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California Legislative Wrap-up: Session Over, Bills Signed

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bikeatCapitollabel2Today is the deadline for California Governor Jerry Brown to sign or reject any bills passed by the legislature this session, so there has been a flurry of activity in the last few days. Here’s a quick look at few freshly signed laws pertinent to sustainable transportation and the climate.

Transportation Safety

We’ve written about A.B. 1785 a few times, and watched it get watered down as it moved through the legislative process. In its final form, the bill by Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) prohibits the operation of any handheld electronic communication device while driving a vehicle. They can be used, however, if they are attached to the dashboard, so distracted driving is not going away any time soon.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving was happy that Senator Jerry Hill’s S.B. 1046 was signed. The bill extends a pilot program requiring convicted drunk drivers to install ignition interlock devices if they want to get their drivers licenses back. The bill also lets someone who’s been convicted avoid the punitive license suspension if they install the locks right away. Our culture so strongly believes that driving is a necessity that we fail to imagine how useful it might be for someone to have to forego driving for a while.

Planning, Environmental Justice, and Climate Change

S.B. 1000 from Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) is a really solid bill that requires cities to consider environmental justice when updating general plans. Cities have to do so either by adding a new element to their general plans, or incorporating environmental justice into the entire plan. The new law specifically calls for cities to look at which communities are unduly burdened by health risks or pollution, to find ways to promote civil engagement in decision making, and to prioritize the needs of disadvantaged communities.

Read more…

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Fresno Opens Up Its Streets for CenCALvia this Sunday


California’s fifth largest city has been absent from the state, national, and international extravaganza of Open Streets festivals that have been going on in recent decades. That all changes as of Sunday, when Fresno will open its streets for families, cyclists, pedestrians, skaters, and runners.

CenCALvia is Fresno’s first foray into Open Streets. The free family-friendly festival will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Sunday, October 2. The route will run along both sides of East Ventura Avenue for just over a mile between First Street on the east and Cedar Avenue on the west.

The route will be lined with vendor booths on both sides of the streets, mixing nonprofits, public health groups, media, and local businesses. I have yet to see someone get married at an Open Streets event (as happened at L.A.’s first CicLAvia), but with the Ventura Wedding Chapel’s booth located just east of Fourth Street on Ventura Avenue, there’s always hope.

Okay, so that’s really just the location for the opening ceremonies…. but maybe if two people show up and WANT TO GET MARRIED, I mean… all the equipment will already be there…

For more on CenCALvia, visit its official website or Facebook page. Streetsblog CA is looking forward to seeing images from the event, so please send any pictures or video to or leave links in the comments section.

Welcome to the party, Fresno!

Streetsblog LA
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Equity 101: Bikes v. Bodies on Bikes

Ceebo Tha Rapper shoots a video near 65th and Broadway, where 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the police, answering critics that thought his first video called for violence against the police. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ceebo Tha Rapper (at right) shoots a rap video near 65th and Broadway, where 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the police. The video was to answer critics that thought his first video called for violence against the police. Ceebo (DaMonte Shipp) was arrested later that summer on a burglary charged and sentenced to 17 years. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“You’ve Been Whitesplained!”

“Maybe you didn’t catch that you jumped into a convo specifically about transportation/police issues?” the self-described “police/community relations specialist” and bike advocate tweeted at me.

“You’ve been whitesplained!” announced the cheery AOL-style voice in my head.

It’s the voice I hear every time I am told by a white person that race and class have no bearing on a conversation. Which happens way more often than you probably think, by the way.

But to answer her query, I was very much aware that I had jumped into the #moveequity conversation to engage the prompt, “How can community groups and residents partner with law enforcement to build trust and create safer, fairer communities?”

I did so specifically because the thread, part of a national Twitter chat hosted by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership last week, was quickly racking up semi-vague statements about the importance of building relationships.

The vagueness, to be fair, was partially due to the fact that the medium was Twitter, and you can only go so deep in 140 characters. Also to be fair, none of the suggestions offered up were necessarily wrong. Stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they police must absolutely be forged if the country is to heal and move toward a more just state.

But in a week when we had all watched yet two more Black men die in a hail of bullets on our screens, the absence of depth, urgency, and specifics in the conversation felt jarring.

So, when I spotted the tweet arguing the best way forward was to “Develop trust and engagement via long-term relationships based on mutual respect. Can’t just make demands,” I decided to ask the most logical and pressing question: How do we do that?

In communities where there has never been any sort of trust, where the relationship is so toxic and so suppressive that residents speak of law enforcement as the equivalent of an occupying force monitoring any and all movement through the public space, and where young men join gangs because they feel so vulnerable and unprotected in the streets, how do you begin to undo that harm?

We had to go beyond bike corral projects and barbecues with officers and collaborate with city agencies to transform the culture of policing from the top down, I argued. Preventive police work and meaningful community engagement had to be valued over the number of drug or gun busts. And any and all work had to be grounded in the understanding that the deep distrust stemmed from the suspicion and brutality with which African American and Latino people were regularly treated in the public space, not the fact that they were on bikes when they were mistreated.

