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Sorry Dan Walters, Everyone Already Deserves Safety — Even Cyclists

Sometimes you just gotta ride on the sidewalk. Photo by Karoly Czifra/flickr

Sometimes you just gotta ride on the sidewalk. Photo by Karoly Czifra/flickr

Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee had a nasty exchange with a bicyclist riding on a sidewalk, and now he’s disgusted that bicyclists want to feel safe while riding. “If bicyclists want respect and safety, they should act like they deserve it,” his headline stated in yesterday’s Bee.

I’m very sorry Mr. Walters’ colleague, Hilary Abramson, had such a horrible experience after being hit by a bicycle on a sidewalk, but that hardly means that nobody on a bike deserves respect or safety.

Walters concludes from these two incidents that the three-foot passing law that went into effect yesterday ”should be matched by one that absolutely prohibits bicycles on sidewalks statewide with stiff fines for violation, and another that makes hit-and-run bicycling just as much a crime as hit-and-run driving.”

Walters and his colleague apparently didn’t listen when it was pointed out to them that maybe people ride on the sidewalk because they don’t feel safe in the street, a problem the three-foot law is intended to help address.

Maybe he’s just steamed because the bicyclist he lectured about riding on the sidewalk wasn’t patient enough to spend time discussing the issue with him.

Maybe he should have glanced up at the signs around him; he may have seen that many of the sidewalks “around the Capitol,” where he confronted the cyclist, are designated bike routes.

I’m tired of hearing that people on bikes are jerks that don’t deserve respect. I’ve been yelled at, honked at, lectured, and almost run over by people driving cars, more than one of them doing illegal and dangerous things like talking on cell phones. I can’t pretend I am always patient myself when interacting with drivers while I’m on my bike.

But I’ll try to be patient with Walters:

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.34.24 PMHere is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation and activities related to sustainable transportation.

With the legislature in recess, Sacramento waits for Governor Brown to decide on hundreds of bills passed by lawmakers before they left town. His deadline is the end of this month, and he has begun signing small groups of bills.

A Win for Bikes on Buses: The governor signed A.B. 2707, from Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Arcadia), allowing 40-foot buses (not longer) to carry mounted bike racks that can carry three bikes. L.A. Metro, the bill’s sponsor, will be able to add half again as much bike-carrying capacity to more than half of its fleet, including new buses on order, and the new regulation applies to transit agencies throughout the state. See Streetsblog’s coverage here.

Climate Change Conversation: State leaders held a symposium in Sacramento this week to pat themselves on the back for state efforts on climate change. Both former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Governor Jerry Brown spoke at the gathering, which also featured talks by climate change researchers and business leaders who are finding ways to thrive under California’s regulations.

The overall themes were: California leads the world; California needs to do more, and soon; the economy will not wither and die if we try to fix climate change; and individuals still do not understand the impact of their individual choices. See Ethan Elkind’s recap of the symposium here

Bicycling was mentioned twice in the course of the morning. It’s hard to say whether that’s progress: a life-long bicycle activist I spoke to afterwards told me there’s a sense that bikes will never be able to replace long driving commutes and therefore a focus on bikes seems too small and too slow in the face of the enormity of the climate change challenge. But Jim Brown of Sacramento Bicycle Advocates had a different reaction: he was inspired, he said, to focus on what individuals can do now, and on helping them overcome obstacles to doing it.

I think my colleague Joe Linton has it right: put a map on your fridge, draw a two-mile (or one-mile) circle around your home, and commit to walking or biking every trip you make within that circle. You won’t convince me that enough people taking that one individual action won’t make a big difference.

High-Speed Rail Foes Prolong Litigation: The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and other opponents of California’s high-speed rail program announced they will take their case against the project to the California Supreme Court. They are appealing the recent Court of Appeals reversal of a lower court’s ruling against the sale of bonds to build the train.

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 Signs Bill Allowing 3-Bike Racks on Longer Buses in CA

Under a new law California law, transit agencies are now allowed greater use of racks that carry three bikes, like this one on L.A. Metro’s Orange Line BRT. Photo by Ensie via Flickr

California transit agencies are now allowed greater use of bus-mounted bike racks that hold three bicycles. Governor Jerry Brown signed A.B. 2707 Tuesday, a bill authored Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) to allow 40-foot-long buses to be equipped with folding bike racks that can carry up to three bikes.

