California Bicycle Coalition Announces Its 2015 Legislative Agenda

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Also on its agenda is the less glamorous but equally important task of clarifying some outdated regulations that prevent people from riding bikes.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

Improving Access to Electric Bikes

Federal rules have several definitions for electric bikes (e-bikes). If they can go faster than 20 miles per hour, they are classified as light motorcycles, which requires a motorcycle license to operate. But state rules allow local jurisdictions to ban all e-bikes from bike paths, even if they are low-speed bikes that do not require a license.

Next year, CalBike plans to push for a state-wide definition of low-speed electric bikes and for a vehicle code change that would allow them to be ridden on bike paths. A likely definition is a bike that can go no faster than 20 mph and that requires the rider to pedal to go that fast.

Electric bikes can make bicycling accessible to people who have trouble riding regular bikes, such as some seniors, people with disabilities, or riders who need to carry children or heavy loads. CalBike’s goal is to triple bicycling in CA by 2020, and the organization says that will take a multi-pronged approach to getting people to feel comfortable on bikes.

“We want to be able to strike a balance between concerns in more rural areas and people in cities, especially hilly cities, where having an e-bike option that’s street legal really is going to make a big impact on people who choose to live car-free,” said Kidd. “Right now, there’s confusion among manufacturers and policymakers; the rules are not well worded and they create a lot of gray space that’s open to interpretation. We want to create clear rules that everybody can be happy with and that allow for a wider range of options for people who want an alternative to a car.”

CalBike also wants to create a subsidy program for e-bike purchases. The CA Air Resources Board offers a financial incentive for people to buy electric cars to increase the percentage of non-gasoline vehicles on the road. Adding e-bikes to the list of eligible purchases for those subsidies would encourage their use as a valid, clean-energy alternative to cars.

“Ebikes can be very expensive — a good ebike can cost $6- to $8,000,” said Kidd. “We want to encourage people to get them, a wide range of people, especially for lower-income people where swapping a car for an e-bike will save them a ton of money and improve their quality of life. An electric bike subsidy could make a major impact for individuals and on statewide bike mode share.”

Clarifying the California Vehicle Code

CalBike also wants to clear up areas of the CA Vehicle Code that are open to interpretation by police and by judges. For example, from the point of view of a bicyclist, a signal that doesn’t detect a bike waiting at the intersection is an inoperative signal, but police and others don’t always see it that way. If a signal doesn’t change for a bicycle rider, CalBike says they should be allowed to cross against the light as long as it is safe to do so (just as drivers can). But some officials insist that in that case a rider should get off the bike and push the pedestrian beg button, if there is one.

Another situation CalBike hopes to address by law is whether bicyclists or drivers have the right-of-way at intersections with unsignalized protected bike lanes. The way many protected bike lanes are designed in the U.S., they direct people on bikes to veer to the left of right-turning cars. A common European design, which some U.S. cities want to adopt, keep the protected lane to the right through the intersection — that requires right-turning cars to yield to bikes. Before better design guidelines can be written, the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices will likely have to be revised.

Insurance Damages for Near-Miss Injuries

CalBike wants to remedy a provision in most insurance packages that prevents injured bicyclists from collecting insurance to cover medical costs if the driver didn’t actually contact the bicyclist with their car. In other words, CalBike wants to allow a bicyclist who swerves and avoids being hit, but falls or crashes in the attempt, to be able to collect insurance for damages when there’s evidence a driver was at fault.

Ticket Diversion and Bicyclist Education

CalBike is working to allow bicyclists to substitute a “bicycle traffic school” for a traffic fine, thus transforming a monetary penalty into an opportunity to learn safe bicycling skills. Current state law allows cities to have separate fine schedules for cyclists and driver infractions, but only minors are allowed to substitute bicycling classes for ticket fines.

Bike East Bay runs such a program on UC Berkeley’s campus, but it is limited to violations given out by campus police. Last year they ran a similar program in Alameda, but the new police chief there decided it did not align with existing state vehicle code restrictions, and canceled it.

“Being able to extend this program to more cities and to any moving violation will not only benefit ticketed cyclists, but it will also create more bike education opportunities for the general public,” said Robert Prinz, Bike East Bay’s educational director. “This also gives us a reason to work directly with police departments around the East Bay and form ongoing relationships.”

