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More Workshops on CA Affordable Housing Program

"Concept drawing" of an idealized street at the Strategic Growth Council website shows a mix of modes and multi-familuy dwellings.

“Concept drawing” of an idealized street at the Strategic Growth Council website shows a mix of modes and multi-family dwellings.

California’s Strategic Growth Council is holding a second round of workshops on its guidelines for spending cap-and-trade funds on affordable housing and sustainable communities. The draft guidelines [PDF] incorporate input gathered over the summer as well as at several packed workshops held throughout the state in August of this year.

The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program was created this year with $130 million in funding from California’s cap-and-trade system. Its goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by funding projects that connect land use and transportation, support infill and compact development, and contribute to other public policy goals including reducing air pollution, increasing mobility options, and increasing transit ridership.

The program is trying to do many things with not very much money. However, it is slated to receive an ongoing twenty percent of future annual cap-and-trade funds, which are expected to grow considerably in the next few years.

The draft guidelines set program requirements and eligibility, application procedures, and performance requirements. “We want to hear your ideas about the program and how it can best benefit your communities,” said Mike McCoy, the Strategic Growth Council’s executive director.

One of the sticking points at the last workshops was how to define and quantify benefits to disadvantaged communities, which by law must benefit from half of the program’s funding–but that was only one of many points of discussion. This round of workshops will not include the small group discussions of the past round, but staff members say there will be plenty of time for discussion and public comment.

The first in this round of workshops will be held in Merced today, October 23, from 1 to 4. Preregistration for all the workshops is necessary, and they will probably fill up, if the last series is an indication. However, as of today there are still tickets available for all of them. Read more…

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Four CA Colleges Win 2014 Bicycle Friendly University Awards

UC Santa Cruz won a Silver-level Bicycle Friendly University Award this year from the League of American Bicyclists. Photo: Melanie Curry

Congratulations to several California colleges that won 2014 Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) awards from the League of American Bicyclists. Thirteen California colleges have made the list in the last few years.

New this year are the University of California, Santa Cruz, which won a Silver-level award, and Pomona College and Santa Monica College, which both won Bronze. The University of La Verne also won a renewal of its Silver-level status.

Here are the California colleges that hold standing as Bicycle Friendly Universities:

Platinum
University of California, Davis
Stanford University

Gold
University of California, Santa Barbara

Silver
University of La Verne
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Cruz
California State University, Long Beach

Bronze
University of San Diego
University of California, Los Angeles
California Institute of Technology
Pomona College
Santa Monica College

Read more…

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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.

Read more…

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New CA Database Shows How Much Parking Costs and How Little It’s Used

TransForm’s GreenTrips Parking Database provides an unprecedented level of data on the costs of building parking — and how much it’s used — in multifamily housing developments in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Zoning laws in California usually require new developments to come with a minimum number of parking spaces. Housing, restaurants, stores, movie theaters — everything requires some number of parking spaces, theoretically based on the best available data.

Each of these empty underground parking spaces typically costs about $80,000. Image: Pixabay.com

Usually that data is whatever is listed in the Institute of Transportation Engineer’s (ITE) Parking Generation Manual. Since that manual has long been the only source of data on parking usage in the country, planners rely on it to help them figure out how many parking spaces a project should include.

But there are serious limitations with the ITE data, as is noted in the manual itself. As Professor Donald Shoup, UCLA’s “parking guru,” explained in a paper [PDF]: Providing too much parking encourages driving, thus contributing to congestion, and discourages walking and bicycling (unless you love walking across hot expanses of pavement to your store).

Plus, building parking is expensive.

A new tool, the GreenTRIP Parking Database, can help by providing better data on actual parking usage at multifamily housing units. This is only one of the many land use categories about which planners seek data, but it is a key one.

The database, created by TransForm, an Oakland-based advocacy group that focuses on better land use and transportation policies, tracks more than just parking usage. Data is available about the number of parking spaces per unit, how much of that parking sits empty, what percentage of the building is affordable housing, whether residents pay for parking separately from their rent, what level of transit service is available nearby, whether residents are offered transit passes or carshare membership, what if any parking management exists on surrounding streets, and other data relevant to parking usage.