It was the first bill signed by the governor this year that’s on Streetsblog’s unofficial watch list of bills related to sustainable transportation.

Current law restricts the length of vehicles equipped with bike racks on California roads to a maximum length of 40 feet. An exception was created for AC Transit in the Bay Area, after legislation was passed several years ago to allow the agency to exceed the length limit when it added three-bike racks to the front of its buses.

Another bill in the most recent legislative session was aimed at creating a similar exception for Santa Cruz, but it was dropped when L.A. Metro came forward with A.B. 2707 to change the law throughout the state. Metro will soon receive a large order of 40-foot buses, and thanks to the new law, will be able to expand its bike-carrying capacity on the majority of its fleet.

“It’s a major, major gain. I’m terrifically happy this made it through the system,” said Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition, which had been pushing local legislators to address the issue since 2012“If a bus only comes by every half hour, then there’s only space for four bikes every hour. People were being left stranded. This bill will enhance capacity by another half.”

A sticking point in 2012 was pushback from operator unions, who wanted a say in when and how the longer bike racks are used. Until now, exceptions to the 40-foot rule have allowed three-bike racks on buses up to 60 feet long, but only after approval from a Route Review Committee that must include representatives of the transit agency, the driver’s union, and an engineer.

“The Route Review Committee is required to convene and unanimously approve every route for triple bike racks,” said Michael Turner of Metro. “Our concern is that we have over 100 bus routes, with over 2,000 buses in service. We want to work with our operators, but it’s not good policy to give them veto authority; it’s also not practical, given the size of our operations.”

Since Metro the Route Review Committee requirement has only been applied to 45- and 60-foot buses, the agency has thus far focused on placing three-bike racks on the 40-foot buses that make up a large part of their fleet.

“Bike use has been growing, and we’ve seen more demand, especially on our rail system,” said Turner.

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CA Tackles the Question: What Is a “Disadvantaged Community”?

Workshop attendees discuss what makes a project eligible for cap-and-trade funds. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Workshop attendees discuss what makes a project eligible for cap-and-trade funds. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

In a packed, airless room last night in Oakland, several hundred people grappled with the question of how to define those communities in California that shoulder a heavier burden of pollution than others.

The workshop was the third in a series of three—the other two were held recently in Fresno and Los Angeles–led by the California Air Resources Board and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) to gather input on the question. The room was packed with experts and advocates from a wide variety of fields—emissions, housing, transit, recycling, you name it—and there may even have been a few members of disadvantaged communities present.

The question of how to define a disadvantaged community is not merely an academic one. Millions–potentially billions–of dollars are at stake. By law, a portion of all revenue generated from the auctions of pollution credits under the state’s cap-and-trade system must be spent in, or for the benefit of, “disadvantaged communities.”

The mayors of Richmond, Oakland, and Berkeley showed up, as did state Senator Loni Hancock. Invited to speak briefly, each brought up local concerns, with Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan quipping: “We’re probably all going to say the same thing.”

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin addresses a workshop on defining "disadvantaged communities" that will benefit from cap-and-trade funds. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin addresses the workshop on defining “disadvantaged communities” that will benefit from cap-and-trade funds. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

And indeed each mayor pointed out communities in their areas that bear a heavy pollution burden but did not show up on the preliminary maps of disadvantaged communities produced by CalEPA. Quan said she was surprised that several areas in Oakland were left out, including low-income tracts along the heavily traveled 880 corridor and East Oakland.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, noting her city lays claim to the state’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, the Chevron oil refinery, added, “Our community has shouldered the burden of pollution and subsequent health impacts for 100-plus years. Those communities that suffer the most should be put front and center—not in the back, not in an appendix–for getting the resources that we need.”

Those preliminary maps, included in the ninety-plus pages of material passed out at the workshops, were developed by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as part of CalEnviroScreen. This was presented at the workshop as the state’s chosen tool for defining disadvantaged communities. It combines twelve pollution factors (such as ozone, diesel emissions, and groundwater threats) with seven population factors that studies have found make people more vulnerable to the effects of pollution (for example, asthma rates and poverty). The data is available at the census tract level so the information can be mapped at a fairly detailed level.