“Please go troll someone else,” came the reply. “I work every day to make my city better for Everyone. Peace out.”

Bikes v. Bodies
That I would essentially be #AllLivesMatter-ed and subsequently blocked by a bike advocate in a conversation specifically dedicated to transportation and policing was somewhat strange, but not surprising.

There exists a pretty significant chasm within the mobility advocacy community when it comes to issues of equity and justice. At the heart of it lies the question of where one anchors the frameworks that guide their thinking: on the bicycle or on the body moving through space on those two wheels. Read more…

Streetsblog SF
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SPUR Talk: High-Speed Rail on its Way to Northern California

Bridging the Fresno River. This is just one of several locations where work is under way on the California High-Speed Rail project. Photo: CaHSR Authority

Bridging the Fresno River. This is just one of several locations where work is under way on the California High-Speed Rail project. Photo: CaHSR Authority

High-Speed Rail construction is well underway in the Central Valley, said Ben Tripousis, Northern California Regional Director for the California High Speed Rail Authority, during a forum at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association’s (SPUR) Mission Street center. “The High-Speed Rail question has shifted from ‘if’ to ‘when,'” he told the packed house at today’s lunchtime presentation.

He showed videos and photographs of the ongoing construction included in this video from the California High-Speed Rail Authority:

This fully funded phase contains “119 miles with…seven active sites with more to come in the Fall,” he explained. He also showed a video about a printing business and a boxing gym in Fresno that were successfully relocated to make way for the tracks. He said now that earth is being moved and concrete poured, some of the opposition is fading, but it will never go away altogether. “There’s no shortage of horror stories how projects like this ‘railroad’ people,” he said. “We continue to work very hard to include local communities.”

Streetsblog readers will recall that under the new HSR business plan, released earlier this year, the Authority is now doing environmental work and preparing for construction to link the Central Valley to San Francisco via Gilroy and the Caltrain corridor. Bridging the gap from Bakersfield to Los Angeles and Anaheim will come in a later phase. This decision was made after the Authority determined that an initial operating segment could get running faster, and serve more people, by focusing on the northern end of the alignment first.

That means “fully electrifying the Caltrain commuter service.” Electrifying Caltrain will permit HSR to share tracks to downtown San Francisco. He explained how Caltrain will eventually run at 110 mph, thanks to HSR-funded upgrades.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Adieu, Cars: Paris Riverfront to Be Permanently Returned to the People

A rendering of the Right Bank of the Seine -- sans highway. Rendering: Luxigon

A rendering of the Right Bank of the Seine — sans highway. Credit: Luxigon

After years of experimentation, the Paris City Council this week committed to the permanent conversion of two miles of the Georges Pompidou expressway along the River Seine into a waterfront park.

The 1960s expressway carried two lanes of traffic and about 43,000 vehicles a day along the Right Bank of the river. But beginning in 2011, the highway had been converted for part of the summer each year to a beach and waterfront promenade. The “Paris-Plages,” as it was called, was popular with tourists and locals as well, seeing as many as four million visitors annually.

The Georges Pompidou expressway carried about 43,000 vehicles daily. Photo: Preservation Institute

The Georges Pompidou expressway carried about 43,000 vehicles daily. Photo: Preservation Institute

During the past few months, Mayor Anne Hidalgo piloted a temporary closure to test conditions for permanently opening the space to pedestrians and cyclists.

Although there was some outcry from motorists, they were overshadowed by supporters of the conversion. According to the UK Independent, 55 percent of Parisians supported the conversion plan. Support for the project reflects Paris’ progress in shifting away from motor vehicles. According to Slate‘s Henry Grabar, 60 percent of Parisians do not own cars. That’s up from 40 percent just 15 years ago.

The conversion to a park will cost about $50 million, an investment that is expected to benefit the city’s tourism-based economy.

The park plan is part of a wider set of efforts by Mayor Hidalgo aimed at reducing air pollution and dependence on cars. She has also presided over the city’s first car-free days and intends to eventually limit the famous Champs-Élysées to electric vehicles only. Her predecessor, Bertrand Delanoë was the original proponent of converting the highway into a park, and was responsible for beginning the “Paris-Plages.”

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Funding for next phase of transit center blocked amid concerns about sinking tower (SF Examiner)
  • Support transportation sales tax Measure B, says the Sacramento Bee
  • Cap-and-trade program allows rich companies to pollute more (Sacramento News&Review)
  • Comparing S.F. and L.A.’s different strategies to spur civic innovation (Fast Coexist)
  • How do we change the car vs. bikes mindset? (Guardian)
  • For safer streets, design is more important than enforcement (Pedestrian Observations)
  • Highlighting the need for bike infrastructure (PlanItMetro)
  • The slow death of parking (Wired)

More California headlines at Streetsblog LA and Streetsblog SF

Streetsblog SF
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Was the Turning Point on Taraval a Teachable Moment?

