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San Diego Fights CA Courts for Its Highway-Happy Plan to Increase Emissions

San Diego insists on its plans for greenhouse gas emissions to keep going in the wrong direction. Image from TransitSanDiego.org via Citylab

Despite what CA’s courts say, San Diego insists on plans to widen freeways in its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, even if it defies the state’s ambitions to reduce climate-changing car dependency.

As Eric Jaffe at CityLab wrote, the story is told in one simple chart created by opponents of the plan, which shows that it projects that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would rise through 2050. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) apparently has no problem with that.

SANDAG does expect its plan to meet short-term GHG reduction targets through 2020, as mandated by A.B. 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. A.B. 32 sets specific GHG reduction targets through 2020, but the spirit of the law implies that emissions should continue dropping through 2050, as called for in an executive order from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the CA Air Resources Board’s scoping plan. A.B. 32′s author, State Senator Fran Pavley, has introduced a new bill for the 2015 session, S.B. 32, which aims to extend GHG reduction mandates through 2050.

But since the 2050 goals in the Governor’s executive order aren’t actually written into law, SANDAG argues that it doesn’t have to follow them. SANDAG lost the initial legal challenge against its plan, and lost its appeal, but now intends to take the case to the CA Supreme Court.

Jaffe writes:

SANDAG presented its plan as a balanced vision of highway improvements matched with transit expansion. But opponents (the state attorney general among them) said that by front-loading road projects, the plan ensured car dependency in the region for decades and ran counter to California’s climate goals.

On that last charge, SANDAG’s own numbers show that the … plan meets the state’s short-term emissions goals (established in a law known as S.B. 375). Greenhouse gases fall 14 percent by 2020 from current levels, and 13 percent by 2035. But by 2050, the plan estimates that emissions will have fallen just 10 percent, meaning for most of the plan’s duration they’ll actually be on the rise—the reason being an “increased demand for driving” as people moved into more remote areas of the region, according to SANDAG.

Whatever the current law says, SANDAG is willfully ignoring the facts on climate change, and denying the urgency of avoiding its impacts by changing business as usual. So far, the courts have not agreed with SANDAG’s short-sighted arguments.

SANDAG was the first region to adopt its long range plan after the passage of A.B. 32. Other regions in CA are paying close attention to San Diego’s legal wrangling, as it may set a precedent for long-term transportation planning throughout the state.

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California Bicycle Coalition Announces Its 2015 Legislative Agenda

bikeeducation

CalBike thinks bicyclists would learn more from skills classes like this one offered by Bike East Bay than from paying fines for infractions. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

The California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) released its ambitious agenda for the 2015  legislative session. Their top priority is to increase funding for cities to build complete bike networks — not just piecemeal bikeways.

Also on its agenda is the less glamorous but equally important task of clarifying some outdated regulations that prevent people from riding bikes. The list includes:

  • Defining low-speed electric bikes and allowing them on bike paths
  • Creating subsidies for electric bikes
  • Clarifying vehicle code rules including what happens at inoperative signals and when protected bike lanes cross intersections
  • Insurance reforms to help bicyclists collect damages in near collisions
  • Ticket diversion programs for cyclists

Funding for Bicycle Networks

CalBike’s goal is to create a funding source for competitive grants that could fund larger projects than the current Active Transportation Program (ATP) can support. Although the details are not yet fully fleshed out, the new grants would require the development of a complete, connected bicycle network, thus creating an incentive for cities to think more broadly about bike planning.

“We need to more rapidly and more broadly fund bike infrastructure,” said CalBike board member Christopher Kidd. “We’re hoping to change the ways that cities think about bike projects. Much of the time the available funding is so small that it only covers particular bike lanes, individual complete streets projects, and bike paths, and we end up with disjointed, piecemeal bike routes rather than networks.”

“It could be really game-changing for the way we build out our bike networks,” he added.

