OakDOT. The list included turning off beg buttons, widening sidewalks with cones, changing traffic lights to flashing lights, and messaging about safe driving.
Oakland’s DOT was reluctant to implement most of the items on this list (the advocates are still working on this). But the department surprised them with a different, bold option: a plan to open 74 miles for human-powered recreation. While the city advanced this plan, participation and support from advocates was essential and they continue to work with the city on implementation and iteration of the program.
It’s not too late to bring Slow Streets to your community. Find your local bicycle coalition or active transportation group, join, and agitate!
Build relationships with city staffers and elected officials
The long-term relationships between advocates and city staffers created a foundation of trust. That made it easier for Oakland to launch its ambitious program, because it knew it could lean on walking and biking nonprofits to supplement city resources. And the solid relationships meant that it was easy for each party to reach out to the other.
Build on existing bike networks and campaigns
Oakland chose the 74 miles of current and planned neighborhood bikeways to designate as Slow Streets. While some streets have been taken off the list and others added, the fact that these streets were already in the bike plan gave the city a starting point for the Slow Streets program. Campbell said that the fact that the streets were already in an approved bike plan helped get the city council members on board with Slow Streets.
In addition, speeding was an issue in Oakland neighborhoods long before the stay at home order. “This is such a quick implementation, but WOBO had been pushing the Slow Oakland campaign for many months in advance,” said Chris Hwang, the president of WOBO’s Board of Directors. WOBO was already working on a Slow Oakland campaign to raise awareness of the impact of speed on survivability, street design to lower speeds, especially around schools, and getting people to take a pledge to drive more slowly.
That campaign provided a ready-made foundation for Oakland’s Slow Streets. “It’s not a coincidence that the new signage that’s going up looks like our Slow Oakland materials,” Hwang said.
Keep up the pressure
Oakland is an unusual case because city staffers came up with their own bold plan and had the willingness to roll it out quickly. “Our wish list did not include 74 miles of Slow Streets,” said Bike East Bay Advocacy Director Dave Campbell.
In this case, the city exceeded the advocates’ expectations. But, without a strong advocacy community to lobby for the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians, the building blocks for the city’s plan might not have been in place.
And, in many other cities around California, it’s pressure from bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations and others that will convince staffers and elected leaders to create Slow Streets. It doesn’t hurt that Oakland did it first to provide an example. But activists applying pressure is a key element. Don’t give up.
Do as much outreach as possible and engage local residents
Outreach is hard when you are implementing a quick solution during a crisis, but it’s still essential. “To build a really strong community, you’ve got to have people feel welcomed and that they can be engaged and things don’t have to be dumbed down for them. People are very smart about what needs to be done for their community,” Hwang said. “We tend to be a little bit blind to what people hold closely as priorities for themselves and their families. We could do way better on that.”
However, as Campbell noted, “You can’t knock on people’s doors” because of physical distancing rules. In Oakland, supporters turned to social media as one way to spread the word. “You need engagement because someone is likely to complain,” he noted. You need a local resident to say, ‘This is more important than your concern.’”
In Oakland’s case, much of the outreach has been done during the project. Oakland started with just four streets and has added a few more each week, making adjustments based on community feedback. San Francisco seems to be following a similar model with its COVID open streets program.
Choose your branding carefully
Oakland set a good example with its Slow Streets program. CalBike has been hearing from our statewide network that Slow Streets is a better way to brand these temporary open streets than names that include Open Streets or Safe Streets. A name like Slow Streets helps politicians understand that the streets aren’t closed to cars completely, only to faster through traffic. This helps allay concerns that these streets for COVID distancing will be similar to Open Streets events, which can draw large crowds.
“I think Slow Streets work better for Oakland,” Hwang said. “It differentiates from Open Streets events, and is a bit more descriptive for neighbors and drivers alike.”
Even better, Slow Streets is a concept that can extend to a permanent network of greenways for safe and low-stress biking. Oakland’s Slow Streets, after all, were built on the foundation of WOBO’s pre-coronavirus campaign to slow traffic and create safer streets. If you call your plan Slow Streets (or something in that vein), you are well-positioned to lobby to make all or part of the program permanent after the pandemic passes.
