New Bills in CA Legislature Send Mixed Messages for Livable Streets

weekly update CA legislationThe deadline for introducing new bills to be considered in the 2015 California legislative session passed last Friday. Out of the total 2,295 bills, there are not very many pertaining to bicycling and walking, and some of those that do are not very bicycle-friendly. Overall it may end up being a lackluster session for bike policy.

However, there are several  “spot bills” that could go either way. These are bills that make very minor changes to existing laws and are submitted to meet the deadline, but in such rough draft form that they give little idea what their ultimate intention will be.

For example, a bill from Assemblymember Robert Bigelow, A.B. 208, currently says only that it will be about “bikeways.” Bigelow (R-O’Neals) is a rancher who represents the Sierra foothills, a rural area with narrow mountain roads that draw bicyclists from far and wide to enjoy the scenery. Bigelow’s legislative aide Robert Wilson said the Assemblymember is very interested in improving safety for both bicyclists and motorists, and in “mending the relationship between them.” Bigelow is working with “multiple” unnamed statewide stakeholders to find a way to create “more safety and peace of mind for all road users.” But further details on the bill’s specific intent were not forthcoming.

We’ll keep an eye on the spot bills, as well as the other ones, and update our tracking page here as more information comes in.

More about the current bills after the jump.

Helmets: Of course any bill can be amended up until the very last moment. Hopefully the mandatory bicycle helmet law proposed by Senator Carol Liu (D-La Canada-Flintridge), S.B. 192, will be amended sooner than that. As of today, it has not been amended or withdrawn, and a hearing could be held as early as next Friday.

Lights: Assemblymember Kansen Chu’s (D-San Jose) bill that would require flashing rear lights on bikes at night, A.B. 28, has been repaired. Its first version required flashing white lights in the rear–obviously a mistake–and that’s been amended to require a flashing red rear light or reflective gear. Maybe it can be amended further to allow lights to substitute for the currently required rear red reflectors.

Bridge Access: Bikes on two Bay Area bridges are the subjects of bills this session: Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) introduced A.B. 157 to speed up environmental review and design of a third vehicle lane and a bike lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. This bill isn’t really necessary, since the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is already pursuing ways to streamline the process, but its introduction has produced the desired effect of pushing things along.

The other bridge bill, A.B. 40 from Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would prohibit the Golden Gate Bridge Authority from charging tolls for walking or bicycling across that bridge, which it has threatened to do. Says the bill, “Free bridge access for bicyclists and pedestrians…. provides an incentive for the use of non-vehicular forms of transportation that improve air quality, confront climate change, and encourage physical activity…. Sidewalk fees would directly contradict California’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fostering healthy, sustainable transportation strategies.” Also: “A sidewalk fee is wrong and unfairly burdens people biking and walking. The state should work to expand access to this iconic landmark, not limit it to only those who can afford to pay.”

School Zones: Senator Anthony Cannella, who represents the Central Valley (R-Ceres), introduced three bills relating to school zone safety. S.B. 632 would allow local jurisdictions to set speed limits near schools as low as 15 miles per hour, even on a highway that currently has a posted limit of 30 mph. He has also reintroduced a bill that was identical to one that made it through the legislative session last year but was vetoed by Governor Brown: S.B. 564, which calls for a higher fine for traffic violations withing school zones, with any fines thus acquired going towards school zone safety projects in the Active Transportation Program.  Senator Cannella also introduced a bill, S.B. 698, that would further support the ATP with its proposal to appropriate an unspecified amount from cap-and-trade funds to school zone safety projects.

E-Skateboards: Other bills on the table include A.B. 604, from Assembly Republican Leader Kristen Olsen (R-Modesto), that would subject electrically powered skateboards to current vehicle laws and allow them to use bike lanes—giving them more legal access to travel than electric bikes currently have.

E-Bikes: That is, unless A.B. 875 from Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach) passes. This bill would define low-speed electric bikes and exempt them from the current prohibition on using them in the bike lane. “Low-speed electric bicycles have been misclassified as motorcycles for a long time,” says Harper on his website. “The current law is causing too much confusion and is preventing people from using their bikes in safe, public spaces.”

Hit and Runs: There are also two bills that make a stab at reducing hit-and-run collisions. Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) reintroduced a bill that was vetoed by Governor Brown in the last session. A.B. 8 would allow the emergency “Amber Alert” system, which was first created to find kidnapped children, to broadcast a statewide “Yellow Alert” with information about hit-and-run crashes, under certain circumstances. L.A. didn’t wait for the state; last month the city council approved a local version of the alert system to help apprehend hit-and-run perpetrators.

Eric Linder (R-Corona) also introduced A.B. 534, a bill that would require the court to revoke the license of a driver involved in a hit-and-run crash for six months, even if the case resulted in a plea bargain rather than a conviction.

We’ll be compiling and updating the list of bills relevant to active transportation here. We’ll also be tracking bills on climate change and miscellaneous transportation issues–coming soon.

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