Read more…

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Thoughts at a Workshop On Replacing CA’s Gas Tax With a Mileage Fee

In 2017, California plans to pilot a new mileage-based Road User Charge designed to potentially replace the current state gas tax. Photo Wikimedia

Earlier this week, I attended a California Sustainable Transportation Funding Workshop, hosted by Caltrans, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the California Transportation Commission (CTC), and the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance (MBUFA). The half-day program focused on how the state of California could shift from our current gas tax funding stream to one based on a per-mile fee.

Let me first say that I usually mostly hang out with a bunch of left-of-center city people like me; we get around mostly by bicycling and walking. My friends and colleagues tend to support the idea of a per-mile fee, because we expect that it could help motivate people to drive less, and use other modes more.

This workshop wasn’t populated by a bunch of people like me. I don’t think anyone else arrived there by bicycle. As far as I could tell, it was primarily people who are more mainstream: people who drive and who, for the foreseeable future, expect our car-centric transportation system to look more or less like it does now. Among the program’s sponsors was the libertarian Reason Foundation.

What was interesting about the workshop was where the left and the right agreed: gas tax revenues aren’t enough to cover transportation infrastructure costs, and per-mile fees could work better. Similar right-left agreements occur with some Shoup-inspired parking reforms and Express Lane toll programs.

California's Gas Tax

In 1994, California’s Gas Tax was set at 18 cents per gallon. It remains unchanged today, but, due to inflation, that 18 cents is now worth about 11 cents. Graph via Caltrans

Speakers at the conference set the stage by describing the situation, which they described as “The Federal & California Financial Cliff.” The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. The California gas tax is an additional 18 cents per gallon. These amounts were set in the early 1990s. Unlike percentage-based sales taxes, which fluctuate with price changes, the gas tax remains at a flat rate. Since the ’90s, inflation has effectively reduced California’s gas tax to its lowest inflation-adjusted level since California gas taxes began in 1923.

Gas taxes are dedicated to be spent on transportation only. As the gas taxes lose value over time, governmental transportation budgets are increasingly subsidized by other taxes paid by everyone, including sales taxes, property taxes, etc. Recent estimates show that only about half of overall transportation funding is paid for by dedicated gas tax revenues. To some extent, this is fair: even non-drivers derive some benefits from highways, because everyone buys goods shipped by truck. The unfair aspect of this system is that non-drivers’ taxes go, in part, to freeways that non-drivers do not use.

Transportation leaders are generally aware that general funds subsidize transportation expenditures, but many drivers assume that driving-based taxes are what pays for roads. Many drivers, though already subsidized by non-drivers, still think they’re paying too much.

There are at least three more factors that influence the gas-tax-income vs. transportation-expenditures mismatch.  Read more…

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Replacing LOS: CA Hones Details on Its New Transportation Planning Metric

New rules proposed by the California Office of Planning and Research are hoped to accelerate the state’s decline in driving seen in recent years. Image via Caltrans

Agreeing on a new way to measure transportation impacts — and not just delays for drivers — is no simple task for California’s planning policymakers.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is fine-tuning its proposal to replace  Level of Service, the metric recently ditched by the state which focused exclusively on car delays, by creating a new metric called Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), which measures how much driving is expected to be generated by a new development. Basically, when development and transportation projects are analyzed under the California Environmental Quality Act, they must no longer be judged solely on how many seconds of delay they cause drivers.

OPR has held a series of workshops and a webinar to explain the issues to city planners and other interested parties, but some public commentary shows that confusion and uncertainty reign.

Responses to the proposal so far have ranged from supportive to vehemently critical, but the harshest criticisms include inaccuracies about the intent of SB 743, the legislation mandating the LOS/VMT change.

OPR has extended its deadline for public comments about its Preliminary Discussion Draft of CEQA Guidelines [PDF] until November 21. Comments can be submitted by email.

In August, OPR released its proposal to replace LOS with VMT, following last year’s adoption of SB 743, which mandated the change. VMT looks at the entire lengths of car trips a project might generate — not just the number of vehicles making their way through an intersection. It gives a more accurate assessment of the environmental impact of travel induced by a project. Planners also say it’s easier to model VMT than to measure LOS, since the models involve fewer complicated assumptions they tend to be more accurate. Many jurisdictions already measure vehicle miles traveled as part of their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more…

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Brown Vetoes Road User Safety Laws Including Hit-and-Run, Vulnerable User

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In the last hours before the deadline for signing legislation from this year’s legislative session, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a batch of bills that could have improved safety for bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users.

