CalBike and allies give the new Governor a hard-hitting reality check about the California Transportation Commission he’s inheriting, and make some recommendations for appointments that would change the direction of the agency that controls billions of dollars in annual spending.
For just the second time, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) and the California Transportation Commission (CTC) held a joint session to discuss potential alignment in transportation decision-making and investments. While CalBike and our partners who work closely with these powerful agencies remain hopeful, we’re concerned that December’s meeting saw abundant discussion…and meager alignment.
Central to this 2nd joint meeting’s agenda was the Air Resources Board’s newly-released jarring and unambiguous report in response to Senate Bill 150, analyzing why our state is failing to reduce greenhouse gases from California’s transportation system. How did these two agencies respond to the report’s message? The ARB, with the authority to enforce policy changes to achieve that reduction in car trips, was mostly quiet. The CTC, with the power of the purse when it comes to transportation investments, was mostly defensive. The California Bicycle Coalition helped win and continue to support one of the reforms mandating these meetings, just as we’ll continue our efforts to engage, attend, and report on future meetings, because we understand the impact day-to-day advocacy can offer our state’s climate and communities.
Although reforms like the one that mandated this joint meeting are critically needed, attendance was light, and two of our state’s most important agencies essentially told an audience mainly comprised of transportation bureaucrats and a small party of advocates that joint action was complex, and little could be done about it.
We disagree, and we also remain hopeful.
The current membership of those two agencies may be unwilling to push back against the political and economic interest groups that maintain California’s climate-destroying status quo, but the winds of change are strengthening. Both agencies have taken some important steps – both individually and working in junction. But as the report bleakly lays out, these initial efforts have been unsuccessful in meeting California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.
What steps exactly has the state taken thus far? One of the report’s key findings is clear: “the overall ratio of dollars planned to be spent on roads versus on infrastructure for other modes in the largest regions of California has shown remarkably little shift”. In other words, the agencies may be making some progress in implementing robust California Climate Investments (CCI) or making a billion dollars of active transportation investments in the past five years, but these are minor solutions to a massive and urgent problem that demands significant action.
As the ARB’s damning report also spells out, goals and mandates for 2030 and beyond “will not be met without significant changes to how communities and transportation systems are planned, funded, and built.”
“We know both agencies have dedicated and hard-working staff who are effectively bettering the environment, beginning to redress a transportation system that was designed to foster environmental catastrophe and social exclusion. The recently released SB 350 report describing the potential coordinated actions they can take to ensure our most vulnerable populations have access to good and clean mobility opportunities is a great example.
“But they’ve simply refused to take the joint action needed to make the transformative change that the report makes clear is necessary to meet our climate change goals and reduce vast mobility inequities,” said Jared Sanchez, CalBike’s Senior Policy Advocate.
Refusing to take joint action in light of recent trends is essentially a statement of defeat and powerlessness, something our state’s implementing agencies are hardly known for. Approving billions of dollars of investments in our transportation system every year is hardly a feeble responsibility. As we have documented in the past, both the ARB and CTC have a long way to go, and it’s not the number of actions that they take but the quality of those actions that actually redress the systemic threats of deadly pollution, climate devastation, and entrenched mobility inequity. Sanchez also noted that the excuse heard several times at the joint meeting – that taking action to reduce the number of miles traveled in vehicles will hurt the economy – is based on the oft-repeated talking point that our transportation system is our state’s ‘engine for economic growth. This is not only a morally bankrupt argument, but one that rests on notions of outdated economic principles. Research has shown that inequity is, in fact, bad for economic growth.
CalBike is dedicated to ensuring that public attention on this issue does not dissipate and that the Legislature, leading officials, and most importantly incoming Governor Newsom make it clear that they take this report seriously. Our state cannot afford to lapse into a paralysis of indecision and wait for the next dire report to scare us before drifting once again into apathy and inaction.
We challenge the notion that the ARB and CTC can do little of substance. They have wide-ranging authority that has too often been used to support the bottom line of private industry in the name of economic progress – whether it’s the freight and goods movement, oil and natural gas, automobile, or the always-alluring emergent technology industries. While the needs of the privileged are catered to, it’s already been shown both agencies are clearly failing to meet the basic needs of the most marginalized communities in California.
Will this most recent SB 150 report impress upon both agencies the critical need to act now? Our regulators are well aware of the data suggesting that “more and accelerated action is critical for public health, equity, economic, and climate success” within our transportation sector. The report, and this second meeting, highlight the many ways that mobility shapes climate change and inequality in our state. The enduring actions and inactions shape the daily lives of not just the Californians today, but those of generations to come. CalBike will continue to advocate for California’s transportation policies to better serve all Californians, and we’ll update you as the state’s Air Resources Board and Transportation Commission continue their invaluable first steps at collaboration.