It’s a groundbreaking tool resulting from years of work, and is an impressive achievement. But as evidenced by the mayors’ remarks, it’s also just a starting point.

Read more…

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California Legislation Watch: End-of-Session Update

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.34.24 PMHere is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation related to sustainable transportation.

A substantial crop of bills relating to safe and sustainable streets successfully wended its way through this year’s legislative session. Governor Jerry Brown has until September 30 to sign the following bills so they become law in January 2015. Alternatively, he can veto them–or ignore them. If he lets them languish until after the deadline, they will die on their own.

Hit-and-run crimes:

A.B. 47, Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles): Would create a statewide Yellow Alert system for hit-and-run crimes.

A.B. 1532, also from Gatto: Would require an automatic license suspension for hit-and-run convictions in which a person was hit, no matter how light the injury.

A.B. 2673, Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena): A civil compromise with the victim would no longer release a driver from criminal prosecution for hit-and-run crimes.

A.B. 2337, Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona): Would extend license suspension for felony and misdemeanor hit-and-run convictions from one to two years.

Bicycles:

AB 1193, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco): Would require Caltrans to create standards for protected bike lanes and would allow local jurisdictions to follow other standards.

SB 1183, Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord): Would allow cities, counties, and park districts to submit a ballot measure for a local vehicle registration surcharge to pay for bicycle paths; would require passage by 2/3 of voters.

Pedestrians and cyclists:

A.B. 2398, Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael): Would define “vulnerable road users” and raise fines for causing them bodily injury.

Other forms of transportation:

S.B. 1275, Senator Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles): Would add a “mobility option” (public transit or car sharing vouchers) to existing monetary incentives for retiring older polluting vehicles, and addresses the fact that electric vehicle incentive programs largely benefit the rich – by providing higher incentives to low-income buyers of electric vehicles.

A.B. 1646, Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Oakley): Would add a question to the driver’s license exam about the dangers of distracted driving associated with cell phones and texting, and assess a point against a driver’s record for cell phone infractions.

A.B. 2293, Assemblymember Susan Bonilla (D-Concord): Would require drivers for rideshare app companies like Uber and Lyft to carry more insurance. The companies raised a stink about the proposed bill but ultimately came to an agreement with the author over the amount of insurance required ($200,000) and when it is required (while logged on and carrying passengers).

S.B. 1077, Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord): Would create a pilot program to test the concept of replacing gasoline taxes with a Road User Charge, which could more closely reflect actual road costs caused by individual drivers than a tax on fuel.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. 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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Protected Bike Lane Bill Approved By Legislature, Awaiting Governor

With Governor Brown’s approval, protected bike lanes like these ones on San Francisco’s Market Street could become easier for cities to build. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

A bill that would make it easier for California cities to build protected bike lanes was passed by both houses of the state legislature this week and only awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

The bill, A.B. 1193, was authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition.

The bill serves several purposes. First and foremost, it requires Caltrans to establish engineering standards for protected bike lanes or “cycletracks,” a new category of bike lanes for cities to use.

At the same time, it removes a provision in the law that requires that any bike lane built in California adhere to Caltrans specifications, even if it is built on a local street that is not under Caltrans’ jurisdiction. This frees up local jurisdictions to choose other guidelines, such as the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide, if the Caltrans standards do not adequately address local conditions.

Caltrans endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide earlier this year but has not adopted it, meaning that cities that want to build separated bike lanes must still go through a process to get an exemption.

Last-minute negotiations on the bill addressed concerns about liability by adding several conditions that have to be met before non-Caltrans criteria can be used. A “qualified engineer” must review and sign off on a protected bike lane project, the public must be duly notified, and alternative criteria must “adhere to guidelines established by a national association of public agency transportation official,” which means the NACTO guidelines could be used whether Caltrans has officially adopted them or not.

And unfortunately for lay people, Caltrans balked at removing its convention of naming bike lane types by “class” and numeral, saying it is just too embedded in its documents. So the new protected bike lanes category would be officially named “Class IV Bikeways,” adding to Class I Bikeways (bike paths or shared use paths), Class II bikeways (bike lanes), and Class III bikeways (bike routes). Memorize that.