Create a mechanism for evaluation and feedback
It’s important to give people an easily-accessible way to provide feedback (other than knocking over barricades). In Oakland, that has taken the form of a survey and calls and reports to 311.
It’s important to see how people are using the open streets and whether they relieve pressure on crowded parks. This is something that advocates can help with. “In Oakland, we’re ready to do almost all of the evaluation,” Campbell said.
Be willing to iterate and save some resources for adjustments
Ben Kaufman of Transport Oakland, said, “In some neighborhoods there’s a huge response. In others, there’s not much change in the streets. Be able to iterate if you need it.”
Iterations require budget. Make sure the city reserves some budget to implement changes.
Leverage existing networks to get the word out
“You don’t have to build up neighborhood networks from the ground up,” Hwang said. They are already there and you should use them to get the word out so local residents feel included in the process. This can include neighborhood associations, churches, health clinics, and school districts. The Oakland Unified School District does mass communication to thousands of families and distributes food at several locations. Hwang suggests getting “trusted messengers” to spread the word as much as possible.
Keep it simple to minimize staff time needed
One objection that cities have raised to COVID open streets is that they don’t have the budget to implement it properly. However, these projects can be simple and cheap. In Oakland’s case, the city kept things low-key, with barricades and signage to mark the Slow Streets. Neighboring Emeryville brought in water-filled barriers to separate people from cars.
The city will need some engineering time to draw up plans for traffic diversion and crews to place barricades and signs. Bike coalitions can help by asking volunteers to put up signage and serve as (safely distanced) ambassadors. Getting local residents to act as block monitors also helps. “They can be the best messengers of what this is about,” Hwang said.
Oakland may not be able to get to all 74 miles of streets in its plan. “I think it reflects the very real resource constraints the DOT is under,” Kaufman said. He noted that, if the city’s DOT were fully staffed, it could have implemented the plan more quickly.
Still, if Oakland can find a way to do COVID open streets while short-staffed, other cities have no excuse.
Recognize that different neighborhoods may need different solutions
Hwang noted that neighborhoods where there were Oaklavias (Oakland’s Open Streets) tended to embrace the Slow Streets. “Having a real life experience with what things could be like made them more receptive,” she said. “I worry that it’s an uneven experience. You shouldn’t expect that people are going to take this up right away.”
Allow neighborhoods to give their open street its own flavor. Rather than a one-size-fits-all model, create a big framework that can encompass different manifestations.
Support DIY street closures and help make them official
Some people in Oakland couldn’t wait for Slow Streets to come to them, so they made their own. In Oakland’s Brookdale neighborhood, residents closed the street completely using art and found objects and providing their own block monitors. The DIY element adds creativity and fun to open streets.
“That’s a good example of neighbors DIY upgrading a Slow Street and making it better,” Campbell said. “A successful program has a significant DIY component to it.”
Keep Slow Streets local
Slow Streets are different from Open Streets events. You don’t want people to come from all over the city to enjoy the open streets because that can create crowding, which is exactly what COVID open streets are designed to remedy.
You want residents to know it’s coming and to know what it is when it shows up. But you don’t want to tell people who live far away too much because then they’re going to go to it. That’s the challenge,” Campbell said. To keep the streets open for local residents, he said, “Do more than one street. Do a lot.” That’s the best way to create enough space for safe local recreation.
Good signage is a vital communication tool – and it’s harder than you think
Oakland’s Slow Streets allow access for local car traffic, deliveries, and emergency vehicles. Their signage said, “Road Closed to Thru Traffic.” Many people misinterpreted or misunderstood this wording.
“A lot of people did not understand what ‘no thru traffic’ means,” Hwang said. In addition, it was tough to translate that wording into other languages. For example, the concept of “thru traffic” doesn’t directly translate into Chinese. What we think of as simple road signage is not so simple,” she said. “Even in English, people didn’t understand.”
