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Posts from the "Streetsblog CA" Category

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CA Coalition Calls for More Funding, Staffing for Active Transportation

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Increasing funding for the Active Transportation Program could get more people to walk and bike, especially for short trips. Photo of Sunday Streets in Berkeley, by Melanie Curry/Streetsblog.

A coalition of advocacy groups released a petition yesterday calling for California to increase funding for active transportation to help the state meet its climate goals.

The petition calls on the legislature to increase funding for the Active Transportation Program (ATP) by $100 million from its current $120 million per year, integrate green infrastructure and access to parks and green space in the goals of the ATP, and ensure ATP investments provide meaningful benefits to disadvantaged communities.

The coalition points out that nearly 1/5 of all trips in California are made by foot or by bike (this information comes from the National Household Travel Survey, not the U.S. Census, which only counts commute trips). Despite this high mode share, less than two percent of the state transportation budget is spent on the ATP, which brings all active transportation projects under one funding umbrella.

There are currently only four staff assigned to the program (although Caltrans has approximately 19,000 employees). Those staff oversee the 265 projects that received funding in the first cycle of the ATP, and they are working on revising the guidelines for the second round of funding, which will begin at the end of March. The second round will likely double the number of grants, at least under current funding levels.

Even with the minimal investments made in the past, California has seen an increase in walking and bicycling trips. Properly funding the ATP is a no-brainer, according to the coalition. By building infrastructure that encourages people to walk or use their bikes for short trips of less than a mile, the state could make tremendous leaps towards achieving its climate goals by reducing carbon emissions and poor air quality, at the same time reducing congestion for everyone.

“When the ATP was formed in 2013,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, “the whole idea was to consolidate all of the different pots of funding for bike and walking programs and then grow the pot, by adding cap-and-trade funding. That hasn’t happened and, in fact, the funding seems to be mysteriously shrinking.”

“By forming a single stream of funding, and incorporating climate change goals in the legislation,” added Tony Dang of California Walks, “we were positioning the program to receive cap-and-trade funding.” Instead, the only cap-and-trade money made available for active transportation last year was placed under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

“We’ve worked with the Strategic Growth Council to make sure that active transportation is included in their efforts,” said Dang, “but given the amount of money they have, and their mandates for affordable housing, we really don’t think that’s going to be a big enough source of funding, and it won’t be as transformative for walking and biking as we’d hoped it would be.”

ATP staff held a workshop two days ago on its revisions to program guidelines, and way more people wanted to attend than they could accommodate. “It’s clear that this program has a lot of constituents,” said Dang, “and they really need the pot to grow.”

“When you combine all walking and biking trips,” he added, “they account for nearly 20 percent of all the trips taken every day in California. And yet funding for those trips is less than 2 percent of the transportation budget.”

“Californians are clearly not sitting around idle waiting for increased funding, but the state should step up for what people want.”

Read more…

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Caltrans Report Celebrates Its Support of Active Transportation

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Caltrans Directory Malcolm Dougherty seems to take bicycles seriously. Image: Caltrans, The Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities Report to the California State Legislature, Fiscal Year  2013–14

Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, just released its annual report to the legislature [PDF] on its achievements last year in the area of “non-motorized travel,” and this year the document is more celebratory than it has been in the past.

With good reason. It shows a new side of Caltrans, starting with its cover. Instead of a blurry, weirdly stretched-out photograph of bicycle riders, as on previous reports, this year’s edition features Caltrans Executive Director Malcolm Dougherty standing with his bicycle—and looking like he knows how to ride it.

This new, bike-friendly tone at Caltrans is a welcome change from the past, when the department was  focused on moving cars, and it’s in keeping with other efforts it has been making in the last year. When a report  from the State Smart Transportation Initiative thoroughly drubbed the department for being risk-averse and dysfunctional, its leaders responded by reworking its mission statement, endorsing the principal of more flexible street design guidelines, and creating a new position of Director of Sustainability.

