On January 24, Senator Scott Wiener unveiled the Speeding and Fatality Emergency Reduction (SAFER) on California Streets bill package that includes a Complete Streets Bill, SB 960. CalBike is a sponsor of the bill, the latest of several we have partnered on with Senator Wiener, a stalwart bike champion in Sacramento.
The 2024 Complete Streets Bill will require Caltrans to consider the safety of people biking, walking, and taking transit when it repaves state-controlled roadways. Caltrans’ jurisdiction includes many state routes that double as local streets. These streets can be critical connectors through urban areas and serve as small-town main streets, but they are also often among the most dangerous roads in the community.
The Complete Streets Bill is an excellent approach to make Caltrans-controlled streets safer. It might seem like a no-brainer, but similar legislation has faced opposition in the past. Here’s what you need to know to join the fight for Complete Streets.
The history of Complete Streets in California
This isn’t CalBike’s or Senator Wiener’s first attempt to pass a Complete Streets Bill. CalBike and our allies campaigned hard for SB 127, the Complete Streets for Active Living Bill, in 2019. The bill, which would have required Caltrans to consider adding elements to make biking and walking safer each time it repaved a state-controlled road, made it through the legislature only to be vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom. In his veto statement, the governor said the law wasn’t needed because Caltrans already had a Complete Streets policy and would take the steps required by the bill.
Five years later, Caltrans has updated its Complete Streets policies and does include consideration of biking and walking in many project plans. On projects like the San Pablo Avenue Corridor Project, Caltrans hasn’t stood in the way of significant roadway changes to improve active transportation. But, as CalBike’s recent user survey showed, our state road system doesn’t serve the needs of people who get around by bike or on foot. In many projects, the Complete Streets elements selected by Caltrans represent the bare minimum of improvements for people biking and walking; in some projects, cost is used to justify these mediocre facilities, and in others, to justify the absence of Complete Streets elements altogether. We need the 2024 Complete Streets Bill to codify the approach to roadway improvements that the Caltrans Complete Streets policy promised but has not delivered.
What’s in the 2024 Complete Streets Bill?
The new Complete Streets Bill includes many of the elements of SB 127, Senator Wiener’s 2019 Complete Streets legislation, but with several notable improvements.
Similar to the earlier bill, SB 960 requires “all transportation projects funded or overseen by the department to provide comfortable, convenient, and connected complete streets facilities unless an exemption is documented and approved[.]”
However, it goes a step further and mandates the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to develop 4-year and 10-year objective targets. The key word is “objective.” By setting objective targets and requiring plain language reporting of progress, the bill holds Caltrans accountable for meeting California’s climate goals for its transportation sector.
Another new element in the 2024 bill is prioritizing public transit. The bill mandates objective targets to support efficient movement of transit vehicles on state roadways and includes transit prioritization as a required feature during road repairs.
Like earlier bills, highways that don’t allow bicycle or pedestrian access will be exempted from the requirement to build Complete Streets. However, it includes a provision to improve safety for people biking, walking, or taking transit at freeway over- and underpasses and interchanges. This is crucial, because freeway on and off ramps are often some of the most dangerous spots to walk and bike through our communities.
Fact-checking Caltrans Complete Streets policy
CalBike and our allies are in the process of gathering data and analyzing how well Caltrans serves the many California residents who aren’t in cars or trucks. We aren’t ready to release the data yet, but preliminary analysis highlights the need for the 2024 Complete Streets Bill.
Our review of Caltrans’ planning documents shows the agency has set up processes to consider Complete Streets in each road repair project. For projects where people biking and walking aren’t excluded, agency staff often recommend elements to make active transportation safer.
However, the recommended Complete Streets elements aren’t always included in the final project. And the way Caltrans uses the term Complete Streets is troubling.
A Complete Street is one that includes the infrastructure needed to safely bike, walk, and use public transit, allowing any of these modes to be safe and convenient options. In its planning documents, the agency considers a project incorporating “Complete Streets” to mean that any elements that increase the safety of people biking or walking are included, without consideration of whether it includes all the features needed to truly make a roadway safe for all users. For example, a project that only includes bicycle signage or sharrows can be claimed as having added “Complete Streets” elements, even if it falls short of the treatment appropriate for the roadway type or doesn’t include all the recommended elements.
To hold Caltrans accountable, CalBike and our allies must sort through and analyze hundreds of documents, a time-consuming task that few outside the agency have the time or resources to do. The 2024 Complete Streets Bill will make the agency’s processes more transparent, and that will make it easier to monitor its actions and provide public oversight.
We hope you’ll join us in supporting SB 960. Look for opportunities to take action as this critical bill moves through the legislative process.