Included in the list of today’s vetoes are three bills addressing the problem of hit-and-run crimes. Two of them would have increased penalties for convictions, and one would have made it easier to catch hit-and-run perpetrators. This brings to a total of four bills on the issue that passed both houses of the legislature with very few no votes—some unanimously—only to end up on the governor’s chopping block.

The governor’s general objection to creating new crime categories and increasing penalties was his excuse for declining these bills.

For similar reasons, Brown also vetoed Assemblymember Mark Levine’s “vulnerable user” bill that would have defined bicyclists and pedestrians, and a few other groups, as a special category of road users, and raised fines for conviction of violations that result in injury to them.

Another bill vetoed today was one that would have assessed a violation point against a driver’s record if convicted of using a cell phone or texting while driving. A second provision of the bill, requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to include at least one question on the driver’s license exam addressing the dangers of distracted driving, may happen anyway. Brown, in his veto message [PDF], writes that he has directed the DMV to add such a question.

Here’s a full list of bills that would have made the roads safer that were axed by the Governor: Read more…

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Governor Vetoes One of Four Hit-and-Run Bills; Deadline for Others: Today

hit and run

Glendale Police released a video showing a woman being struck by a car in a hit-and-run last week.

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed one of four hit-and-run bills passed by the California Senate and Assembly. A.B. 2337, by Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), would have increased the automatic driver’s license suspension for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years.

Despite near unanimous support in both houses of the legislature, Brown vetoed the bill on Thursday, writing in his veto message [PDF], “While I consider hit-and-run collisions to be very significant events, current penalties seem to be at appropriate levels.”

A.B. 2337 was one of four bills addressing the issue of hit-and-run crimes that the legislature passed this year; the other three have neither been signed nor vetoed as of this morning. Today is the deadline for the governor to sign bills from the current session.

Assemblymember Linder’s bill “would’ve given some real teeth to current hit-and-run penalties,” wrote Damian Kevitt in response to the veto. Kevitt was seriously injured in 2013 in a hit-and-run collision. Since his crash he has been actively involved in campaigning for better laws and better enforcement of hit-and-runs through his organization, Finish the Ride–which was originally named after his personal goal of completing the ride he started on the day he was hit.

The driver of the car that dragged him on the freeway, broke multiple bones, and caused him to loose a leg has never been caught.

“The current penalties for hit and runs are scaled based on severity of injury of the hit, not the fact of having made a conscious decision to run from the scene in the first place. This makes about as much sense as penalizing someone for DUI based on their blood alcohol level instead of for … having made that moral choice to recklessly drive drunk in the first place,” wrote Kevitt.

Drivers involved in hit and runs often act out of fear of being prosecuted not just for the collision but also for something else, such as driving without a license or driving under the influence. Kevitt points out that, “if they’re ever caught, usually the penalties … are mitigated to save legal time and money, meaning perpetrators can in some cases get off with only a fine and no felony record — not exactly what I would call proper justice.”

“I’d like to give Governor Brown the benefit of the doubt and hope that [his staff has] severely underplayed the epidemic of hit and runs occurring throughout the state,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Kevitt’s organization, Finish the Ride, is working with the California Bicycle Coalition, LACBC, and “other like-minded organizations,” to “galvanize a maelstrom of well-informed citizens” to convince the governor to sign the other hit-and-run bills on his desk:

  • A.B. 1532, from Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles): would require an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit, whether that person is injured or not.
  • A.B. 47, also from Gatto: would allow law enforcement authorities to use existing alert systems to broadcast information about vehicles suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run collision, to help catch perpetrators.
  • A.B. 2673, from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would remove the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. about California transportation to melanie@streetsblog.org.

