Tag Archive for: Caltrans

CalBike Insider: Street Safety, Budget Surplus, and the Death of a Good Idea

A great deal of the work your CalBike staff does in Sacramento is behind the scenes. We attend technical advisory committee meetings, advise senior (and junior) staff on best practices, and nudge state agencies to advance in our direction: toward better communities where more people can experience the healthful joy of bicycling, with equity, prosperity, and inclusion as top priorities. This week we’ve been reflecting on advances at Caltrans, advocating for active transportation allocations from the budget surplus, and mourning the speed camera bill, which died in committee.

Some of our work is necessarily private, but here’s what we can tell you.

Caltrans is Making Progress 

Changing a huge bureaucracy is often difficult. It’s been a slow process to transform Caltrans from an agency that safeguards the interests of cars to one that responds to our current challenges, and there is much more work still to be done.

However, under the leadership of Toks Omishakin, Caltrans has impressed us with structural changes. One great example is the creation of a high-level Division of Safety Programs and the appointment of longtime bicycle advocate Rachel Carpenter as its Chief Safety Officer. Carpenter previously worked on Livable Streets at SFMTA and she’s a regular bike commuter. The division will bring additional focus to the goal of zero traffic deaths. This should have influence over other offices within Caltrans which impact safety, such as Traffic Operations and the Division of Design. 

Budget surplus provides an opportunity to fund active transportation projects

California’s May Budget Revision showed a $76 billion surplus, with $38 billion in discretionary spending. The competition for that money is fierce. It’s the source of the $600 checks that most Californians will receive, and a welcome boost to early childhood education and afterschool programs. It’s also a great source for infrastructure funding, especially since it’s a one-time boost. The competitive statewide portion of the Active Transportation Program is funded annually at about $220 million. In 2020, California communities submitted applications for $2.3 billion of projects. It desperately needs an infusion of cash.

Yet active transportation advocates had mixed reactions to a proposal from a cohort of California Transportation Commissioners with ties to the road-building industry. The commissioners asked for an incredible $2 billion infusion into the ATP. However, their intention was to derail an earlier proposal suggested by the California State Transportation Agency in its draft “Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure” that called for an ongoing increase in the ATP by taking a little bit from other programs that mostly fund highways.  

Advocates promote an alternate proposal for the budget surplus

CalBike and our allies made an alternative proposal to the Budget Committees, seeking $1 billion for the ATP and an additional $1 billion for other active transportation projects, such as the 15-minute neighborhoods and bicycle highways envisioned by AB 1147.

The governor’s May revision proposed a $500 million augmentation to the ATP and $500 million for regions to implement the goals of AB 1147, although the governor’s proposal is not as visionary as that bill imagines. 

This week, CalBike is advocating to win our original request of $1 billion for the ATP and $1 billion for other active transportation projects. The coalition of road builders has joined us in asking for $1 billion for the ATP, but we parted ways on the additional funding for the programs that expand highway capacity that the road builders wanted.

Whatever happens, it looks like the ATP will get a huge infusion of funds. By law, half of the funds enter the statewide competition and half are distributed to local agencies. The state’s portion of the funding will help to implement scores of projects that were unfunded in last year’s round. Also, CalBike will continue to advocate for a longer-term solution to the underfunding of the ATP. The governor’s proposed expenditures on transportation in the next fiscal year are $32.6 billion. Unfortunately, much of this is for highways and other subsidies for driving that make bicycling and walking harder. The ATP does not stand a chance to achieve its goals unless the balance of funding shifts. 

CalBike endorses speed camera bill, but the Appropriations Committee does not

AB 550 proposed a pilot project to test the efficacy of speed cameras in several California cities. The bill would have required local agencies to develop guidelines for the program with strict limitations that ensured the system would not increase inequities in California. Fines would have to be low, and only charged at speeds 10 mph or more over the speed limit. Fines could not have additional fees tacked on. The car owner would get the fine, like a parking ticket. Police would not be allowed to be involved. The bill also put privacy controls in place. 

The bill’s author, Assembly Member David Chiu, did such a good job addressing these equity concerns that we were excited to support it. Camera speed enforcement reduces crashes and saves lives, and it might be the only acceptable solution to scofflaw speeders on certain streets.  

However, the Appropriations Committee killed the bill at its May 20 hearing. The committee didn’t offer any clues for their reason for killing this bill, but the demise of AB 550 is a loss for safe streets. CalBike supports the concept of speed safety systems. If another bill is introduced that addresses equity concerns as comprehensively as AB 550, we’ll support it. 

Thank Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin

Here’s something we don’t often say at CalBike: Good work, Caltrans!

As we reported here, Caltrans pulled $100 million in funding from its biannual road repair program to add bike and pedestrian safety elements to some of the projects. This directive came from the top: Director Toks Omishakin.

This was an explicit and unprecedented admission that Caltrans made a mistake in excluding such safety improvements when these projects were first planned. Even better, as Caltrans staff choose how to allocate that $100 million, they are putting disadvantaged communities first. The people most impacted by inequities in our transportation system will benefit from positive public investment for a change.

These steps give us confidence that, when this program comes up for funding again in about 18 months, the projects will include bike and pedestrian safety improvements from the beginning.

Please take a moment to thank Director Omishakin for this important shift in direction at our state DOT. We’ve included draft language. Feel free to add your own thoughts.

California Bicycle Coalition Applauds Caltrans Move to Add Complete Streets to SHOPP Projects

For immediate release 5/14/2020

Contact: Dave Snyder, dave@calbike.org, 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. 

CalBike Joins Group Urging Community Participation for Caltrans Complete Streets Projects

CalBike has joined with a coalition of advocacy groups to press Caltrans to follow a transparent process when it adds Complete Streets elements to projects. The letter was signed by transportation advocacy groups, environmental organizations, a government association, and a Catholic diocese, among others.

In 2019, CalBike sponsored the Complete Streets for Healthy Living bill (SB 127). The bill, which passed both the State Assembly and the Senate, would have required Caltrans to include Complete Streets features in repair projects whenever feasible. Although Governor Newsom vetoed the bill, Caltrans has moved forward with some promising changes. Most importantly, it has delayed the 2020 State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) funding round to reexamine projects and find places to include Complete Streets.

While CalBike supports the direction that Caltrans is taking, we want to emphasize the importance of community involvement and input into Complete Streets elements that get added to projects. The complete letter is below. You can download the pdf at SHOPP CTC Complete Streets Letter.

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