Governor Shocks Cyclists with “Give Me 3” Rejection, Approves Bills Making Infrastructure Improvements Easier

(Note: It was a busy 72 hours in Sacramento this weekend. Streetsblog will split it’s coverage of Governor Jerry Brown’s signings and vetos into two separate stories, one pertaining to bicycles, and a second post for everything else.)

For the second year in a row, California Governor Jerry Brown issued a last-minute veto of legislation mandating a minimum three-foot distance for motor vehicles to pass cyclists. However, two other bills making it easier for cities to implement bike lanes got the governor’s signature, albeit in watered-down form: AB 2245, which exempts bike lanes from excessive review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and AB 819, which establishes a Caltrans experimentation process for adopting currently non-standard innovative bike lane designs, like physically protected bike lanes.

When Brown vetoed the 3-foot passing bill last year, he argued in a widely panned veto-message that a three foot passing law would damage the “free flow of traffic” and proposed a change that would not address his stated problem. This year, Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) made the changes that the Governor requested to SB 1464, but Brown and his advisors created a new reason to veto the legislation.

If only this car had crossed the double yellow line a little sooner. The image is taken from a story on ##http://rachel-confessionsofa.blogspot.com/2012/07/confessions-of-gratefully-sore-body.html##Confessions of a...## where a woman recounts the pain of being hit by a car and the miracle that she could walk away from such a crash.

This year, the Governor’s veto message expressed concern that the state would be liable for any crashes caused by reckless drivers who crossed a “solid yellow” line to give cyclists the three-foot buffer. The veto message also stated that Caltrans proposed a solution to “this issue,” but that Lowenthal’s office refused to make the change. Caltrans did not return calls for comments, and advocates familiar with the legislation professed to have “no idea” what the Governor was referencing.

In the nineteen states that have three foot passing laws and the one that has a four foot passing law, Streetsblog can find no evidence that the kind of lawsuit the Governor fears has ever been successfully prosecuted. The California Bicycle Coalition (CBC) reports that the California Department of Finance, the department responsible for tracking whether legislation opens the state to lawsuits, opined that current law would protect the state from these sorts of lawsuits. The CBC also notes that the language the Governor is concerned with was included in 2011’s three foot passing law, and that neither the Governor nor Caltrans expressed any concerns last year.

Cycling advocates were incensed at the veto.

“It’s pretty clear that the Governor is out of touch with what is happening on our roads,” writes Eric Bruins, the Policy and Program Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). “With the distracted driving bill and the 3-foot passing bill, the Legislature is responding to the public’s concerns about traffic safety.  It’s time for the Governor to engage on these issues and protect victims of dangerous and distracted driving.”

The California Bicycle Coalition was even harsher.

“Brown has offered no indication of how he views bicycling or expressed any ideas for ensuring the safety of Californians who rely on bicycling as everyday transportation,” writes the Coalition on their website. “By vetoing SB 1464, he makes clear that he prioritizes legalistic speculation over the safety of Californians.”

“We’re deeply concerned about what his lack of vision and leadership means for the safety of our streets and roads.”

Ted Rogers is the author of the website Biking In L.A. and a member of the LACBC Board of Directors. After last year’s veto, Rogers and a handful of other bloggers began referring to a cyclist being buzzed or struck by a passing motorists “being Jerry Browned.” When asked if he thinks “being Jerry Browned” will catch on, he argues “He deserves to be remembered for this for the rest of his hopefully short political career.” Rogers was speaking for himself, and not the LACBC.

But the news wasn’t all bad for cyclists out of the Governor’s Office. While Brown refused to “Give Me 3,” he did sign two pieces of heavily amended legislation that will make construction of bicycle projects easier.

AB 2245, introduced by Asm. Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita), exempts bicycle lanes already included in certified bicycle or circulation plans from the environmental review requirement in CEQA. The first draft of the legislation applied to all bicycle lane projects, but as noted on Cycleicious, during the hearing process the bill went from sixty words to more than three hundred and sixty words, somewhat watering down the initial intent.

The new language has created some confusion, even amongst planning professionals. For example, The LADOT Bike Blog wrote on Friday, “We’lll have more on this as we figure out what it will mean for the City of L.A. and the many bike lane projects we have in the works.”

But experts still see a “win” for communities that want to put down more bicycle lanes for two reasons. First, it reduces the bureaucracy and paper work required before a bicycle lane can be painted by cities, although local outreach and even public hearings can still be required. Second, because CEQA is taken out of the equation, cities won’t have to base their analysis on car-centric “Level of Service” traffic projections for thirty years in the future.

“We’re interested to see how the CEQA/bike lane bill can help communities meet their goals of greater accessibility and healthy, sustainable options for more biking,” writes Leah Shahum with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. San Francisco, which was bogged down by a frivolous four-year bike injunction after a CEQA lawsuit, could perhaps benefit the most from AB 2245 if bike lane projects are no longer the required to meet standards under Level of Service, which projects delay impacts for automobiles. Those projections are particularly “bad” in the Bay Area over the next thirty years, according to LOS.

AB 819, introduced by Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), is another piece of legislation that many cyclists view as an improvement but concede the language was watered down in the legislative process.

The law signed by Brown on Friday creates a Caltrans-led committee that will decide how cities can “experiment” with cutting-edge bicycle infrastructure. The original draft of the bill, as profiled on Streetsblog, allowed cities to adopt recognized design guidelines such as those created by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). While AB 819 may allow for some infrastructure projects to advance that might otherwise stall, one proponent of advanced cycling infrastructure, who wished to remain anonymous, scoffed that, “The idea that California is so exceptional that we have to do an experimentation process for infrastructure that has been proven, and in use, for decades around the country and around the world is simply absurd.”