The existing ATP tends to focus on funding individual bike infrastructure projects rather than encouraging cities to think holistically about how bikes fit into the transportation system. CalBike hopes that with a new, larger funding source, cities and counties will be encouraged to take a much broader look at their bike networks, and address the gaps that remain after they tackle the easy parts first.

“We saw that on Telegraph Avenue [in Oakland],” said Kidd. “If there’s a difficult part of the project, it makes more sense to put it off, and to first do the things that are easy. But that is how we end up with all these gaps. And those gaps are what’s keeping more people from getting on bikes.”

Read more…

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CA Legislature’s New Session: Hit-and-Run, Cap-and-Trade, No Tolls for Bikes

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.34.24 PMA new California legislative session started last week with the swearing-in of ten new Senators and 27 new Assemblymembers, the introduction of a hundred new bills between the two houses, and adjournment until January 5.

These first-out-of-the-gate bills can be discussed in hearings as soon as the legislature reconvenes, since by then they will have been “in print” for 30 days. Bills introduced in January will have to wait a bit longer.

Some of the new bills are placeholders that are likely to be further developed as the session moves forward, but some are identical to bills from last year’s session.

Hit-and-Run

A case in point is A.B. 8, from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), which would create a statewide Yellow Alert system to inform law enforcement and the public about vehicles involved in hit-and-run crimes. It is exactly the same bill as last year’s A.B. 47.

A.B. 47 sailed through both houses, then was vetoed by Governor Brown.

Earlier in the session, the Governor had already signed a law similar to Gatto’s bill that allowed the existing Amber Alert system to expand from childhood abductions to include lost or missing seniors and disabled people. The governor said in his veto message that he didn’t want to overload the statewide alert system before the newly added pieces were tested.

Gatto considered this an invitation to try again, and so he has. His staff says they are confident the bill will pass easily again–and that by the time it does the governor will have seen that the system is not overloaded.

Other early bills in the 2015-16 session are listed after the jump. Read more…

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CA Seeks Input on 2015 Active Transportation Program Guidelines

A rendering of a proposals for Oakland’s Lake Merritt/Bay Trail connector, the design of which was funded by the Active Transportation Program. Image: Oakland Public Works

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) is seeking input on revised guidelines for the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The ATP is the main source of state funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, mostly through federal transportation grants to local cities. The proposed changes to the ATP guidelines are mostly minor, but include eliminating the requirement for matching funds and de-emphasizing bike plans.

ATP is a very new program. Its first funding round was just completed in November, so it’s too early to judge the on-the-ground success of any of the projects it’s funded. Nevertheless, the second funding cycle will commence in the spring. CTC staff has proposed changes to program guidelines [PDF] and invited potential applicants and interested parties to weigh in. Although the changes are not extensive, they were the subject of three hours of detailed discussion at CTC’s workshop last Monday in Sacramento.

The CTC plans to revise the guidelines based on comments from this workshop and a second one, which will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on January 8 at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) offices, on the 12th floor of 818 West 7th Street, in downtown Los Angeles.

The guidelines are scheduled for adoption by the CTC in March, and the Round Two call for projects would then go out immediately, with applications expected to be due in June.

Caltrans plans to offer workshops in March to go over program requirements, answer questions, and train applicants on the new benefit/cost model it has developed for the application process. Check the Caltrans website for updates.

After the jump are a few highlights from last week’s discussion.

Read more…

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Exposed: Oil Industry’s Astroturf Tactics Against CA Cap-and-Trade

The Western States Petroleum Association extols its campaigns against cap-and-trade purporting to represent “consumer concerns.” Source: WSPA

It’s no surprise that the oil industry is fighting California’s cap-and-trade program. But it is enlightening to see the strategy laid out in a leaked PowerPoint presentation [PDF].

Last week, Brad Wieners at Bloomberg Businessweek leaked a presentation put together by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), an oil industry lobby firm that operates in California. In the presentation slides, WSPA details its strategy to oppose regulatory efforts in California, Oregon, and Washington to combat climate change, including California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (A.B. 32), low carbon fuel standards, and the cap-and-trade system.