The largest international gathering for people involved in community-centered bicycle projects came to Los Angeles this year; CalBike sponsored Bike!Bike! to support 4 days of workshops, social networking, group rides, camping, and collaboration with some of the world’s most passionate bike mechanics, advocates, activists, and leaders. What makes Bike!Bike! so unique is the bottom-up, low-budget and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach most bike community bike shops, collectives, and cooperatives take. These type of bicycle collectives and cooperatives are often not-for-profit volunteer-run organizations aimed at providing a space for people to learn about the bicycle and build community around promoting sustainable transportation and alternative cultures to our automobile dependencies.
CalBike is a huge fan of community bike shops. Especially in neighborhoods that can’t support for-profit bike shops, community bike shops are often the first and only option for many socially marginalized communities and individuals to go to for repairs, maintenance, or just getting started on using one of the most affordable and cleanest mobility options. BikeBike! served to support those shops and to promote the values of equity, justice, inclusion, and self-empowerment that undergird most existing community bicycle projects.
Much of the credit for organizing Bike!Bike! Is due to the members of Los Angeles’ own Bicycle Kitchen/La Bicicocina, a well-respected community bike project and establishment that teaches people to work on their own bikes. It’s that simple. The Bike Kitchen is a truly DIY bike shop, workshop, and education space that centers the bike as a legitimate form of transportation.
But biking on our city streets isn’t always safe and accessible to everyone, especially for low-income communities, for Black and Indigenous communities and communities of color, for Trans, queer, and gender non-conforming communities, and for our youth and elders. So community bike shops are often filling an important vacuum for fostering new riders, while also strengthening the broader bicycle movement from below.
Community-run bike cooperatives recognize the gap they fill by often complementing the major limitations to traditional bicycle advocacy. Bike cooperatives are often doing important work developing alternative narratives that directly engage and recruit a diversity of “other” or new bicyclists. They play an important role as a counter to some mainstream advocacy that is focused more on elite strategies that exclude those without societal, cultural, racial, class, and gender privileges.
Bike co-ops often play an important role in promoting the bicycling subculture as an important arena of autonomous politics that mainstream bike advocacy just doesn’t encapsulate. Bicycling is for many of its adherents both a symbolic and practical rejection of one of the most onerous relationships capitalist society imposes: car ownership. This rejection, more specifically, may be rooted in subverting mainstream consumptive society. The bicycle has become a device that connotes self-emancipation, as well as artistic and cultural experimentation. Again, bike co-ops complement traditional advocacy by moving away from the focus on building top-down political will for infrastructure and working behind the scenes to sec
ure legislative wins, rather than integrating the broader cycling public. Community bike shops, co-ops, and collectives fill an important space that builds demand for biking, alongside more “supply-side” interventions such as infrastructure projects.
These same spaces better allow local residents to become empowered both economically and politically in ways that impact broader decision-making processes. This puts local residents in community leadership roles over its own bike development projects rather than being folded into existing projects brought in by outside interests.
However, there is no major institutional support for these type of efforts. Bike!Bike! is an ongoing effort to build support. But often, and more importantly in the short-term, events like Bike!Bike! are for building international, national, state, and local solidarity. And for sharing and learning from others in the movement, doing the hard work that cities refuse to do or doing the work that is neglected and deemed insignificant. This work provides a counter-narrative or argument against governmental priorities which are meant to “improve” or“better” communities with new infrastructure. Smaller bike cooperatives are often ignored by decision-makers who habitually miss the human element of residents struggling to make a world of their own at severe odds which have always been designed to exclude them. This is where Bike!Bike! comes in and our full-fledged support for activities and policies we are not always so well-positioned to push.
Californians have agreed to set aside funding for what the state terms “Disadvantaged Communities”, to support projects aimed at “improving public health, quality of life and economic opportunity in California’s most burdened communities at the same time reducing pollution that causes climate change.”
If we’ve prioritized these funds for our most vulnerable and negatively impacted neighbors, aren’t the definitions of what makes a community “disadvantaged” and decisions about where this funding should be prioritized critically important? Read our coalition’s Recommendations for Regional Disadvantaged Communities Definitions in the Active Transportation Program to learn more about how we can all work with our transportation system, its regulators, and the communities it most affects to ensure we meet our statewide goals.
Last week the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) held a briefing to discuss their second annual Environmental Justice Agency Assessment. The report lays out principles for the inclusion of environmental justice in policy and program implementation for state agencies, including the California Transportation Commission (CTC), an agency CalBike watches closely and which is extremely important this year given the agency’s increased role in making transportation investments from last year’s landmark transportation funding package Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.
