CA Bill to Prohibit Bridge Tolls for Bikes, Peds Passes Committee

GGBridge
Bicycle riders and pedestrians prepare to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

A bill in the California Assembly that would prohibit state-owned bridges from charging tolls for pedestrians and bicycle riders moved forward yesterday in committee. Assemblymember Phil Ting’s A.B. 40 passed the Assembly Transportation Committee with a vote of 31 to 2.

The bill’s first draft would have applied only to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge Authority last year floated the idea of tolling bicyclists and pedestrians as one solution to its money problems, but others thought tolls would be detrimental to state efforts to increase these active transportation modes.

“More bicycling solves so many problems in California that government agencies, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, should welcome and encourage bicycling,” wrote the California Bicycle Coalition in support of the bill. “The idea that ‘everyone should pay their fair share’ is a noble one but to use that argument to justify charging people when they walk or bicycle reflects a naïve and erroneous understanding of how we pay for the benefits and impacts of our transportation system.”

The Assembly Transportation Committee analysis had concluded that “if free bridge access for those walking and using bicycles is good policy on the Golden Gate Bridge as a means of promoting these modes of transportation and their many benefits, surely it is good policy on all toll bridges.”

Assemblymember Ting accepted the suggested amendment to apply the prohibition universally to all state-owned bridges. With the amendment, the Golden Gate Bridge Authority removed its opposition to the bill, although did not go so far as to support it, stopping at a neutral stance.

A similar bill, also written in response to a Golden Gate Bridge Authority proposal to charge bicyclists and pedestrians toll, got all the way through the legislative process in 2005, but it was vetoed by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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  • ijfsfj

    There’s also the Cap and Trade money, and arguments that we have been biased towards cars at the expense of active transit and now as a society are obligated to provide safe routes of passage for our most vulnerable who also tend to be lower income. So it’s a social equity argument also besides environmental.

  • Gezellig

    Bike congestion, to the extent that’s even a remotely possible risk, is more manageable than car congestion due to the size differences. After all:

    http://beardude.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/6440857817_a1f5423c45_z.jpg

    The only bridge I can really think of where noteworthy bike/ped congestion sometimes occurs is the Golden Gate Bridge–but then that’s really only on the shared bike/pedway on the east side. The bikes-only west side could see quite a bit more growth in bike volumes. Let’s cross that bridge if/when it comes (as it were), as it’s really a good problem to have.

    Remember, this isn’t opening the floodgates by repealing *existing tolls*, but simply continuing the status quo in which public policy sees fit not to further discourage the small percentages of bridge users currently going by alternate means.

    This suggests even going by the capacity issue alone we have plenty of room to go by continuing to not discourage biking/walking across bridges before we ever reach gridlock-levels of congestion.

    And if that does come to pass (not any time soon), there are ways to divvy up bridge space to accommodate, say, 30% modeshare if need be.

  • datbeezy

    I think it’s simple. Bridges with bike lanes have limited capacity. Presently at some times it is over capacity and there is congestion. Shifting more trips to bicycle could result in levels of congestion that are not efficient. Ergo, a toll.
    This is obvious if you think of bicycles as a transportation choice, not a moral/ethical one. While there may be political solutions of the capacity issue, in any regard, there is no good rationale to ban bicycle tolling. It resolves zero issues and potentially introduces a new one.

  • Gezellig

    You’re focusing on only one aspect of tolling – essentially repaying the construction cost

    That and ongoing maintenance costs.

    But tolls also exist to limit oversubscription/congestion (Ie, Shoupism).

    Under Shoupism financial incentives to people using greener and less-space-taking modes (c.f. CA’s Parking Cash-Out Law) are an integral ideal.

    It seems akin to arguing that under the Shoupist (literally, as he was directly behind this) Parking Cash-Out Law that we’re risking overcrowded sidewalks and bikeways so might as well not do it.

    This really just amounts to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Tolling is an effective tool for many uses; being concerned about being asked to fund bridge construction is fair enough, but to ban tolling not only won’t prevent bicyclists from paying these costs; it will also prevent other, productive uses of tolling.

    I’m not sure I follow your reasoning–could you explain a bit more about what you mean? Are you concerned that lack of ped/bike tolls will lead to crowded bike/pedways? (if so, see my comments to Joe Linton below re: theoretical 30/30/30% modeshare or even my comments re: the Cash-Out Law above).

  • datbeezy

    You’re focusing on only one aspect of tolling – essentially repaying the construction cost. But tolls also exist to limit oversubscription/congestion (Ie, Shoupism). It’s irrelevant that the cost of providing bicycle infrastructure is miniscule and it’s not worth collecting.