Examples of oil industry astroturf campaigns in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. Images via WSPA powerpoint [PDF]

Examples of oil industry astroturf campaigns in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. Images via WSPA powerpoint [PDF]

The main strategy is what Wieners calls an “astroturf campaign”:

Groups with names such as Oregon Climate Change Campaign, Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy, and AB 32 Implementation Group are made to look and sound like grassroots citizen-activists while promoting oil industry priorities and actually working against the implementation of AB 32.

One of those groups put together the “Stop the Hidden Gas Tax!” campaign, which tried to convince California consumers to protest against rising gas prices that will supposedly result from the fuel industry coming under cap-and-trade regulation in January. The campaign didn’t get much traction, perhaps because gas prices are falling, or perhaps because, as Tim O’Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund points out, California voters have support clean energy alternatives.

O’Connor told Business Week:

It’s eye-opening to see the lengths [the WSPA] has gone to push back rather than move forward. I don’t think anybody knew how cross-jurisdictional, cross-border, and extensive their investment is in creating a false consumer backlash against [climate legislation].

WSPA spokesperson Tupper Hull responded in the article:

We did not oppose AB 32 when it passed. We believe it’s good to have the reduction of greenhouse gases as a goal. We support that goal. [But] hundreds of pages of regulations have been added to what had been a page-and-a-half document, and we do object to many of the additions.”

However, WSPA took part in the formulation of those regulations.

A.B. 32, and its cap-and-trade regulations that charges industries money for the pollution they emit, is groundbreaking and frightening to big oil, as evidenced by WSPA’s presentation. It is just beginning to produce major funding streams for all kinds of sustainable programs, from affordable housing to transit to high speed rail, and the rest of the nation, and the world, are watching to see how well it succeeds. A.B. 32 could spawn climate change legislation elsewhere, equally noxious to the oil companies’ polluting habits, so no wonder they are attacking it every way they can.

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Court: Environmental Review for San Diego’s Highway-Happy Plan Inadequate

The California Court of Appeals yesterday confirmed a lower court ruling that the environmental impact report (EIR) for San Diego’s long-range regional transportation plan was inadequate. The EIR, said the court, underplayed the impact of the emissions that would result from its highway-building, sprawl-inducing plan.

SANDAG approved its regional transportation plan in October 2011. It was touted as the first transportation plan in CA to be completed under the auspices of S.B. 375, which mandates regional plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But critics charged that the plan contradicted state climate change policy by focusing on highway expansions, which would only reinforce regional car dependence and increase emissions. Several groups took it to court, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and the Cleveland National Forest Foundation.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris later joined the suit. In 2012 a California Superior Court judge agreed with the plaintiffs, declaring that the EIR failed to acknowledge how the business-as-usual plan will increase greenhouse gas emissions.

The appellate decision says there are other problems with the environmental review. For example, highway expansions will increase pollution in nearby neighborhoods, but the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) “never connected the dots between that pollution and its public health impacts,” said Kevin Bundy, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

According to projections in the plan, emissions from land use and transportation would decrease until 2020, exceeding the targets set by S.B. 375. But after 2020, emissions would rise again, intersecting with the S.B. 375 targets somewhere around 2030.

“They acknowledged that in their environmental review,” said Bundy, “but what they didn’t acknowledge was that under state climate policy, and according to the best climate science, emissions have to go way down by 2050 — and stay down.”

Read more…

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Officials Celebrate BART’s Shiny, Costly New Oakland Airport Connector

BART’s new Oakland Airport Connector at Coliseum Station. Photos: Melanie Curry

The ribbon was cut Friday on BART’s new $484 million Oakland Airport Connector, with a ceremony complete with the requisite speeches, live music, and even a raffle. Free rides were given to everyone who came.