Ultimately, the value of the legislation will depend on the makeup of the committee. The CBC promises to keep on top of the committee’s formation and report back on its actions.

  • Gneiss

    The reasoning Gov. Brown used to veto the 3 foot passing is flawed.  Does this mean that police officers are now going to issue unsafe passing violations to motorists who give space to cyclists while crossing a solid yellow?  That just encourages motorists to *buzz* cyclists and then explain that they had no choice given that they didn’t want to get a ticket. 

    Any way we can pull the statistics on unsafe passing tickets and see how many have been issued for this supposed offense of crossing a solid yellow while giving a cyclist room?

  • Zack

    My understanding (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong) was that it’s legal to cross a double yellow line to pass a slower moving vehicle, ie, bike, tractor, etc, as long as you can safely do so.  In which case, his whole logic is, as you point out, utterly flawed.

  • I’d just like to make clear that, while I stand by my comment, I was speaking for myself and not on behalf of the LACBC.

  • Chefm2tiguy

    I guess his thinking is it was more important to give the  undocumented drivers licences then to give a little extra margin of safety to cyclists – Don’t vote for this looser again, please 

  • Anonymous

    Time to take the lane.  The whole lane. 

  • Chaz

    I almost always take the whole lane (SF) and I’m slow as molasses. I stop behind cars, not at their side. It seems drivers have a clearer expectation of how to handle a bicyclist behaving this way — just like another vehicle. I almost never worry about getting doored or cut off. I’m surprised more bicyclist don’t ride this way.

  • Anonymous

    TWICE today, I almost ran over a cyclist
    – At 1 pm, I was getting out of my driveway on to a 1-way street when I almost hit a cyclist cycling in the WRONG DIRECTION
    – At 6 pm, I was crossing a green signal when a cyclist ran across my path, if I did not slam my brakes she would have been knocked down.

    This is what happens in real life when cyclists ignore road rules and never get ticketed for doing so

  • Zo

    As a driver, did you follow every
    posted speed limit? Did you signal when changing lanes or making a turn? Did
    you look at your phone at any point when you were operating your vehicle? Did
    you make a full stop when entering an intersection controlled by stop signs? Drivers ignore road rules every day and rarely get ticketed for doing so. Their violations can be just as a dangerous
    if not more than any cyclist’s violation could.  

  • “He deserves to be remembered for this for the rest of his hopefully short political career.”  Jerry Brown has been in politics 42 years so far…  But yes, this veto is a mistake.

  • @Zack, that is incorrect: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=California+double+yellow

  • 2wheeledcamera

    @Zo – First  – it’s your own personal responsibility to follow the laws and rules of the road. Second – as a cyclist you’re a moron with a death wish to blow through red lights or to ride into traffic.

  • Guest

     When I see someone do something stupid in a car, I don’t generalize their behavior to the whole motoring population.

  • Zo

     

    @2wheeledcamera, I don’t understand the need for names. I am
    not pushing for cyclists to violate laws or common sense. I am trying to
    communicate how frustrated I get when people point to “poor” cyclist behavior
    as a reason for limiting their share of the transportation network. I see
    drivers do just as many wreckless things in their vehicles and I argue that
    these negligent acts have much more power to hurt others. How many accidents do
    we see in the news due to wreckless/drunk/distracted/speeding drivers. It’s
    ridiculous.

  • Erik Griswold

    They do get tickets.  Say, have you ever tried driving on the local freeways at the speed limit of 65?

  • Bill Wright Burton

    Those driving metal boxes(cars) at elevated speeds with flammable liquid have no protection from head on collisions except for the perception that others will stay on their side of the line when oncoming events occur. Society allows and insures this dangerous activity, almost universally. 

    However on rural roads the amount of time when conflicting oncoming traffic is present is well under 5% of the time of the day. Thus there is time and space to cross the double yellow line. Further the Bill only allowed crossing the double yellow line if; “(1) The left side of the road is clear
    ly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit overtaking and passing of the bicycle to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. ” as stated in the bill.

    Governor Brown is car centric to endanger bike riders, and not share open space on the roads

  • Summitvending

    Just curious, these “rural roads” you speak of, if there is suffient safety to pass, then why are they marked double yellow?  I would assume because at the construction of the road, an expert, not an exploitist such as yourself, determined it to be unsafe to pass EVER.  Does anyone on this site have any respect for anyone’s lives other than their own?

  • Summitvending

    You’re an idiot.

  • Summitvending

    If all of you quacks actually cared about your sport, the safety of your fellow citizens which include children, and had an ounce of respect for the communities in which you ride, you’d lobby to have all bicycles registered like cars and use the money to widen roads, create riding barriers and such.  But no, you want all rights, no liability and do nothing but whine whine whine.

  • KillMoto

    @1ea0ba018da0eacee3d3f5d8496dd23a:disqus , cars are registered so the law can find the driver when that car is seen running someone over.  Sadly, of the 100 people a day motorists kill, four are hit and run killings that never get solved.  This is why we need more speed cameras, red light cameras and automatic state tracking of vehicles (so all one need do to get a list of potential witnesses and perpetrators for a roadway crime is to query a database). But I digress…
    Registering bicycles would only be a little less cumbersome than registering shoes.  Right?  Because whiny pedestrians are also getting sick of motorists killing them in crosswalks, or on sidewalks, and even in their homes. 

    So let’s look at society through your eyes.  All bicycles and pairs of jogging shoes are registered, so the government can tax more road users.  Most people who walk or bike for transportation capitulate… “You win” we say.  We start driving everywhere like you clearly want. 

    Well since most metropolitan roads are at capacity, and since a 5% increase in utilization of a saturated road leads to a 50% increase in delay for all drivers on that road, you’ll have time sitting in traffic to think about all the good your thinking has done to society, and more importantly yourself.