The contentious "Safeway Stop" on the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog

The contentious “Safeway Stop” on the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog

A week ago today, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency decided unanimously to move forward with concrete boarding islands on the L-Taraval. And maybe, just maybe, it was also a concrete turning point towards finally putting safety first.

As Streetsblog readers know all too well, every time SFMTA develops transit improvements as part of its Muni Forward program, the agency encounters enormous pushback. It comes from competing agencies, local politicians, but, more often than not, from a loud minority of angry stakeholders. And whether it’s the Mission, Masonic, or Van Ness, it’s this pushback that gets covered in the mainstream press.

The resulting political pressure causes delays, watered-down projects, and—more often than not—a failure to adhere to the voter approved “transit first” policies dating back to the 1970s. In other words, a minority of self-interested and ill-informed people are given more political sway than the voters. Read more…
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Why Are American Traffic Fatalities Rising So Quickly?

What's causing the steep rise in traffic fatalities? Graph: State Smart Transportation Initiative

What’s causing the steep rise in traffic fatalities? Graph: State Smart Transportation Initiative

Summer is barely over but this much is already clear: Traffic safety on American streets is taking a big step backward in 2016.

During the first five months of the year, traffic deaths rose 9 percent over 2015 levels, reports Bill Holloway at the State Smart Transportation Campaign. It’s even worse if you compare to 2014 — traffic deaths have increased a staggering 17 percent since then.

One factor is that people are driving more as gas prices plunge and the economy grows. But the increase in mileage isn’t large enough to fully explain the mounting death toll. And in a disturbing related trend, pedestrian and cycling deaths are rising faster than overall traffic fatalities.

What is going on? Holloway searches for potential explanations:

Although there is no good data available on bicycle and pedestrian miles traveled, the number of bike and pedestrian commuters estimated in the American Community Survey shows the rough magnitude of changes in bike and pedestrian activity in recent years. Between 2010 and 2015 the number of bicycle commuters in the U.S. increased by 30 percent, climbing from 685,000 to 890,000; while the number of people walking to and from work increased by 8 percent, from 3,834,000 in 2010 to 4,153,000 in 2015 — a roughly 11.5 percent gain in total non-motorized commuters. However, during this same period, while total annual VMT climbed by only 4.9 percent, the number of fatal crashes involving bikers and walkers climbed by 27 percent, according to SSTI’s analysis of FARS data.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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The Mythology of HOT Lanes

In July Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe stood on the platform of a train station in Alexandria to announce that the U.S. Department of Transportation had granted $165 million for the Atlantic Gateway project.

While this is a multimodal project featuring rail, bus, and highway improvements, it was clearly the latter that most enthused the governor. At one point during his remarks, he declared that because of the road projects, “Today, the congestion is going to end!”

The primary focus of the highway improvements will be an extension of the HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes on I-95 and I-395. The only other speaker after the governor was a representative from Transurban, the controversial company that will operate the extended toll lanes.

McAuliffe. Photo: Kevin Posey

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Photo: Kevin Posey

Is McAuliffe right to be so confident in the ability of HOT lanes to eradicate congestion? Let’s look at three key arguments often heard in favor of HOT lanes.

Argument 1: Adding HOT lanes reduces congestion in general lanes along the same route.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, HOT lanes — sometimes branded as “express” or “managed” lanes — pull users from the general lanes because they stay uncongested. As usage of the HOT lanes increases, the toll increases. That keeps those who don’t want to pay the higher toll from entering. If enough drivers leave the general lanes for the toll lanes, the general lanes will move more freely.

This argument overlooks the phenomena of induced demand: as capacity increases, traffic also increases, as measured by vehicle miles traveled. The California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, acknowledged this effect could neutralize capacity expansions within five years.

It may not take that long. In Houston, Texas, commuters have discovered that having the world’s widest expressway that includes HOT lanes is no permanent congestion cure. The Katy Freeway is now a staggering 23 lanes wide, but three years after the state allocated $2.8 billion to expand it, congestion returned to its original level and continues to grow.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Dangerous configuration proliferates: another bike lane stuck between two right-turn lanes (Systemic Failure)
  • Report: Crash fatalities are rising faster than vehicle miles traveled (State Smart Transportation Initiative)
  • What biking across the country taught me about U.S. transportation challenges (Mobility Lab)
  • UCLA bus fleet goes all-electric (UCLA)
  • California and Massachusetts are the most energy-efficient states (San Diego Union Tribune)
  • Report: lack of housing will hold back California’s economic growth (LA Times)
  • Brown signs bills easing restrictions on granny units and promoting affordable housing (East Bay Times)
  • How small forests could save the planet (Science)

More California headlines at Streetsblog LA and Streetsblog SF