The new cable-propelled system is elegant, clean, quiet, and relatively quick. But it’s also a shining example of how BART can misplace its funding priorities by building a new flyover train to serve relatively few passengers while neglecting – and increasing — the maintenance costs of the starved larger rail network, as transit advocates argued throughout the years it took to plan and build the OAC. Its $6 fare will leave everyday BART riders paying for the lion’s share of its operating costs of $18 to $21 per trip.

“Despite the obvious needs, BART has gone forward with seemingly thoughtless projects like the airport connector,” Joél Ramos, TransForm’s regional planning director. “I use the word ‘thoughtless’ because they didn’t give alternatives fair consideration. BART never seriously considered a system integrating dedicated bus lanes, something we know to be efficient and reliable.”

The $6 train trip from the Coliseum BART station to the airport costs twice the fare of the now-defunct AirBART bus, and almost three times the fare of AC Transit’s 73 bus route (an underpublicized airport connection). And it doesn’t include the fare to anywhere else on BART.

The OAC travels at a sedate 30 mph, taking about eight minutes to get from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland airport, including a pause in the middle to switch cables. That stop seems long enough to take on passengers, but there’s no station there — just the green corrugated-iron wall of the cable wheelhouse. The lack of a station is just one of the train’s many missed opportunities.

Meanwhile, BART’s everyday riding experience is in decline, belying its image as a state-of-the-art rail system: Trains are overcrowded at peak hours, doors sometimes won’t open, lights won’t work, and other equipment failures lead to increasing tube-clogging delays.

At Friday’s celebratory ceremony, however, little mention was made of the downsides of diverting resources to the OAC at the expense of the larger system. Officials made speeches focusing on benefits like fewer car trips to the airport, an easier way for travelers to get to San Francisco, and increased transit service for the development planned around Coliseum BART Station.

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Speaking with Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ New Sustainability Director

Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ first Assistant Director of Sustainability. Photo: Caltrans

As part of its ongoing work to expand its focus beyond just highways, California’s Department of Transportation, better known as Caltrans, recently created a new position — the Assistant Director of Sustainability. Steven Cliff, the new hire, will oversee the integration of one of the department’s newest goals: “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy.”

Cliff comes from the California Air Resources Board, where he helped develop ways to implement AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, and helped develop the cap-and-trade program. He has a background in global climate science and air quality research at the University of California, Davis, where he held a research faculty position before taking on policy work at the ARB.

Changes at Caltrans

Caltrans’ sustainability goal is part of the department’s newly formulated mission and vision statements. Those statements resulted from months of intensive work in response to outside pressure on the department to face the fact that its car-focused, highway-loving, bureaucratic ways were not serving Californians.

The pressure came from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), the new-ish agency with oversight over Caltrans and several other agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol, that before 2013 answered only to the governor.

One of CalSTA’s first actions was to commission an outside study on the state of affairs at Caltrans.

The resulting report, from the State Smart Transportation Initiative [PDF], ripped into Caltrans, calling it rigid, out of step, and overly risk-averse. The report led to several legislative hearings last year, and led to Caltrans’ endorsement of the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide as an alternative to the department’s own hidebound guidelines, which squelched safer and innovative street designs — especially bicycle infrastructure.

Caltrans dumped its old mission statement, “Improve mobility across California,” for a new one: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.”

In the process it also came up with a new vision statement and formulated ten new goals to help achieve that vision. The newest one, “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy,” Caltrans explains as: “[Making] long-lasting, smart mobility decisions that improve the environment, support a vibrant economy, and build communities, not sprawl” (emphasis added).

Cliff, the new Assistant Director for Sustainability, has the job of leading up the effort to develop the sustainability goal, create objectives for it, and formulate performance measures to evaluate how well those objectives are achieved. When the work is finished, it will help inform the department’s five-year strategic plan, due next spring.

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No, Sacramento is NOT Seriously Considering a Bicycle License Law

A sign near the California State Capitol directs bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk, a sight which may remain common until Sacramento’s streets are made safer for bicycling. Photo: Melanie Curry

After a woman was hit by a bicyclist riding on a Sacramento sidewalk, she threatened the city with a lawsuit, and her attorney is pushing the city to pass one of the most restrictive bicycle licensing laws in the country.

