CalBike Looks Back at This Year’s Legislative Efforts–and Ahead to the Next

Calbike2The California Bicycle Coalition–CalBike–supports local bicycle advocacy efforts to build better bike networks. It does this in part through its work on state legislation that promotes bicycling and via its efforts to increase the amount of funding available for building better bike infrastructure.

We liked their end-of-session legislative wrap-up, focusing on bikes–an important part of Streetsblog’s beat–so we’re reposting it for you here. We edited it slightly for length.

California is poised to become one of the most bike-innovative states in the nation. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) got a new mission and vision statement this year that is more bicycle friendly, and endorsed progressive street designs. A new State Transportation Agency is shaking up how California traditionally thinks of transportation, and we got to see the first rounds of the Governor’s new “Active Transportation Program.”

While the 2014 legislative session wasn’t ideal in every way, our policymakers took huge steps forward, most importantly with exciting advances toward modern street design. You can find links to exact bill language, fact sheets, and letters to and from lawmakers at the California Bicycle Coalition website here.

We Win Better Bikeways
The California Bicycle Coalition’s main strategy for enabling more people to ride a bike is to get communities to build bicycle-specific infrastructure: networks of paths, protected bike lanes, and calm streets that get people where they need to go, and that are built to be comfortable for anyone ages 8-80. Design rules, outdated laws, and inadequate public investment have been preventing better bikeways for years.

Design rules changed this year. In April, California became the third state to endorse the NACTO Urban Streets Design Guide. “We’re trying to change the mentality of our Department of Transportation,” emphasized Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. The mere endorsement wasn’t enough, however, as the Caltrans Design Chief made clear a few weeks later, stating flatly that “the standards haven’t changed.”

In September, Caltrans took another step by supporting AB 1193, the Protected Bikeways Act. Authored by Assembly Member Phil Ting and the California Bicycle Coalition’s top priority for the 2014 legislative session, this bill has two primary functions:

  • It removes language from the California Highway Design Manual (guidelines for how to design our streets) that  prohibited engineers and planners from building protected bike lanes — bikeways that have been proven to get more people to ride bikes. AB 1193 also requires Caltrans to set “minimum safety design criteria” for protected bike lanes by January 1, 2016. With new design rules, California has a chance to promote the best designs in the country and become a leader in bikeway design.
  • It allows municipalities to use other guidelines for street design, such as the bike-friendly Urban Bikeway Design Guide produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

In short, Caltrans and our policymakers are responding to the voices of the people calling for a revolution in street design. A vital next step is to advocate for protected bike lanes locally. You can pledge your support here for protected bike lanes so local advocates can find supporters in your area.

More Funding Approved, but Not Much
More funding is essential to building the infrastructure California needs to get more people to ride bikes. It is also key to economic sustainability. Active transportation infrastructure creates more jobs during construction and supports the local economy during its lifetime.

At $129 million, or barely 1 percent of the state’s transportation budget for biking and walking combined, funding for bike infrastructure is paltry at best.

We had limited success this year with our efforts to increase bicycle funding. Despite our advocacy, there was no increase in the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The formulas for spending cap-and-trade revenue did make active transportation eligible for about $65 million this year and up to 10 percent ($200-$500 million) in future years, but there are no guarantees that it will be spent on active transportation. Increasing and protecting the amounts eligible for active transportation in the ATP, in cap-and-trade funds, and from other sources is a goal for next year.

CalBike1
Caltrans employees survey applications submitted for funding under the state’s Active Transportation Program earlier this year. Photo: CalBike

The Governor did indicate support for more bike funding by signing AB 1183, which allows a $5 vehicle registration surcharge dedicated to bicycle infrastructure. Originally proposed as a tax against bikes, the bill was amended — thanks to our work and that of Senate Governance & Finance Chair Lois Wolk — to become a vehicle license surcharge.

AB 1183 is more of a symbolic statement than a practical funding source, because local agencies would need two-thirds voter approval to impose the surcharge. Until the minimum threshold to pass tax-related ballot initiatives is lowered, this surcharge is most likely not going to be a viable source of revenue.

Governor Sends Message on Equity
In order for more people to feel comfortable riding bikes, we need to ensure that Californians respect bicyclists and that state laws and regulations protect those who choose to ride. This year the Three Feet for Safety Act went into full effect, and the media coverage has been instrumental in reminding everyone that people on bikes have a right to feel safe. While this legislation was a big win for the California Bicycle Coalition, other safe streets bills we supported were vetoed by Governor Brown.