“The reason for pursuing this program is not to downplay bicycle violations, but to turn them from purely monetary penalties into educational opportunities, likely reaching some of the people who need bike safety training the most but who are unlikely to attend a class on their own,” said Prinz.

Cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Long Beach, Davis, and Huntington Beach have expressed interest in setting up such a programs if they were allowed. Bike East Bay currently has a petition on calling for the state law to be changed.

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  • rakdaddy

    I’m glad the All-Powerful Bike Lobby is going after all this.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I like the “bicycle traffic school” concept in lieu of monetary fines. Seems like education is a solution that has a far better chance of correcting bad biking habits than a fine.

  • Fakey McFakename

    The idea of treating car stops as bike yields is presumably a non-starter?

    Also, CBC really ought to work on improving planning law more generally. If people don’t live in walkable, transit-able communities, they’re not going to cycle much.

  • Joe Linton

    I am gonna bet that if the legislators pass legislation permitting a protected bike lane yield described above, the CA MUTCD would follow.

  • helloandyhihi

    We need something like the Idaho Stop Law in California, which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. That should be the California Bicycle Coalition’s first priority.

  • Gezellig


    “Cars have to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, but what about bikes crossing the intersection in a protected bike lane adjacent to the crosswalk?”

    This seems to be presaging the advent of this:

    Can’t. Happen. Soon. Enough.

    Great reporting, as always, Melanie!

  • Gezellig

    I hope so! That’s exactly what caught my eye, too.

  • GetHubNub

    No one’s going to enforce the eBike law.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    Idaho Stop Law, please.

    Craft it in the vein of what Leno tried to do with the extended alcohol sale hours – make it so a municipality can enact Idaho Stop laws if they so choose.

  • Roland

    “Insurance reforms to help bicyclists collect damages in near collisions.”

    Two problems with this item: 1) “near collisions”; 2) “insurance reform”

    Good luck with that.
    Keep in mind that passing laws is a heck of a lot easier than getting them enforced!

  • Ryan Price

    The Idaho stop law has proven to save lives by legalizing the regular rational actions of most people, but having different traffic laws locality by locality would be problematic. Most folks don’t know where borders are, and the new laws would have to be promoted in DMV handbooks, among other issues. Any change would have to be holistic, which means it would need more political support, even within the bicycle advocacy community.

  • All that does is bring state law in line with Federal regulations that define an e-assist bike (750W or 1DIN HP max continuous power and 20 MPH max continuous speed on level ground with no wind and a 180 pound rider) and further define a bike meeting those regulations as a “bicycle” and NOT as a “motor vehicle”.

  • Don’t forget that a close pass by a motor vehicle can cause a death just as easily as a collision. I have been literally blown off the road by a semi passing too close on a country road that was not supposed to have any semis driving on it.

  • Joe B

    Honestly, that sounds pretty scary.
    750W is around double what a professional TdF rider can sustain.
    I’ve been riding for years and 20mph is around my maximum cruising speed on a good day, and is significantly faster than most beginner-to-intermediate bike-path cyclists ride.
    I don’t think it would be wise to allow brand-new cyclists, who likely don’t have a solid understanding of safe cyclist behavior, to hop on an e-bike and zoom around bike paths at 20mph.

    This would also result in an even larger speed differential on uphills, and would allow loaded cargo e-bikes (which should be moving fairly slowly on bike paths) to travel at unsafe speeds.

    An e-bike should allow a weak/tired/loaded rider to move with the flow of other bike traffic, not to zoom past it.

  • I’m in favor of the TX/Federal hybrid regulations TX law allows any speed up to the posted limit with pedaling and limits weight of the bike to 100 pounds ready to ride. Couple that with the 750 watt limit and make that regulation apply to all states because Federal overrides state laws, and at least people could ride across state lines. As it is now a person in CT can’t ride to PA because there are 3 different sets of laws along the way, not the least of which is the NY ban on the vehicles.

  • mariposaman

    100 lbs is arbitrary and has no scientific basis or study. Considering a person’s weight riding the bike is more than the weight of the bike, should that not also be a consideration. A 120 lb woman on a 200 lb bike weighs the same as a 220 lb man on a 100 lb bike.

  • Seriously. There are so many flippin stop signs on some of the routes I ride (Manhattan/Hermosa beach for instance).

