No more excuses - we need Complete Streets

Joshua Stark Headshot

Photo of protected bike lane on Telegraph Ave. in Oakland; photo credit, Dianne YeeIf Governor Newsom is as serious about addressing climate change and keeping kids safe as he says he is, he’s got to sign SB 127, the Complete Streets for Active Living bill.

Authored by Senator Scott Wiener and co-sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition, SB 127 would require Caltrans to serve the interests of all road users when it repairs or repaves local streets it controls

This is a climate issue because if we want to encourage people to drive less, it has to be much easier and safer to walk, bike, and take transit. Currently, state roads are managed in ways that are often dangerous or even deadly for people walking, biking, or taking transit. Designing roads with the safety of ALL road users in mind, not just fast cars, will change the way people travel in California. 

TransForm and our allies at the California Bicycle Coalition, California Walks, and other organizations have worked for years to improve Caltrans’ treatment of the many local streets and roads it manages. For three years, various good legislators took up bills to address this fatal flaw in road management, but each time, the previous administration and a few road-happy legislators defeated them in the Legislature. 

This year, with a new Governor and the now-overwhelming realization that we must do something to curb our transportation-related climate pollution, SB 127 has made it to the governor’s desk, passing both houses with strong majorities. But what’s he waiting for? Unfortunately, the Department of Finance is resisting the bill, but Governor Newsom’s own policies and recent decisions strongly suggest he should sign it. 

First, Governor Newsom’s executive order on climate just a month ago puts new emphasis on California’s transportation infrastructure, directing CalSTA to prioritize transportation investments in ways that reduce climate pollution, encourage housing closer to jobs, reduce congestion, and reduce vehicle miles traveled. SB 127 fits perfectly into this executive order, and a veto would fly in the face of it. 

Second, Governor Newsom has sent very positive signals to the biking, walking, transit, and environmental and EJ communities with his recent appointments of Toks Omishakin to Director of Caltrans and Tamika Butler and Hilary Norton to the California Transportation Commission.  These appointments, along with the earlier appointment of CalSTA Secretary David Kim, are very encouraging moves by a new Governor. Each of these leaders has a proven understanding of the need to shift towards a more sustainable and equitable transportation infrastructure, and this would help bolster their leadership in that direction.

Last but certainly not least, the Department of Finance came out in opposition to the bill.  Their argument? It is too expensive.

Too expensive??

Bike/ped infrastructure makes up somewhere between one and three percent of California’s total investment in transportation.  There’s no way this bill would put a financial dent in Caltrans’ breathtakingly expensive road expansion and maintenance efforts (though we wish it would).  And besides, Legislative leaders found Caltrans’ cost estimates to be “farcical” and “absurd.”

But, let’s just pretend for a second that the bill is expensive. Caltrans provided an unsubstantiated and far-fetched estimate of $1 billion. The purpose of the bill is to allow people to move through public space without getting killed. Isn’t that worth paying for? How much is too much to ensure kids get to school safely?  Is $1 billion too much to protect older neighbors getting to the library or the doctor? 

It is a terrible argument, to say that we should maintain a deadly status quo (which also feeds the climate crisis) because we can’t afford to bump up our expenses from a tiny fraction of our transportation budget to a slightly less tiny fraction.   

Governor Newsom has a chance to reinforce his climate and moral leadership by signing SB 127. When it comes to both road safety and road policy, we urgently need this change (except it’s not even a policy change! It would just require Caltrans to act on its current written policy).

Now, for your part: Please head over to CalBike and tell Governor Newsom to sign SB 127.  He only has until October 13th to sign the bill, so time is short.


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