These achievements are celebrated front and center in the new report.

“We are taking a different look at transportation,” said Director Dougherty. “It’s a change in perspective. Before, we saw the need to solve car-oriented transportation problems. Now, we see that there are transportation problems that need to be solved, and multimodal needs have to be considered in those solutions.”

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The cover from the 2011-12 report. “Young child experiencing the joys of nonmotorized transportation,” says its caption. Image: Caltrans

Just saying the department has a new focus, however, isn’t going to change a thing. Dougherty has been traveling the state, meeting with Caltrans district staff to discuss the new mission, its accompanying vision statement, and the objectives and goals that are being developed to go with them. “A fair amount of our employees were already sensitive to and incorporating bicycle and pedestrian concerns into their planning,” he said, “and some of them have stated that they’re glad we’re going in this direction.”

Caltrans still has a long way to go to become a truly multimodal state transportation department. Renaming the report would be a start. “Non-motorized transportation” smacks of Old Engineer Speak, and describing bicycling and walking that way is a little like calling women “nonmen.” Nevertheless, the 2013-2014 Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities report does highlight some real achievements.

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SBCA’s Melanie Curry Moderates Tonight at The Atlantic’s CA Transpo Forum

Tonight's California transportation forum is the first in The Atlantic's Bold Bets series.

Tonight’s California transportation forum is the first in The Atlantic’s Bold Bets series.

Tonight, in Sacramento, Streetsblog California’s very own Melanie Curry will be a moderator at The Atlantic’s Bold Bets: California on the Move?

It is billed as an event to “convene California stakeholders in policy and economic development to consider the key infrastructure projects changing the landscape of mass movement.”

The forum will examine California’s “innovation in highways, railroads, airports and urban metro systems” and explore “the economic impact of investment and the potential value of developing these vital infrastructures.”

It will take place tonight at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento. If you can’t make it in person, tune in to the live stream or Twitter feed.

Full announcement from The Atlantic after the jump.  Read more…

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Does a Helmet Law Make Sense in California?

Riders roll into the South Gate community of South Los Angeles during the Ride4Love. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riders roll into the South Gate community of South Los Angeles for the Ride4Love. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The proposed California-wide bicycle helmet law has stirred up a passionate debate on blogs and bike club lists as well as in the media. Unfortunately, many discussions have degraded quickly into name-calling and personal insults–like the oh-so-droll “hard-headed bicyclists” headline several media outlets thought was so clever. Many people also expressed off-the-point misunderstandings of objections to the proposal, and questionable statistics have been endlessly repeated.

But there’s no need to settle the question of whether, in total, a helmet law will make bicycling safer. What’s at issue is whether it’s a wise idea for the state to pass a law that would require every bicycle rider to wear a helmet.

I propose a thought experiment: let’s explore some potential outcomes of a helmet law. The points below are not meant to be arguments for or against S.B. 192. Instead, they are an attempt to think through as many different possible repercussions of a mandatory helmet law in California as possible. If something is missing, add it in the comments.

If California were to pass S.B. 192:

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New Report Tells CA How to Get More Bang for its Transportation Bucks

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This report from the University of California’s Climate Change and Business Research Initiative tells California how to put its money where its mouth is.

A new report [PDF] offers suggestions for ways that California could better spend the roughly $28 billion it invests in transportation every year, both to be more cost-effective and to better align with the state’s environmental goals.

Authored by researchers at the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, a partnership between the law schools at UCLA and UC Berkeley, the report stemmed from a day-long workshop last fall with a group of California policy makers, transportation experts, and advocates that included some of the top minds in the industry.

“We could put money towards making roads safe for people who ride bikes, people who want to walk, and people who take transit,” said Ethan Elkind, lead author of the report. “At the same time, that would help manage traffic congestion.”