  • mariposaman

    “A likely definition is a bike that can go no faster than 20 mph and that requires the rider to pedal to go that fast”

    Requiring pedal action is not necessary except as an intellectual exercise and restricting ebikes to pedal action serves no useful purpose. Throttle controlled ebikes have been shown as just as safe as a pedal action powered bicycle, you can go essentially the same speed no matter how you are controlling that speed.

  • mariposaman

    “proven to save lives” ? How so, is there a study or statistics for this and where can I find it. If this is such a good idea, why is it no other country or state thinks so (except cyclists).

  • mariposaman

    It might work in a sparsely populated and spread out state like Idaho, but what about more concentrated population area? I believe Idaho stands alone, certainly in the USA, and I think in the world, in instituting this law.

  • mariposaman

    An ebike turns a regular rider into the equivalent of a fit rider. Your admonitions against ebike riders also would apply to fit riders. Fit riders pass slower riders all the time, so why are they not problematic? In fact they are not, when paths become busy, everyone slows down and goes with the flow, just as automobile traffic does, and only pass when it is safe to do so.

    Of course you need more legislated power to maintain the same speed as a fit rider, since the battery and motor adds extra weight, and the frame needs to be sturdier. Restricting to 250 Watts like in Europe only serves to slow ebikes down slower than other bicycle traffic, and is rather useless as an assist with a heavy cargo bike.

    Fit riders can maintain 20 mph and more as a cruising speed easily on level ground. Exceptional riders can do a lot more. 102 year old Robert Marchand broke his own record for cycling for one hour, going almost 17 mph, and the general record for riding 1 hour is over 30 mph. I really find people claiming they cannot keep up with the speed of a 102 year old man hard to believe. The level 20 mph was set as it is believed an average fit rider can sustain this level.

  • Ryan Price

    You’re right, I shouldn’t say “proven”, because that’s highly subjective, however Idaho’s bicycle safety record is much, much better than California’s. Here’s another Streetsblog article on the same subject, including a fancy video from BTA:

    No other states try to pass this law because it’s divisive mostly with parts of the population that don’t regularly ride a bike, and Vehicular Cyclists.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    It actually works every single day in every major metropolitan area in America. It’s just a de facto law, not de jure. Maybe you don’t live in a concentrated population area? Cause I ride it every day and Idaho Stop is the rule, not the exception, and it’s working great.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    Decent point. It’s a pipe dream anyway. Probably the best hope is for police to de-emphasize it. Still, a large percentage of the bigotry directed at cyclists stems from this perception that cyclists are scofflaws because they don’t follow a law that was never designed for them. Righting this wrong would go a long way towards helping the image of the cycling community.

  • skellener

    While I do think eBikes can be a great benefit for people who otherwise wouldn’t ride a bike, I do worry that there can be abuse with them. Just as a lot of people don’t want to see them on the trails, I think allowing them onto bike paths with pedestrians and human powered bikes could be a mistake. Human power tends to keep most riders away from sustained speed that could lead to an accident (I know some people ride much faster) especially on a bike path. While I don’t think a ban on eBikes is necessary, I do think proper training for use in areas with other riders and pedestrians might be a good idea. I know there can be bad apples that ride unsafe even with human powered bikes, but I think there might be more temptation for abuse with a motorized one, basically the same as trail riding with eBikes. Responsibility on whatever you ride is always a key factor.

  • Gezellig

    Btw, just read this!

    Looks like Davis might end up being the first American community to do one:×1024.jpg

    Though they’re also considering a grade-separated approach for this particular area, too. Either way, I think the fact that an American city is actually at least finally considering this as an option is a major step. And if Davis doesn’t do it there, they’ll probably eventually do it elsewhere (as the article states, an expensive grade-separated crossing is possible there due to the adjacent development, but this will not be the case for many intersections in built-up areas with 4-way intersections, for which the Dutch 4-way approach is much cheaper).

    If this happens I’ll totally hop on the train from SF to Davis with my bike and go test it out. That’d be awesome! And proof this can actually happen in the US.

  • Commenter_X

    One of the changes proposed to the 406(b) definition last year, which thankfully for me did not pass even though I do believe in increasing e-bike access, was to change the definition from a pedal powered vehicle to one with two or three wheels *ONLY*.

    As a person who rides a quad conversion from a trike, eliminating my exiting vehicle from the 406(b) definition would be a massive loss with absolutely zero positive impact on safety or anything else – there’s no reason you need to restrict the definition to bikes and trikes only as long as the vehicle has fully operative pedals for propulsion, just as the current definition says.


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