Here is a list of the bills that Governor brown vetoed, and his reasoning for vetoing them:

  • AB 2398 – Assembly Member Marc Levine’s Vulnerable Road User bill, of which CalBike was a sponsor, would have made injuring a “vulnerable road user” punishable by a fine of not less than $220 and not more than $300, as well as cost a violation point. Wrote the Governor: “This measure adds a moving violation to the Vehicle Code with fines and penalties up to $1,361. I think the current laws are sufficient.” Veto message here.
  • AB 1532 – Assembly Member Mike Gatto’s Hit-and-Run bill would have required a minimum six-month driver’s license suspension for drivers found guilty of not stopping and providing their name and contact information, regardless of whether or not someone was injured. This legislation was intended to balance the penalty for hit-and-run crimes with drunk driving penalties. “This measure would create a new crime that includes a fine and penalty assessments of up to $4,231 and possible jail time of up to six months. I don’t find sufficient justification for creating a new crime when no injury to person or property occurred. I think current law is adequate.” Veto message here.
  • AB 47 – Assembly Member Mike Gatto’s bill would have allowed the CHP to issue a “Yellow Alert” if a person has been killed or injured in a hit-and-run, and the law enforcement agency has information about the suspect. “I have just signed SB 1127, to add developmentally disabled persons to the missing persons alert system. This expansion should be tested before adding more categories of individuals that could overload the system.” Veto message here.
  • SB 1151 – Senator Anthony Cannella’s bill would have increased fines for some moving violations in school zones. The additional fines would have been dedicated to the Active Transportation Program. “Increasing traffic fines as the method to pay transportation fund activities is a regressive increase that affects poor people disproportionately. Making safety improvements in school zones is obviously important, but not by increasing traffic fines.” Veto message here.
  • AB 1646 – Assembly Member Jim Frazier’s bill would have required the DMV’s driving quiz to include a test of the applicant’s understanding of the dangers of cellphone use while driving and assessed a violation point for a second conviction of using a cell phone while driving. “I certainly support taking steps to curb cell phone use and texting while driving, but I don’t believe this bill is necessary at this time to achieve that goal. I’m instructing the Department of Motor Vehicles to add a question about the dangers of using a communication device on the driver license exam. Additionally, the department is beginning a review and analysis of data on distracted driving in California. Let’s wait to see the results before enacting a law requiring a violation point.” Veto message here.
  • AB 2337 – Assembly Member Eric Linder’s bill would have increased the one-year driver’s license suspension to two years when an offender flees the scene. “Currently, penalties for serious hit-and-run collisions can include incarceration for an extended period, fines including penalty assessments up to $41,131, and restitution. Moreover, conditions of parole and probation can be imposed to prohibit driving. While I consider hit-and-run collisions to be very significant events, current penalties seem to be at appropriate levels.” Veto message here.

Governor Brown is sending a clear message that he will kill any bill that increases penalties, in the name of equity. In some cases, we can focus on aspects of our bills he should support. For instance, defining “vulnerable road users” is vital for local municipalities to pass anti-harassment ordinances and area-specific Vulnerable Road User bills. In other cases, we can simply try again, as we were tacitly invited to in his veto message on AB 47.

For the most part, however, the Governor is challenging us to find ways to improve traffic safety and enforcement while improving equity.

Promoting Transportation Justice
Whether you are walking, biking, or driving, all road users break the law — mainly because of human error and poor design. Governor Brown’s message was clear: penalizing those violations is unfairly regressive. Moreover, for immigrant communities, penalties associated with hit-and-runs can be wildly disproportionate, even resulting, in some cases, in deportation.

Many have argued that a primary reason for Los Angeles’ rampant hit-and-run culture (20,000 cases every year) is because there are many undocumented and federally authorized immigrants who face two choices when involved in a collision: run, or be torn from their families. The good news is that thanks to AB 60, effective January 1, 2015, applicants will be able to get a driver’s license without having to present a Social Security Number. AB 60 is a step towards making enforcement against hit-and-runs less problematic; but finally putting an end to hit-and-runs requires a much more comprehensive approach.

The California Bicycle Coalition’s mission statement includes equity — we enable more bicycling for the safety, health, and prosperity for all Californians. Therefore, our work to make enforcement more effective in promoting traffic safety must also make enforcement more equitable. Bicycle advocates lose when we alienate communities from the bicycling movement.

Riding a bike is for everyone. And the story we tell is important. We need to ensure that our laws not only enable more people to ride a bike but also help to make bicycle use a part of our culture as Californians. We all ride bikes for similar reasons, need the same infrastructure, and should have similar legal protections, regardless of our socioeconomic status.

While we work to improve enforcement equitably, we will maintain the focus on infrastructure as the most important strategy to enable more people to ride a bike, as highlighted in our official strategic plan approved by every local advocacy organization. Bicycle infrastructure is hugely popular with elected officials, highly effective at increasing ridership, and a catalyst for job creation.

  • Fakey McFakename

    Nice piece. But a state law that curbs local power to block bike projects is what’s really needed to make a difference. Something like removing 10% of state transportation funding for jurisdictions that don’t actually abide by their bike plans.

  • Fakey McFakename

    Also, I think bike activists really need to get involved with planning/environmental law reform issues. Even with the best bike infrastructure, sprawl isn’t a good place to bike. State law to make it easier to have infill density and avoid NIMBY challenges (which often focus on traffic or parking impacts – we’ll see if that continues after the transition to VMT is complete) is necessary.

  • davistrain

    I can foresee cases where the local government is pressured by the non-biking residents of a given area to short-change bicycle infrastructure projects, but can say, “Our hands are tied. Sacramento bureaucrats will take away our money (which came from you taxpayers) if we don’t kowtow to the bike lobby.”

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