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  • Writer's pictureZack Deutsch-Gross

Two New Laws Make Walking Safer in California

The legislature passed, and Governor Gavin Newsom signed, two bills that have the potential to make walking safer and reduce traffic fatalities. Each creates a powerful tool for local governments to make our streets safer, but their effectiveness will be determined by their implementation.

AB 645: Reducing dangerous speeding

Assembly Member Laura Friedman’s Automated Speed Enforcement Bill (AB 645) authorizes a pilot to test speed cameras to slow vehicle speeds. Three of the pilot cities are in the Bay Area: San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland, as well as three in Southern California: Los Angeles, Glendale, and Long Beach.

Speed is the most significant factor in the severity of a crash, especially a fatal one. The chances of dying increase exponentially as speed increases: a person walking or biking struck by a vehicle traveling 20 mph has a 10% chance of dying; at 30 mph, it goes up to 40%; 80% of pedestrians hit at 40 mph will die. The safety system pilot program is needed to improve the safety of our roads and save lives.

The effect of speed on fatalities has long been known. Source: NHTSA

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on average, fixed speed cameras like the ones authorized by AB 645 reduce injury crashes by 20% to 25%.

The pilot sets limits on the amount of the penalties, starting at $50 for exceeding the posted speed limit by 11 to 15 mph, and provides a payment plan and diversion program for car owners for whom the ticket creates financial hardship. Tickets will be issued to vehicle owners rather than drivers; the cameras will read license plates but won’t recognize faces.

The measure includes provisions to inform drivers, including signage in the camera locations, public information campaigns before implementation, and warnings rather than tickets for the first 60 days of operation. During the pilot, cameras can’t operate in a location for more than 18 months unless they reduce the 85th percentile speed (the speed that 85% of vehicles drive within, used to set speed limits), reduce speeding by 20%, or reduce repeat violations by 20%.

AB 645 also addresses the proven bias that leads to police pulling over BIPOC drivers for minor infractions at much higher rates, leading to increased fines, criminalization, and even death. Philando Castile, Daunte Wright, Tyre Nichols, Frederick Holder, and many more would still be alive if not for traffic stops that turned deadly. But, if more cameras are placed in disadvantaged neighborhoods with a high proportion of drivers of color, automated enforcement could replicate the bias of human traffic stops.

Due to historic infrastructure disinvestment in neighborhoods with large populations of Black and Brown residents, many of the most dangerous stretches of roadway may be in these communities. Each city will need to weigh equity along with safety in deciding the most appropriate placements for its speed detection system.

If you live in one of the pilot cities, consider getting involved and weighing in on the placement of speed cameras.

AB 413: Daylighting crosswalks

Many states and cities outlaw parking within a certain distance of intersections to increase visibility. Car-centric California has, until now, allowed cities to permit parking right up to the edge of the crosswalk, prioritizing parking spots over pedestrian lives. Assembly Member Alex Lee’s Daylighting to Save Lives Bill (AB 413) sets a default 20-foot no parking zone on the approach to a crosswalk, whether or not it’s striped. Cities can set shorter or longer distances based on the speed of the street.

Cars, trucks, and vans parked next to crosswalks block pedestrians from the view of approaching drivers as they step into the street. Daylighting gives drivers valuable additional time to see and stop for people crossing the street. California will have to do more to reverse the surge in pedestrian fatalities, but the daylighting law is a crucial step in the right direction.

Bike parking is allowed within the daylighting zone, and communities can add other amenities, such as bioswales, to activate these spaces while preserving sightlines.

While the daylighting law makes it illegal to park within 20 feet of a crosswalk, it doesn’t require cities to paint curbs red or put up no parking signs, though they are allowed to issue tickets. Without those cues, drivers won’t know not to park there.

You can make a difference. Talk with your local public works department and elected officials about their plans to enforce AB 413. Encourage your community to take a proactive approach to increase visibility at intersections. Several Bay Area cities already have daylighting initiatives; help keep up the momentum for this critical, inexpensive way to save lives.


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