    This really just amounts to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Tolling is an effective tool for many uses; being concerned about being asked to fund bridge construction is fair enough, but to ban tolling not only won’t prevent bicyclists from paying these costs; it will also prevent other, productive uses of tolling.

  • Gezellig

    Well, it’s really not about -ists vs. -ians vs. -ers (after all, what driver *only* drives and has never walked? What biker *only* bikes and never walks? What walker *only* goes by foot and has never hopped in a bus or automobile? etc.).

    It’s about the construction and maintenance costs each mode presents to any given bridge vis à vis the wear-and-tear/design considerations various modes inflict upon a bridge vs. what those various modes actually do to cover such costs.

    See comments in rest of thread below re: how ridiculously cheap it already is for people crossing in cars (which in general in society pay far less than their fair share in terms of direct and externalized costs) vs. those crossing via transit (which is much oftener expected to “pay its full way”), for example.

    As mentioned below, if proportional tolls are to be levied on people crossing by foot and bike, they would be max in the low pennies per user. Which would be an ultimate money-loser in terms of the administration costs required to administer such fees.

    Btw, all of this ignores that we as a society have a strong incentive to encourage alternate, more sustainable modes of getting around. In fact, if anything, a so-called “reverse toll” for people on bike and foot is actually not such a crazy idea (even if only done temporarily):

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/09/19/norwegian-town-pays-cyclists-and-pedestrians-reverse-toll-money/

  • murphstahoe

    Paying people to cross on bike moderates demand for driving. QED

  • datbeezy

    But the purpose of Shoup-style fees is to moderate demand, not recompensate for cost.

  • datbeezy

    To me, this is looking out for bicyclists interests over the interests of “everyone”. Maybe that’s their mission and it’s OK, but I’d side with the “public interest” over any particular subgroup. There could any number of scenarios where a toll could be appropriate for bikes/peds. Banning them as an option is both short-sighted and poorly considered.

  • I find that the congestion is on the east side MUP when the west side bike path is closed. If only there was some sort of solution for that conundrum.

  • Since $.01 toll is already way too much for bikes to pay, whipping up super-expensive pretexts to justify a toll is a strange pastime.

    The push for bike access to the RSR Bridge is over two decades old, the few needed improvements have been known for that long and could have easily been incorporated into regular maintenance. Those presenting it as $35 million “for bikes” are missing history.

    The history of the Bay Bridge West Span is also instructive. Bike activists advocated a much-needed maintenance path that could also be an MUP. Caltrans ignored this and instead came up with a seismic retrofitting that added a lot of weight to the West Span, preventing such a path (and preventing Key System-quality commuter rail from ever going on the bridge, even though that’s what the bridge was originally designed for). Then, after all that was done and paid for, Caltrans decided it needed a maintenance path after all and proposed the very expensive treatment shown above.

    1) Ignore bike activists. 2) Charge bikes for precisely what you ignored. 3) Profit.

  • The Shoupista-hearted should do the math. AASHTO estimates damage to road surfaces as the fourth power of weight per axle, so cars do 16,000x more than bikes (an underestimate that doesn’t take velocities into account). So even a $0.01 toll is way too much and wouldn’t cover the cost of collecting it.

    Of course we already pay all of this in more in our usual taxes, and the low costs we inflict don’t justify setting up an additional revenue source.

  • The defraying cost argument won’t work very well, but it will appeal to populism, especially with the budgetary constraints that will certainly exist going forward. When a $70mn road grade separation project has to spend $2mn more to build a good facility, that will get raked over the coals for years, even if the bridge barely uses 20% of its capacity of its useful life.

  • murphstahoe

    This is laughable compared to the gridlock that occurs with great frequency on the vehicle deck – so much so that we spent $30 million to build a movable median so we can reconfigure the lanes midday.

    What exactly does congestion on the bike side really mean, a delay of maybe 2% for the entire bridge crossing? Vehicle crossings frequently slow down by 10x.

  • murphstahoe

    If that comes to pass the structure Gezillig shows won’t need to be built, we can repurpose a vehicle lane and save huge dollars.

  • murphstahoe

    If you are a Shoupista, you’d think cyclists should be paid to cross the bridge. The cost of a bridge is to support the weight of cars. If we can get more cyclists and fewer cars to cross a bridge, bridge construction would be cheaper.

  • jd_x

    If it makes sense, then the cost should be proportional to the total impact of bicycling to society as compared to cars. When you factor all the externalities currently excluded from our transportation economics (pollution, congestion, accidents, noise, contribution to obesity epidemic, etc.), then we would be charging bicyclists pennies (as @disqus_2xADSo7Zq7:disqus said), or probably even paying people to cycle. It’s the exact same reason why paying a bicycle tax is ridiculous.