CEJA’s assessment shows disappointing progress by the CTC in making transportation investments more equitably. Specifically, it shows that its investments sustain the inequalities burdening low-income communities of color across the state who face massive and interconnected systems of polluting highways, dangerous roadways, growing port complexes, threatening rail distribution centers, and sprawling warehouse districts. Vulnerable Californians located in close proximity to transportation infrastructure like this are exposed to dangerously high levels of nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and ozone. Predictably, they suffer more disease and shorter life expectancy as a result.
The particularly insidious problem is that once we build transportation infrastructure it impacts generations to come as all subsequent development patterns have to connect with them. The CTC has not historically critically assessed the impact of its funding on California’s disadvantaged communities, and its rush to spend the new gas tax money in advance of the proposed gas tax repeal on the ballot this November has not allowed for a critical evaluation of how that money maintains inequities.
The rush in spending money is intended to show the voters that they are getting value for their gas tax money. “Brought to you by SB 1” signs are apparent all over California. But for low-income communities burdened by transportation investments, expedited, uncritical spending is not helpful. These communities and the organizations representing them, led in part by CalBike, did not support SB 1 in the first place due to its failure to protect disadvantaged communities.
Considering that the gas tax is considered a regressive tax by low-income Californians, the CTC has a challenge in convincing the populations burdened by SB 1 infrastructure projects to vote to keep the tax. The new report by CEJA shows they have a long way to go.
An important first step for the CTC is the corridor studies they have just begun. Freight corridors can be transformed with investments to protect adjacent neighborhoods such as the electrification of all truck traffic in special lanes, the construction of better active transportation infrastructure, and better enforcement of existing pollution controls. If the CTC expects voters to support the gas tax in November, they would be wise to show early results from these corridor studies.
As a state, we must actively make space for and include environmental justice communities in all of our policy decisions. Especially when we decide to increase taxes and new funds, there must be space for our most vulnerable residents to be considered important stakeholders as well as opportunities for actual meaningful partnership. Anything else would be a failure to deliver on the promise of a California that is safe and healthy for everyone.
CalBike-supported Assembly Bill 179, introduced by Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), is part of a series of efforts to reform the powerful California Transportation Commission, an executive body with far-reaching impact. Transportation investments affect all Californians, and they often disproportionately burden our lowest-income communities. But the California Transportation Commission hasn’t met previously to coordinate its efforts with the California Air Resources Board.
Don’t transportation and clean air have a great deal to do with one another in California?
Transportation policy is one of the most intersectional areas of governance, affecting everything from the job market to the air our children breathe. If our transportation system creates problems our “clean air agency” has to solve, shouldn’t the CTC and ARB work together?
AB 179 requires the governor to use every effort to appoint a diverse commission, including commissioners representing or working with communities burdened by high levels of pollution, including those with racially or ethnically diverse, or low-income, communities.. It also requires the CTC to meet twice a year with California Air Resources Board to collaborate on the implementation of transportation policy.
That first collaborative meeting is tomorrow, and CalBike will be there.
The state and the country have made strides in equality and civil rights, but injustice is apparent every day on our streets and in the halls of power that make transportation policy and investment decisions. Transportation is about more than getting around; it shapes neighborhoods, freedoms, benefits, and opportunities.
That’s why we led the effort to develop this letter to the Air Resources Board and the California Transportation Commission about their first joint meeting with our coalition partners, and why we’ll be issuing forthcoming comments emphasizing the need and incorporation of transportation justice into state policymaking. Our work builds off the decades of grassroots and grasstops organizing on environmental and transportation justice in the state. We believe a transportation justice framework is fundamental not only to improving bike, walking, and transit use across our state, but also for meeting ambitious state goals of reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), greenhouse gas reduction, improved air quality, and of course cleaner zero-emission freight. We stand in full support of our partners who advocate for the above and strongly believe transportation justice encompassess a platform that is mutually inclusive.
If you’re in Sacramento tomorrow, please come to the public meeting and make your values heard!
E-bikes remove barriers that prevent most people from riding bikes. Bike share systems provide easy access to bikes for the quick short trip or transit connection that would otherwise require a car. Put the two together, and you have the potential to expose millions of Californians to the amazing potential of bicycles.
CalBike is working with the Air Resources Board to make e-bike share systems eligible for a $15 million Clean Mobility Options for Disadvantaged Communities program within the Low Carbon Transportation Investments and Air Quality Improvement Program.
Right now, e-bike share exists in just a few cities in California, most recently one launched in Sacramento. If we win this expansion of the program, we will encourage cities throughout the state, especially the more spread-out cities of the Central Valley, to use these funds to support expansion of e-bike share systems into disadvantaged communities throughout the state.