Big things happened in the world of transportation policy this year in California. Caltrans got a new mission and vision, the new State Transportation Agency kicked off a robust transportation improvement plan, and TransForm hosted our third annual Transportation Choices Summit and Advocacy Day.
But arguably the biggest things to happen in 2014 came out of deals between the California Legislature and the Governor. As we look back at the 2014 legislative session, we can celebrate the victories as well as learn from the setbacks.
Cap-and-Trade wins for transportation and housing
For over two years, TransForm and our allies have worked hard to ensure that funds from the greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program – collected from the auction of some carbon allowances to polluters – would be used in ways that reduce greenhouse gas and other pollution . In particular, we have advocated for more transportation and housing choices and projects that benefit disadvantaged, low-income communities and households.
This June, after months of wrangling and honest questions about the effectiveness of such programs, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a groundbreaking budget that included robust investments for the kinds of programs we know will bring transformative change for communities throughout the State. For more about the budget deal, read our blog post.
Wins for bicyclists, and a growing concern for equity
Beyond cap-and-trade, a couple of themes prevailed in this year's legislative session. First, the session seems to have been pretty good for bicyclists. Two weeks ago, the Three Feet for Safety Act (a bill signed last year, during the first half of the session) began to be enforced throughout the state. Shortly after, the Governor signed two bills on his desk – AB 1193 (Ting) and SB 1183 (DeSaulnier) – that add impressive layers of flexibility for the funding, planning, and building of safer bicycle infrastructure.
For years, Caltrans design criteria has held back many communities from planning and building innovative projects known to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. In the wake of the critical report released by the State Smart Transportation Initiative, Caltrans endorsed the NACTO Urban Design Standards, as a signal that the State was beginning to take seriously its role in improving safety. AB 1193 is effectively the next step along this path for Caltrans. The bill creates a class for separated bikeways, paths protected from automobile traffic by curbs, on-street parking, or other means. It also requires Caltrans to develop criteria for approving these bikeways, sometimes known as cycletracks, in consultation with the Caltrans advisory committee dedicated to improving access for persons with disabilities. For a run-down of this bill, read this post by the California Bicycle Coalition.
SB 1183 complements these steps by allowing locals to add up to $5 to automobile vehicle license fees for bicycle infrastructure both on- and off-road. The passage of this bill signals that our financial experts at the state level, long wary of using revenues generated by cars for other transportation infrastructure, now understand and accept the direct connection between bicyclist and driver safety.
Another theme, though less visible, is the growing understanding by many in state government that sustainable transportation and land use must also be equitable and fair for all Californians.
From requirements for cap and trade dollars to electric vehicle rebates, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a number of bills that help to address the disproportionate negative impacts of bad planning upon our poorest neighborhoods and households.
SB 1275 and SB 1204, two bills that address our current fleet of dirty cars, trucks, buses and trains with electric alternatives, gained TransForm’s support because of their equity provisions. In SB 1275, Senator De León included a potentially groundbreaking alternative for low-income households stuck with dirty, expensive-to-maintain cars: a chance to use rebates for scrapping gross polluters, and rebates for electric vehicles to acquire transit passes and car share options worth thousands of dollars. In SB 1204, Senator Lara required that funds used to replace heavy duty equipment (including trains and buses) prioritize disadvantaged communities.
Unfortunately, this thread of equity was not universally embraced, as exemplified by the death of AB 1330 – a bill touted as an “environmental justice omnibus”, which could never gain enough traction for a variety of reasons.
The losses, and big opportunities for 2015
Though there were no real steps backward for transportation or land use policy this year, two large missed opportunities stand out.
First, the Legislature and the Governor missed the opportunity to take advantage of any momentum from the creation of last year’s Active Transportation Program, the combined state and federal funding pot for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. No additional revenues were added to a pot described by a California Transportation Commission member as, “less than the cost overrun on an expressway.”
Second, the Governor missed a critical chance to help improve the health and safety of our most vulnerable Californians when he vetoed SB 1151. This bill would have added $35 to fines for traffic violations in school zones, and put the money into the Active Transportation Program. Currently, though California sports a robust signage and double-fine zone for roadworkers (rightfully so), it has no such additional fines or requirements for school zones. Correlated with this are the terrible facts that California children have the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation, and that children in low-income households are more than twice as likely to walk or bike to school as children from higher income families, and suffer disproportionately higher rates of injury and fatality.
SB 1151 gained the vote of nearly every Republican and Democrat in both houses of the Legislature – a clear signal that Californians want our children safe – yet the Governor balked at fine increases for drivers who endanger the lives of children going to school.
We’re frustrated by the Governor’s veto of SB 1151, but we’re not giving up on making California’s streets safe for all children, no matter where they live or go to school and how they get there.
If you are interested in adding your voice of support to improve childrens’ safety, send an email to your legislator right now.
UPDATE: Good news! Shortly after this post was published, Governor Brown signed another bill TransForm had supported through the year.
SB 1077 (DeSaulnier) requires the California Transportation Commission to create a Road Usage Charge (RUC) Technical Advisory Committee to study the feasibility of replacing our current, regressive gasoline tax with a RUC.
Our current method for funding transportation projects is simply unsustainable. Newer cars run more efficiently, allowing people of means to drive farther and cause more wear and tear on our roads while paying less to maintain them. This leaves low-income households, unable to afford better miles-per-gallon, stuck with paying more. Over time, as California replaces our fleets of autos and buses with electric vehicles and real transportation choices, the effects will be even greater.
By creating a Technical Advisory Committee to study the feasibility of replacing the gasoline tax with a potentially much fairer and more sustainable system, the State continues to make strides to improve our transportation choices for all Californians
Overall, the year we called the Year of Opportunity at our 2014 Transportation Choices Summit didn’t disappoint. With your help, TransForm took advantage of our opportunities and helped get some good wins for safer, cleaner and more equitable transportation and land use in California. Thank you!