Other ideas include:

  • Develop state project performance standards to make sure that new transportation projects align with state environmental and energy goals. There are some good models already in existence, including the project performance analysis for Plan Bay Area, which scores projects on things like integrating land use and transportation as well as cost-benefit ratios.
  • Lower the current 2/3 voter threshold for local transportation funding measures, and tying the measures to metrics related to environmental goals.
  • Fix existing infrastructure before building new roads–and make sure that repairs and maintenance include safety for all road users, not just people driving cars.
  • Require local governments to reduce parking requirements in transit-intensive areas to give developers room to meet actual parking demand more cost-effectively while reducing the cost of transit-oriented projects.
  • Develop mileage-based user fees for transportation funding in place of the shrinking gas tax, which decreasingly reflects actual road usage as vehicles become more fuel efficient.
  • Amend Article XIX of the California Constitution, which restricts the use of state gas tax funds for transit operations.

Read more…

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Coming Soon: Streetsblog California

Following the launch of Streetsblog in Texas, Ohio, Saint Louis, and the Southeast, we have more good news to bring. Starting in early April, Streetsblog will launch its newest news site, Streetsblog California.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.17.03 AMSBCA will feature Melanie Curry’s coverage of policy issues in Sacramento and around the state and some of the work being done in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The site will also feature writing by a network of reporters throughout the state in areas that don’t have a Streetsblog.

As part of the grant from The California Endowment that will allow us to launch the new Streetsblog, we’ll be hiring a writer in Fresno to cover the Livable Streets beat in the Central and San Joaquin Valleys.

We’ll have a lot more news on the site as it develops. In the meantime, check out and share the job announcement for the Fresno writer after the jump. Read more…

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Senator Introduces Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Law in CA

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Senator Carol Liu’s S.B. 192 would require all bicycle riders to wear helmets, a move that would likely cut the number of people who ride bikes. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Yesterday, Senator Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced a bill in the California legislature that would require all bicycle riders, including adults, to wear a helmet, and to wear reflective clothing at night.

Senator Liu has been an ally for active transportation and bicycling, including supporting the three-foot law that took so long to get passed, and she has promoted safe walking and bicycling during her long tenure in the legislature. But if, as Liu staffer Robert Oakes told Streetsblog, Liu’s “point of view is that we should do everything to encourage active transportation,” this bill will not achieve that.

Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious calls S.B. 192 the

“Remove Cyclists From California Roads Law of 2015″ or, alternatively, the “Harass Minorities On Bikes Law of 2015.”

Oakes said the Senator and her staff looked at youth bike helmet laws as a model. Seeing that more and more states have adopted them encouraged the staff to think that California could be the first state to impose a mandatory helmet law on adults. They say that the youth helmet laws heard similar arguments—that fewer people would ride bikes—before they were adopted.

“But no one in 21 years has proposed a bill to repeal the youth helmet law,” he said.

Streetsblog would like to suggest the Senator review the research on the effects of bike helmet laws on the number of kids who ride bikes, including this gem of a conclusion from one paper: “Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.”

Another suggested area of research is in how this law might be applied inequitably to different types of bicycle riders; the Senator and her staff could start with this recent Streetsblog story. Or this one.

Read more…

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CA Legislators Tout Economic, Job Benefits of Climate Bills

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Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon discusses his proposed package of climate change legislation, with co-author Senator Mark Leno to his right. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

 Yesterday, California legislators announced a package of bills that aim to show the state’s commitment to being a “climate change leader.”

Standing before a backdrop of a men and women representing labor and environmental advocacy, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon set out legislative goals that match those proposed by Governor Jerry Brown in his January inaugural speech. While the goals are environmental, Senator De Leon and his fellow legislators kept the focus on economic benefits and job growth.

The “clean tech” sector, said De Leon, is the fastest growing job sector in the state.

“Choosing between climate change policies and policies that build economic growth is a false choice,” he said. “California has proven that we can create jobs, lower utility bills, and rebuild our infrastructure, while cleaning up the air that we breathe into our lungs.”