Kaufman thought more nuanced signage would have helped in the initial rollout. “It took us a couple of weeks for the city to have signs people could print out,” he said. He felt that signage with the Slow Streets branding made it easier to communicate to local residents.
Don’t use the police to enforce the open streets
One of the big concerns in Oakland is that Slow Streets might bring oppressive enforcement into communities that are already over-policed. It’s a program failure if open streets lead to racial profiling or oppression of disadvantaged communities. “You just don’t want the police involved,” Campbell said. “You want them doing things that are more important for police officers to do.”
“There should be no need for the police,” he added. “If the design of your system requires some kind of enforcement or security personnel monitoring, you didn’t design it right. Go back and redesign it.”
Toole Design has additional insights about not using police to enforce social distancing and open streets.
More resources for creating #COVID19Streets
There are some great resources for planners and advocates who want to create Slow Streets.
Toole Design recorded a webinar about Rebalancing Streets for People.
The League of American Bicyclists hosted a webinar on adapting streets for COVID-19.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy also held a webinar and you can watch the recording.
NACTO has created a toolkit of rapid responses for cities.
If you need more inspiration, urban planner Mike Lydon has been tracking #COVID19Streets from around the world in a google spreadsheet, to give you a basis for comparison. Transportation researcher Dr. Tabitha Coombs has compiled a comprehensive database of urban responses to the need for more open space around the world.
Oakland’s experience covers a lot of bases, but other communities may have additional issues. Did we miss something that’s important in your neighborhood? Is there a resource we didn’t include? Let us know. We will update this guide with additional best practices.
One of the bills CalBike is sponsoring, AB 3153 (Rivas), seeks to alleviate two problems: housing affordability and last mile transportation. The bill allows developers to build fewer car parking spots than the minimum required by local planning regulations if they replace the car parking spaces with bike parking spots. The bill also allows developers to replace required car parking spaces with car sharing spaces. It is written to ensure that stronger local bike parking requirements will still apply.
This bill is an important step forward. It’s one of many we need to develop the housing stock we need with the urban density to make car-free transportation a viable option.
Parking minimums and affordability
In the discussion of solutions to California’s housing crisis, the role of car parking gets too little attention. Many cities have minimum parking requirements for new buildings. Each unit of housing must also include a unit of car storage. This adds to the expense of the project and drives up the cost of housing. When units are sold or rented with parking, residents who don’t own cars are forced to pay for extra space they don’t need. Parking construction and especially parking minimums are another more way we embed car culture into our built environment.
AB 3153 makes it easier to get around by bike
AB 3153 will increase the amount of secure bike parking available in new buildings. It’s especially important where cities have no minimum bike parking requirements. If you don’t have a safe space to store a bike, a bike is a risky investment. If your only secure choice is to carry your bike up stairs into your apartment, you may have to forego the option of using a bike for transportation in your community. Since bicycle parking spots are much cheaper to build than car parking spots, AB 3153 will reduce building costs while supporting green transportation. It’s a win for affordable housing and a win for affordable transportation.
California can’t wait till the pandemic passes to deal with its housing shortage. That’s why the bill’s author chose to keep this bill alive despite the pressure to reduce the number of bills moving forward.
While many of the bills that were introduced in this session have been tabled because of the need to focus on solutions to the coronavirus crisis, AB 3153 will have its first hearing soon. CalBike will follow it every step of the way and advocate to keep it strong. The AB 3153 fact sheet has more information.
Oakland became the first California city to join the growing list of world cities that are designating COVID open streets. Open streets are a smart way to create more public space for walking and biking during the coronavirus pandemic. Oakland designated 74 miles of its existing and proposed neighborhood bikeway network as “closed to through traffic so that people can more comfortably use these low-traffic streets for physically distant walking, wheelchair rolling, jogging, and biking all across the City.” About 10% of Oakland’s roadways will become COVID open streets.
Tactical urban expert Mike Lydon is tracking emergency open streets projects around the world. Oakland is now at the top of the list by a wide margin.
