Some of the most significant work to further better biking, active transportation, and healthy communities in California happens out of the spotlight. CalBike Insider shines the light on some of these critical developments in Sacramento and beyond. Scroll down for more insider stories.
CalBike Insider: July 26, 2021
High-Speed Rail Funding Dispute Holds Up Transportation Spending
A disagreement over the allocation of high-speed rail (HSR) funding is holding billions of transportation dollars hostage in Sacramento, including the Active Transportation Program, California’s only dedicated source of funding for critical biking and walking infrastructure. But don’t worry — a solution to the impasse has begun to take shape.
Governor Newsom and the legislature are engaged in a particularly Californian fight. The governor wants to put the available HSR funding into building the core section already under construction in the Central Valley. (In 2020, CalBike’s Central Valley Project drafted plans to help improve biking and walking access to planned HSR stations in Merced, Bakersfield, and Fresno.) Legislators want the funding to go toward electrification of and improvements to existing rail services at the terminuses in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
The resolution may come from the extra revenue in California’s coffers, thanks to higher than expected interest income. Legislators may be enticed to make a deal with the governor if the package includes funds to support popular projects in their districts. This could, in fact, work in favor of active transportation. Bike and pedestrian projects are very popular with constituents and the legislators know that, so the deal could include a significant additional investment in those projects.
The ATP provides $220 million in annual funding for active transportation projects across the state. The current budget already includes an additional $500 million in ATP funding. CalBike would love to see another funding boost on a similar scale, but nothing is certain at this point. Additional funds would be a welcome boost for the program, especially since at least $1 billion in good projects didn’t make the cut in the last ATP round because there was not enough money.
In addition to the extra ATP money, CalBike is pushing to increase the amount of funding allocated to build the connected bike networks and bike highways envisioned in AB 1147. This funding is separate from and in addition to the ATP monies.
CalBike Insider: June 17, 2021
E-bike incentive program budget request
CalBike, joined by dozens of allied organizations across the state, submitted a letter of support for Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath’s request for a budget allocation to implement the proposed e-bike incentive program. The letter and its accompanying fact sheet express the consensus of a diversity of organizations that a $10 million investment in helping Californians get e-bikes is a great way to advance very many goals: climate change reduction, social equity, health and happiness, local economic sustainability, and traffic safety.
Dozens of organizations signed on, including statewide, regional, and local advocates for environmental sustainability, equity, and transportation justice; as well as influential public officials and agencies.
CalBike Insider: June 4, 2021
The 12-bill limit puts a damper on the 2021 legislative session
COVID-19 put a severe crimp in the 2020 California legislative session, reordering priorities and forcing many good bills to wait another year. And the pandemic is still affecting legislation in 2021. It’s the justification for a new rule: each assemblymember and senator can only move 12 of the bills they authored out of their house of origin. The pandemic has made debate harder, so the legislature simply won’t consider as many bills. This is further evidence that our system for keeping the essential work of government moving in a crisis is suboptimal.
Status report: where are the bills to watch?
Today marks the deadline for bills introduced by one House to be approved by a majority of its members to advance to the second House. All of CalBike’s bills happened to be Assembly bills this year. Our three sponsored bills passed the Assembly; we went 3-1 on the bills we actively supported and 0-1 (so far) on a bill we opposed. CalBike is working hard to help create the world you want to see while working within a system that is not nearly as small-d democratic as we might like it to be.
The imposition of deadlines can force votes before legislators have a chance to fully understand the implications of the bills. We’re sure that’s why the bill we opposed passed so readily. The assemblymembers did not know its impact. Thankfully, the schedule is more generous while the bills are in the second house, giving us time to educate the Senators. Committee meetings will start in a week and continue until July 16, and then a one-month recess will provide some breathing room before the legislators return to vote on the bills in late August.
The distribution of power in the California legislature
Another undemocratic factor is the power of key legislators. It’s bad enough that merely 40 people in the Senate represent nearly 40 million Californians; it’s worse that a few of those elected officials (usually the ones who can raise lots of money) have extreme power compared to their colleagues. The Appropriations Committee is a good example. Its Chair has nearly independent control over whether a bill gets out of the committee and onto the floor where the members have a chance to vote on it. Two of the bills we love suffered harm in Assembly “Approps.” The committed killed bill to allow speed safety systems outright and weakened our e-bike affordability program through amendments, both without public debate. Even if the leaders of these committees are fantastic representatives who usually fight for everything we love, the process is not very democratic, and we wish that it were.