Last Thursday, an attorney for Sacramento Bee writer Hilary Abramson submitted a proposal for an ordinance that would outlaw riding on sidewalks to the City Council’s Law and Legislative Committee.

But the proposal went beyond just bikes on sidewalks. It would also have required bicycle riders to buy a city-issued license for $10, take an unspecified test, and register their bikes with the city.

Local station KCRA’s first over-excited response to the story was that the committee now had to decide “whether to take this proposed ordinance to the city council.” But the bike regulation idea got no traction at the meeting, and discussion among committee members focused on the original goal of the meeting, which was to clarify the city’s rules on sidewalk riding.

Randi Knott of the City Manager’s office, introducing the item for discussion, said that the city’s top goal in updating its bicycle ordinance is to encourage the current growth in cycling in the city.

That, several speakers pointed out, is a goal that would not be met if the city imposed a ban on sidewalk riding. Jim Brown of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates (SABA) pointed out that unsafe conditions on Sacramento’s street network often make bicyclists feel that riding on the sidewalk is their only safe alternative.

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Replacing LOS: Experts Debate How CA Should Measure Transpo Impacts

California is shaping a new transportation planning metric to foster transit-oriented development, such as this proposed affordable housing project at Los Angeles’ Soto Gold Line Station in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. Image: L.A. Metro

California planning experts continue to debate how to most effectively measure transportation impacts in a way that will foster smarter growth, after the state abandoned the car-centric metric known as Level of Service (LOS).

California is looking to reduce its “vehicle miles traveled” by encouraging infill development near transit, but the devil is in the details. Image: Federal Highway Administration

The acronym-laden process of measuring transportation under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) may be complex and wonky, but it’s certainly important. In creating a replacement for LOS, the CA Office and Planning and Research (OPR) will shape the future of development in California for many years to come.

SB 743, passed last year, mandated that the state create a replacement metric for LOS to measure the transportation impacts of developments under CEQA. The Office of Planning and Research has proposed a metric called Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), which would measure the amount of driving developments would generate, instead of focusing solely on minimizing delays for drivers.

OPR has made several other suggestions in their proposed guidelines, and are seeking public input to help them refine the changes. Specifically, they are asking for help on the following questions:

  1. Under the proposed guidelines, any project built within a half mile of transit with frequent service (running at least every 15 minutes) would be deemed to have no significant impact on travel, and wouldn’t have to undergo a VMT review. Is this an appropriate rule? Are there other factors that should be considered?
  2. What amount of vehicle miles generated by a development should be considered significant, and thus require an environmental impact report (EIR)? Who should decide what those levels are?
  3. What kinds of strategies should be used to mitigate increases in vehicle miles generated by a project?

Two expert panels were held this week to address these questions. A panel including planners, engineers, attorneys, consultants, and an infill developer came together at a Sacramento forum to discuss the proposed guidelines at the first event. The next evening, the University of San Francisco’s Environmental Law Society invited several attorneys with opposing viewpoints to discuss CEQA, state climate change laws, and the proposed guidelines.

Although there has been some public sparring over the change, and not all of the feedback OPR has received on its proposed guidelines has been positive, there was more agreement than not at both panel discussions. For example, panelists agreed that Level of Service is not the right way to measure the environmental effects of a project.

OPR staff maintains that eliminating Level of Service would make it simpler and cheaper to develop infill projects, which can help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals by reducing driving and encouraging transit, walking, and bicycling. A large part of that cost savings would come from eliminating the need for an environmental impact report.

Michael Schwartz, senior planner at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and a participant in the university panel, said LOS was “the only reason [San Francisco] had to complete an environmental impact report for the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project.”

“By no other measure would the project have impacted the environment negatively,” he said. “Without LOS, we would have saved millions of dollars and several years of delay.”

But the details of how to apply the new measure still need to be worked out.

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