For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

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Governor Brown Vetoes CA Bill to Increase Fines in School Zones

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 1151, which would have raised fines for traffic violations in school zones. The legislation, authored by Senator Anthony Canella (R-Ceres), was co-sponsored by the Safe Routes to School National Coalition, transportation advocates TransForm, and the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program. The bill was designed to reduce traffic violations near schools, and money raised from the fine increases would have been earmarked for programs that encourage walking and biking.

CA Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased driver violation fines and dedicated the revenue to providing safer passage for students walking to school. Photo: Elizabeth Edwards, table4five.net

Governor Brown, who is known to dislike bills that raise fines for revenue, called S.B. 1151 regressive in his veto message [PDF]:

Increasing traffic fines as the method to pay for transportation fund activities is a regressive increase that affects poor people disproportionately. Making safety improvements is obviously important, but not by increasing traffic fines.

“The governor’s framing is unfortunate,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. “We see it differently, because the revenue would have funded infrastructure to address the underlying problem of lack of safety near schools. We thought it was a positive way to achieve results.”

The bill originally would have doubled fines in school zones, similar to temporary fine zones instituted to protect workers in construction zones. However, that would have required local jurisdictions to post signs around schools warning of the double fines, and legislators said they didn’t want to impose the cost of new signs on school districts and cities.

Under the compromise passed by the legislature, the bill would have raised the base fines for violations by $35. That would have raised the current range of fines from $238 to $366 to between $273 and $410.

“We are really disappointed, obviously,” said Ward-Waller. “Especially after the legislature supported it unanimously.”

“Children are overwhelmingly the victims of car collisions near schools, especially in low-income communities where there are no safe sidewalks or bike lanes,” Bianca Taylor of TransForm wrote in a blog post. ”As the cost of driving gets more expensive, we need to make sure that low-income neighborhoods have equal access to safe, affordable alternatives to cars, so that all children can safely get to school.”

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Governor Brown Signs Protected Bike Lane Bill, Car Fee for Bike Paths

Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills on Saturday that will make it easier for California cities to build better bike infrastructure.

The governor approved Assembly Bill 1193, which means protected bike lanes, or cycletracks, will become an official part of Caltrans’ guidelines on bike infrastructure. Brown also signed Senate Bill 1183, which will allow local governments to use a vehicle surcharge to pay for bike paths and bike facility maintenance.

 Long Beach's cycletracks open this Saturday - all photos by Joe Linton

Governor Brown recently approved A.B. 1193, which would allow protected bike lanes, like this one on 3rd Street in Long Beach, CA, to be more easily implemented throughout California. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

State To Create Standards Supporting Protected Bike Lanes

A.B. 1193, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will require Caltrans to create engineering standards for protected bike lanes, which until now have been discouraged by a complex approval processes and a lack of state guidance. This new class of lane — called cycletracks, or “class IV bikeways,” in Caltrans terms — are separated from motor traffic using a physical barrier, such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.

Protected bike lanes have been shown to increase the number of people bicycling on them, to make cyclists feel safer, and to decrease the number of wrong-way and sidewalk riders on streets that have them.

The new law will also allow cities and counties to build cycletracks without consulting Caltrans, unless the facilities are built on state highways. California cities that build protected bike lanes will have the option of using the standards to be developed by Caltrans or some other generally accepted standards, sparing them from Caltrans’ arduous approval process.

Locals Can Now Pass Vehicle Fees to Build and Maintain Bikeways

S.B. 1183, from Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) allows local jurisdictions in California to propose a small vehicle registration fee (no more than $5) on their local ballot, requiring approval from at least 2/3 of local voters, to fund bike trails and paths on park district land.

Bike trails have suffered from a lack of stable funding sources, unlike roads and highways, which are funded by a combination of fuel and sales taxes. A motor vehicle surcharge could help fund maintenance and improvements for existing paths — thus creating safe, convenient routes for commuters, students, shoppers, and recreational riders.

S.B. 1183 was sponsored by the East Bay Regional Park District, which straddles Alameda and Contra Costa counties in Northern California. The park district maintains over 1,200 miles of trails that are open to bicycles, and about 100 miles of paved bicycle paths, some of which are important commute routes for bicyclists.

The park district was looking for a source of funds to help build and maintain the aging paths, and at first proposed a tax on bicycles sold in the two counties. However, administrative complications caused them to change it to a motor vehicle registration fee instead.