“We’re very excited to have gotten to this point after months of harder-than-expected negotiations and stalwart support from Phil Ting,” said Dave Snyder of the California Bicycle Coalition. ”He really wants to see protected bikeways get more popular.”

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Four Hit-and-Run Bills Pass CA Legislature, Wait for Governor’s Signature

Hit-and-runs have been a problem in California for a long time. In this 1973 publicity still, Adam 12′s fictional television LAPD officers speak to the relative of a victim of a hit-and-run. Four bills to curb these crimes await Governor Brown’s approval. Photo: Wikipedia

Four bills targeting hit-and-run crimes in California await Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, including two from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who has made hit-and-runs a focus this year. The bills have passed both houses of the California legislature and are awaiting the governor’s signature.

One, a late addition to the legislative calendar (A.B. 47), would allow law enforcement authorities to broadcast information about vehicles suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run collision using the existing “Amber” alert system, which notifies the public about child abductions via changeable message signs on freeways across the state.

The system is strictly limited to avoid its overuse, and the Senate made amendments to the bill to further tightened restrictions. The new “Yellow” alerts would only be allowed when a hit-and-run has caused a serious injury or death. There has to be at least a partial description of the vehicle and its license plate available, and there must be a chance that making the information public will help catch the suspect and protect the public from further harm.

Another Gatto bill, A.B. 1532, would require an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit. Currently, consequences for leaving the scene of a crash are light if the victim has less than serious injuries, but someone who drives away can claim not to know how badly the victim was hurt. With this law, anyone who drives away and gets caught will face more serious consequences just for the act of leaving.

Meanwhile, the bill from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), A.B. 2673, which would remove the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction, has also passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Current law allows someone convicted of a hit-and-run to avoid criminal prosecution if they come to an agreement with the victim of the collision, and this bill removes that possibility.

Yet another bill, A.B. 2337 from Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), would extend the period of time that a driver’s license is suspended for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years. This would apply to anyone caught and convicted of a hit-and-run that caused the death or serious injury of another person.

If stiffer penalties can make people think twice about leaving the scene of a crash, then these bills may well help reduce the incidence of hit-and-runs. As long as people believe they can escape the consequences, however, the heavier penalties may not act as a deterrent. But combined with a new system that will broadcast a car’s description and license plate for all to see, it will be more difficult to escape.

As Assemblymember Gatto said, “Together, these bills will empower the public to help us catch hit-and-run drivers before they can cover up the evidence of their crimes and ensure the perpetrators of these cowardly acts think twice before leaving fellow citizens dying on the side of the road.”

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Steinberg Kills Bill That Sought to Delay Cap-and-Trade on Fuels

Mobile billboard against the "hidden gas tax." Photo via CA Drivers Alliance Twitter

Mobile billboard against the “hidden gas tax.” Photo via CA Drivers Alliance Twitter

The misinformation campaigns trumpeting an imminent “hidden gas tax” in California lost a battle with the defeat of Assemblymember Henry Perea’s bill, A.B. 69, which was designed to delay application of cap-and-trade to the fuels industry for three years.

Fuel companies have already begun participating in the state’s cap-and-trade auctions, buying pollution credits that they can use to help them meet the greenhouse gas emission cap set by the state. Emission caps will not apply to the fuel industry until this coming January, but they have had years to prepare for it.

Senate President Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg sent a letter to Perea [PDF] explaining his decision not to let A.B. 69 go forward. The bill may not have had much of a chance of passing anyway, but this settles the question without the Senate or Assembly having to take it up in the final few days of the legislative session.

A.B. 69 was originally a bill about water quality, and had been considered and passed in the Assembly as such, when at the last minute Perea completely rewrote it, in what’s called a “gut and amend.” At that point, it was in the Senate, where it would have had to pass out of several committees and then pass with at least a two-thirds vote on the Senate floor before the Assembly could take it up.

Steinberg killed it in the Rules Committee. In his letter to Perea, he wrote that “bringing non-stationary fuels under the cap is not an unforeseen issue that demands legislation which sidesteps the democratic process.” And “a measure of this importance should not be considered in the final weeks of a two-year session.”

