California Bicycle Coalition Announces Its 2015 Legislative Agenda

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

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

Also on its agenda is the less glamorous but equally important task of clarifying some outdated regulations that prevent people from riding bikes.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

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

Funding for Bicycle Networks

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

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

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

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

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

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 Change.org calling for the state law to be changed.

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