    Sure, in some utopian future where motorized transport pays for all costs including those currently externalized, then sure, bicyclists can pay their fraction and it will still be orders of magnitude less than what cars pay. But it makes no sense to be talking about this when we have much larger transportation issues to solve, i.e. getting people out of cars.

  • Gezellig

    If that comes to pass let’s cross that bridge (pun half-intended) if/when it comes 🙂

    At this point we should be addressing the very whacked status quo bridges are following in terms of equitably serving all users.

  • Joe Linton

    It makes sense that today, even a $1 toll for bikes wouldn’t be fair for the GG Bridge. . My (slight) concern is only that, over time (some day in the hard-to-forsee future), it may make sense to charge some bike/ped tolls on some state bridge – in which case, we’ll need state legislation to carve out an exception to this law.

  • Gezellig

    The problem is that it’s way out of whack in terms of how very little cars pay for the congestion and wear-and-tear they cause (see my comments below for more specific numbers).

  • David Marcus

    That’s my take as well. The Golden Gate Bridge bike path currently experiences a lot of congestion at certain times. Now we’re saying we categorically oppose pricing as a solution to congestion, except for cars.

  • Gezellig

    Regarding planning future bike/ped facilities, it’s instructive to compare a couple Bay Area bridges. The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is going to spend about $35 million by reconfiguring current space for a new bike/ped facility, whereas the planned bike/ped addition to the western span of the Bay Bridge will probably end up costing $500mil-$1 bil because they’re proposing adding a whole new structural element rather than reconfiguring the 10 current lanes (5 upper deck, 5 lower) currently devoted exclusively to cars:

    http://www.mtc.ca.gov/images/west_span_bike_path.jpg

    We could have a ped/bike-way on the western span today and on the cheap if we removed even a single one of those 10 lanes.

    Regarding maintenance costs, the problem of, say, a $1 walk/bike bridge toll (the amount that Golden Gate Transit proposed in its investigation into a potential bike/ped toll) is that a car only pays $6.
    The wear-and-tear that someone going by bike or foot inflicts upon a bridge is not a full 1/6th that of a multi-ton auto going 45+mph across the same bridge. Bike/ped wear-and-tear is likely in the pennies per person.

    For that matter, for the wear-and-tear and the sheer space each car inflicts upon a bridge, cars are getting an amazing deal especially compared to transit. For example, the average ~40-ft. Golden Gate Transit bus has capacity for ~40 people. They’re often at or near capacity during peak hours. The *cheapest* fare you will pay on a GGT bus is $4 each way.

    Thus a full commute-hour bus is paying an effective $320 toll for crossing the bridge ($640 roundtrip. Unlike driving, you pay each way on the bus). Despite the fact that a 40 ft. bus is only taking up barely more than twice the space a single-occupant 18 ft. full-size sedan/SUV is.

    Even in weight the difference is stark. The average new car sold in the US is now over 4,000 pounds, whereas the average bus is about 40,000 pounds. Yet the bus pays an effective $640 roundtrip toll whereas a car pays a $6 roundtrip toll.

    If anyone’s not paying their fair share in terms of bridges’ wear-and-tear operating costs and maintenance, it’s cars.

    Finally, I wouldn’t count on a 30% walk/30% bike/30% transit (and thus only 10% car?) bridge modal share anytime soon. We should be so lucky to have such a “problem” if it ever happens. 🙂

    For now, we need to be encouraging alternate modes to the greatest extent possible.

  • gneiss

    Then we should have access to one of the bridge lanes currently devoted to cars. Currently, the bike and pedestrian accommodations on the bridge are at best passable as commuter routes. With increased bicycle traffic and reduced car traffic we should get a lane on the main bridge deck. I see no reason for tolling before that happens.

  • gneiss

    How so? What data do you have that suggests tolling bicyclists and pedestrians on state bridges would raise enough revenue to make it worth it for an agency to do so?

  • calwatch

    The unintended consequence is now, agencies will be reluctant to build bicycle/pedestrian facilities on bridges, and relegate them to using the roadway shoulder.

  • theqin

    The west side not being open 24 hours a day is already a sign that the bridge authority doesn’t take bikes seriously.

  • Have to say, between this and the recent withdrawal of the helmet law bill, Cal Bicycle Coalition is doing a very good job of looking out for bicyclists’ interests.

  • Joe Linton

    In my Shoupista heart-of-hearts, I think that it might make sense for cyclists to pay some tolls (not necessarily on Golden Gate tomorrow – I’m not in S.F., don’t pretend to know about that specific struggle) especially if it means that agencies/builders might actually plan and design bridges that accommodate bikes/peds. In a declining-VMT future where cycling’s modal share is 30%, walking 30%, transit 30%, someone will have to pay to maintain bridges…

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