Read more…

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State Agencies Host Various Workshops on Cap-and-Trade Funding Programs

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Disadvantaged Communities in California, as measured by CalEnviroScreen. For detailed maps by census tract, go to this website.  Image: CalEPA.

The end of summer has become Public Workshop Season in California. With new funding coming from the state’s cap-and-trade system in several categories, state agencies are figuring out how to best spend that money, and the first step is asking for help in creating guidelines for eligible projects.

Last week the Strategic Growth Council held workshops on guidelines for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

This week and next the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) will ask for help figuring out how to define “disadvantaged communities,” which by law must benefit from a proportion of projects funded by cap-and-trade money (more about this below).

Last week and this week, the California State Transportation Agency is hosting input sessions for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program ($25 million, and 10 percent of future cap-and-trade proceeds) and the Low-Carbon Transit Operations Program ($25 million and 5 percent of future proceeds).

These somewhat overlapping efforts are all supposed to demonstrate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to move California towards the climate change goals of SB 32, which requires a reduction in GHGs to 1990 levels by 2020.

It’s all new: the funding source, the program intentions, the attempts to measure GHG reductions, and the collaborations required between agencies, operators, and government sectors.

Transit Capital and Operations Funding

The low turnout at Friday’s workshop on transit funds—the first of three—may have been due to lack of publicity or maybe the amount of money available ($50 million total for all of CA) does not add up to much for individual agencies. There are more than a hundred transit agencies, large and small, throughout the state. While the Intercity Rail portion will be allocated to particular projects, the Low-Carbon Transportation Fund will be divided up according to existing state funding formulas.

Only $25 million spread statewide for operations funding means that small agencies in areas with low populations and low farebox revenues are likely to see only very small amounts of money. For some, this will be less than $100—at least in this first year.

That’s hardly enough to enhance or expand services to increase mode share, as required by the allocation.

And it may not be worth the effort at all, if reporting requirements are anything more than a simple check-box. A number of those attending the workshop requested that administrators keep the process as simple as possible so as not to cause more work for small and understaffed agencies.

The last workshop on transit funding will be in L.A. this Wednesday, August 27,  from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. 
at the Metro Board Room. Written comments on transit funding can be submitted to tircpcomments@dot.ca.gov and lctopcomments@dot.ca.gov

What Qualifies as a “Disadvantaged Community”?

CalEPA workshops this week and next on defining “disadvantaged communities” will play a crucial role in deciding how to allocate cap-and-trade funds. Overall, at least 25 percent of all cap-and-trade funds must be spent in, or somehow benefit, a disadvantaged community. In the case of the Affordable Housing/Sustainable Communities category, half of funds must benefit these communities.

So the definition of “disadvantaged community” is pretty important. Read more…

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.34.24 PMHere is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation related to sustainable transportation.

Today was the last day to amend bills for this legislative session. Any bill that doesn’t get passed by midnight next Sunday, August 31, will be officially dead.

Among the flurry of votes, the following bills passed out of both the Assembly and the Senate and are now waiting for the governor to sign—or veto:

Vehicle registration surcharge for bike paths and trails: SB 1183 from Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) would allow local jurisdictions–cities, park districts–to place initiatives on the ballot to fund bike paths and trails with a local vehicle registration surcharge. Because this fits Brown’s ideals about fiscal responsibility—that is, the surcharge cannot be imposed unless 2/3 of voters approve—let’s say this one is likely to be signed.

Bike racks on buses: AB 2707, from Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), would allow newer, longer buses to carry bike racks that fit three bikes. Right now buses are generally restricted to two-bike racks, except in a few places that argued for an exception. This would make the rules consistent statewide.

Traffic violation fines in school zones: S.B. 1151, from Senator Anthony Canella (R-Ceres). Despite unanimous passage in both houses and all the committees it passed through, advocates are worried that Brown may decline to sign this bill because it uses fines to generate revenue. In this case the revenue would have been used for active transportation projects.

The bill originally called for fines to be doubled, to match fines in construction zones. However, the original language would have required new signage and legislators balked at burdening locals with those costs. Now, the bill merely adds a mandatory $35 increase to any other fines a scofflaw motorist would incur for unsafe driving in a school zone.

Meanwhile the following bills passed the Senate and returned to the Assembly for approval of Senate amendments: Read more…