For details on these bills, and others, see our halftime legislative agenda update.
CalBike in the news
CalBike’s E-Bike Affordability Program has been getting the attention of the press. An editorial in support of the E-Bike Affordability Program was picked up across California and beyond:
Our bill to decriminalize jaywalking also generated headlines as it passed the Assembly. And Streetsblog ran a piece on our petition in support of ending parking minimums for new buildings near transit (AB 1401, Friedman). You can add your name to the petition here.
E-Bike Affordability Program on Chinese news:
CalBike Insider: June 1, 2021
Fending Off an Attack on Shared Bikes and Scooters
Shared bikes and scooters are under attack, again. Last year, CalBike defeated a bill that would have imposed an unprecedented insurance requirement on providers of shared mobility services. The cost of the insurance mandate was so steep it would have put them out of business. By marshaling a coalition of environmental organizations to oppose the bill, we got that provision removed at the last minute.
Assembly Bill 371 has revived this same bad idea. The bill requires providers to carry $1 million in insurance to cover the liability of a user who injures another party. It includes another provision that is a good idea: requiring providers to have identification Braille markings on scooters and shared bikes so that vision-impaired people can report dangerously parked devices. But there will be no shared bikes and scooters if the bill passes with the insurance provision intact.
The insurance requirement will apply to private providers like Lyft as well as public shared mobility operators like LA Metro and nonprofit services like many bicycle libraries around the state. It would put them all out of the shared micromobility business and kill this promising low-impact, low-cost transportation mode. This comes just when we need it the most and when bike share systems are reporting record ridership.
The Assembly Transportation Committee didn’t hear the bill, so AB 371 passed the Assembly without much education of the legislators about the bill’s impact. CalBike, along with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, has met with Senator Lena A. Gonzalez, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, to urge her to call the bill to her committee hears this bill. That will be our best chance to remove the micromobility-killing insurance requirements.
Ending Car Parking Mandates in New Buildings
AB 1401 (Friedman) would end minimum car parking requirements for new buildings within a half-mile of transit. This legislation is an excellent example of the intersection of housing, biking, and walking issues. CalBike supports this excellent bill.
People who live near transit hubs can often commute without cars. In walkable, bikeable neighborhoods, like the 15-minute cities envisioned by AB 1147, residents can do all or most of their errands car-free as well. Yet many cities require new buildings to include at least a minimum number of parking spaces, often one per unit or more. Worse, some buildings link each housing unit to a parking space, so people without cars are forced to pay extra for an amenity they don’t need.
Parking minimums drive up the cost of construction, adding an average of $24,000 – $34,000 to the cost to build a unit, according to UCLA Urban Planning Professor Donald Shoup. Plus, they waste valuable space that could be used to add more units and create the kind of density that creates vibrant neighborhoods and reduces carbon footprints.
By making residents face the actual costs of parking, reducing parking minimums incentivizes people to use other transit modes. That’s good for the climate, and fewer cars will make the roads safer for people biking and walking.
It’s hard to imagine anyone opposing legislation that will make housing cheaper and more plentiful in California, but forces are working against the Parking Minimum Reduction Bill. Livable California, a NIMBY group, is working against the bill because, well — we need more cars or something.
CalBike will be on the side of those working to pass this vital legislation, which will come up for a vote in the Assembly very soon.
Reform the MUTCD
Now we step deep into the weeds for a topic that is as important as it is obscure to all but the most loyal transportation nerds: the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD, produced by the Federal Highway Administration, is the governing document for traffic engineers around the country. If a road striping scheme or intersection treatment is not in the MUTCD, it’s hard to convince public works departments to put it on the street.
Historically, this design manual has emphasized safety and convenience for motorists traveling at high speeds. It has been slow to include elements to make the streets safer for people who bike and walk. A draft of the 11th edition of the MUTCD is currently accepting public comment. Despite a climate crisis and a historic surge in biking and walking over the past year and despite NACTO providing a roadmap for how to do bike- and pedestrian-friendly street design, the MUTCD update is still far too car-centric.
CalBike has signed onto a letter along with several other active transportation organizations. The text of our sign-on letter is below. If you’d like to advocate for a more bike-friendly road manual, People for Bikes has an action page that lets you easily send a comment letter.
CalBike Insider: May 21, 2021
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.