Senator De Leon (D-Los Angeles), along with co-author Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), plans to introduce a new bill to achieve Brown’s “50-50-50” goals, what De Leon called “the Golden State Standards.” These are:

  • Increasing California’s renewable energy to 50 percent
  • Reducing petroleum use in the state by 50 percent
  • Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings by 50 percent

When questioned about specifics, De Leon responded that they will be figured out in the legislative process. “Let the dialogue begin,” he said. “We’re looking forward to having a very spirited, hard, open, cooperative, respectful dialogue,” with people from every side of the opinion spectrum.

Another bill included in the “climate change leadership package” is S.B. 32, already introduced by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). Pavley’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32, set greenhouse gas reduction goals for 2020 and created California’s cap-and-trade system, which funds planning and infrastructure projects to reduce emissions.

Pavley’s proposed bill seeks to extend the greenhouse gas emissions reductions goal to 2050, to reach 80 percent below 1990 levels. The proposal, consistent with the tone of yesterday’s press conference, touts “California’s proven model of growing the economy through pollution reduction,” which would be achieved by  providing “critical government accountability” and “certainty to businesses investing in California for the long term.”

Other bills in the package include S.B. 189 from Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) that would form a new state committee “to advise and inform clean energy and climate actions that ensure maximum job creation and economic benefits to all Californians,” and De Leon’s S.B. 185, which directs the two largest state pension funds (CalPERS and CalSTRS) to remove coal companies from their investment portfolios.

No one among the climate leaders nor the assembled press mentioned fracking and its environmental effects, nor the huge protests over that practice that brought people from around the state to Oakland this past weekend.

Instead, they kept the focus on jobs and the economy.  “We need to move the state away from fossil fuels and free consumers from the grip of oil prices,” said De Leon. “An economy built on fossil fuels is an economy built on shifting sands.”

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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Friday Fun: Caltrans Blows Up a Boulder!

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Who doesn’t want to watch (safely) exploding rocks? (Screengrab)

A video released today by Caltrans shows a work crew blasting apart a boulder that threatened to fall onto Highway 101 near Crescent City. Who doesn’t want to watch rocks exploding? With all safety precautions in place, of course.

Caltrans has been under pressure to change its bureaucratic, outdated culture since the 2013 creation of an agency to oversee it (the California State Transportation Agency, or CalSTA) and the publication of a damning report last year. Since then, the department has made many strides in the right directions, from publishing a new mission statement, to endorsing less constricting guidelines for street design, to creating the new position of Director of Sustainability.

The department also been attempting to communicate better with the public and the media, producing a newsletter, Mile Marker, about its achievements, as well as semi-regular  “News Flash” announcements.

The latest News Flash is pure fun: Caltrans work crews decided to blow up a rock, and we get to watch.

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Bay Area’s New “Vital Signs” Website Tracks Transportation Stats

Data lovers can now nerd out on a new website that collects Bay Area transportation data and puts it into customizable maps and charts to play with.

MTC’s new Vital Signs website provides data on bicycle commute rates and other transportation states for the Bay Area. Image: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

Vital Signs is part of an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to make its performance measures and data more accessible to the public. It also lays the groundwork to measure the effects of Plan Bay Area, which was adopted in July 2013 after a state law mandated each region to produce a plan for smart growth oriented around transit.

The first rollout of the interactive website includes transportation data from a variety of sources, including the US Census. Land use data is scheduled to be added in March, followed in June by stats on the economy and the environment including job creation, housing affordability, emissions, fuel sales, and traffic injuries, according to Dave Vautin, a senior planner at MTC who is managing the project.

“This project is about transparency,” said Vautin. “We’ve opened up the data so anyone can do an analysis, mixing and matching data in about forty issue areas.”

Currently, users can inspect and play with data on commute mode, congestion, transit ridership, vehicle miles traveled, and pavement and road conditions.

Read more…