1) Oakland: 74 miles
2) Minneapolis: 18.3 miles
3) Denver: 16.1 miles
4) Louisville: 11 miles
5) Vancouver, BC: 10.53 miles
— Mike Lydon (@MikeLydon) April 10, 2020
COVID Open Streets
Many Californians are rediscovering the bicycle right now. It is a great way to maintain physical distance while traveling for essential work or getting exercise. The same thing is happening with walking. CalBike and many other organizations are promoting and supporting the trend. CalBike helped to get the state to clarify that bike repair shops are essential California businesses. But the sidewalks and bikeways remain crowded because we have given almost all of our shared space to cars, not people.
Like Open Streets events, COVID open streets demonstrate an alternative way of organizing our communities. “We hope that people will deeply appreciate the safety, the serenity, the civility, of open streets during this special period and demand that those conditions are made permanent after this crisis passes,” said Dave Snyder, Executive Director of the California Bicycle Coalition.
Oakland Sets the Bar High with 74 Miles of “Slow Streets”
In Oakland, local advocates had been in conversation with the city about opening Oakland streets for walking and biking and closing those streets to most car traffic. The organizations pushing for COVID open streets include Bike East Bay, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO), Transport Oakland, and Transform. Even so, they were surprised by the speed with which the City of Oakland moved ahead with the plan, according to Bike East Bay Advocacy Director Dave Campbell.
Campbell and representatives of other advocacy groups are still talking with the city about the implementation of the plan. The city’s web page for the program, called Oakland Slow Streets, lists four areas that will be closed to most traffic starting on Saturday, April 11. Local traffic and emergency vehicles are still allowed to enter while the streets are closed to through traffic. Officials plan to use tactical urbanism to implement the changes. This may include strategically parked cars, traffic cones, and lots of signs.
“We applaud the City of Oakland’s actions that will keep residents healthy and safe during the shelter in place order,” Campbell said. “We look forward to partnering with more Oakland communities and neighborhoods to understand how to best create open space for safe physical distancing.”
Campbell spoke with CalBike from one of the open streets on the first morning of implementation. He reported a street filled with roller skaters, dog-walkers, joggers, and lots of kids, all safely physically distanced. “It’s working well on the first day,” he said.
The test will be in the days to come. Campbell hopes there won’t be any police activity on the COVID open streets. He emphasized that it’s important that families still feel free to use the streets in front of their homes. Local residents shouldn’t feel pushed out by people coming from other neighborhoods.
Will Other California Cities Join Oakland?
Biking and walking advocates have been pressuring other California cities for open streets during this time. Los Angeles advocates have proposed a huge network of open streets. In San Francisco the SF Bicycle Coalition and others have proposed closing John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park to cars to increase space for walking and biking. Officials in both of those cities opposed the measures, citing concerns that they would attract too many people. The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition on Friday sent letters to officials in cities throughout their region asking for emergency bikeways and sidewalk widenings.
Emeryville may be the next California city to create open streets during the stay at home order. City Councilmember John Bauters gave CalBike this statement: “As the Emeryville City Council’s Transportation Committee members, Councilmember [Ally] Medina and I have outlined a long term vision that converts public streets into bicycle and pedestrian-only rights of way. We are in discussions with city staff about how to pilot or otherwise implement some of our ideas during COVID-19, including the closure or limitation of some streets to vehicular traffic.” And, with Oakland setting the bar high, some other East Bay cities that had previously refused to create open streets for COVID physical distancing.
We hope that more communities in California will opt for open streets to allow healthy, distanced exercise. And, after the pandemic recedes, we hope that towns and cities will move aggressively to create space for safe biking and walking every day. That’s a step we need to take to mitigate the even bigger looming crisis of climate change.
Bring COVID Open Streets to Your Neighborhood
The pandemic opens up some possibilities at the same time it forecloses others. California’s state and local governments have shown their willingness to make difficult choices to benefit public health. We have all seen how quickly we can adapt to huge changes in our daily lives.