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Legislative Update: Some Bills to Watch This Session

It's a good time to take a peek at how sustainable transportation and related topics are showing up on legislators' priorities. Here's a very NON-comprehensive list.

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

The California legislature is in the second year of a two-year session, which means, first, there some "two-year" bills left over from last year. There are also new bills. Second, all bills must pass all committees and both the Assembly and the Senate by the end of August or die.

This week the legislature is on spring break, and when it returns, committee hearings will begin in earnest. It's a good time to take a peek at how sustainable transportation and related topics are showing up on legislators' priorities.

Below is a partial list. Many will likely be amended, at least somewhat. Some may be rewritten entirely.

Bikes and E-bikes

Over the past few sessions, bike bills have done some work on cleaning up traffic law around bikes and safety - for example, Assemblymember Laura Friedman's (D-Glendale) "Omnibike" bill from last session. That would include ongoing efforts by various legislators to get a bill passed that would make it legal for bike riders to treat stop signs as yield signs, thus removing reasons for cops to stop and ticket riders behaving safely. The latest such effort was Assemblymember Tasha Boerner's (D-Encinitas) A.B. 73, which the author pulled last summer before it went to a final vote. At the time, she said she would work on a "robust and comprehensive bike and e-bike safety bill package."

A.B. 73 is technically still alive and Assemblymember Boerner still sees the value in getting it passed. For now she has turned her attention to other parts of her safety package, focusing on e-bike riders. Current law prohibits riders under sixteen years old from riding Class 3 e-bikes - which can go as fast as 28 mph (but can only provide power assist while the rider is pedaling). Boerner's bill A.B. 2234 would prohibit anyone under twelve years old from operating any kind of e-bike, including Class 3, Class 2 (which have both pedal-assist and a throttle, but are limited to 20 mph), and Class 1 e-bikes, which have only pedal assist top out at 20 mph.

That bill would also require all riders to carry either a valid driver's license or a "skills waiver" earned after completing an e-bike safety and training program.

The California Bicycle Coalition opposes A.B. 2234 because of the ID requirement. They argue it relies on police enforcement while creating a new requirement that could discourage people from adopting e-bikes.

Past legislation by Boerner created CHP-defined e-bike safety training standards, which are being used in some schools to train students who want to ride their e-bikes to the school. Another bill in her e-bike safety package, A.B. 2259, would require the DMV to develop and publish a bicycle rules handbook.

Note that Assemblymember Damon Connolly (D-Marin) is floating a somewhat similar bill, A.B. 1778. This one started out as an age limit for all e-bike classifications of a minimum of sixteen years old, and added a helmet requirement. It had already been amended before any hearings, and now it proposes a pilot program to allow Marin County to pass a local ordinance making those two changes.

Expect pushback on these bills, which bring up old arguments about who is responsible for safety. Both the helmet and the ID requirements raise the possibility of police harassment, at a time when other legislators have been arguing that there need to be fewer pretextual stops and less reliance on police enforcement.

Other e-bike bills to watch include two from Assemblymember Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach): A.B 1174, which would make it illegal to tamper with e-bikes to defeat speed limiters, and A.B. 1773, would allow local jurisdictions to prohibit e-bikes on boardwalks (in addition to the hiking and equestrian trails they already can prohibit e-bikes on).

Another bill pertaining to e-bikes is from Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine). S.B. 1271 would require e-bike batteries sold in California to be certified as having been tested by "an accredited testing laboratory" that has been approved by the state fire marshal. The exact language on this requirement may be in flux, but the point is to reduce battery fires. This could affect the state's e-bike incentive program, which currently plans no such restriction for the e-bikes people can buy under that program.

Complete Streets

Senator Scott Wiener's new iteration of a Complete Streets bill is back. S.B. 960 would require Caltrans to include safe infrastructure on repaving projects on state routes, which are streets in many cities, and includes adding transit needs into the mix. Governor Newsom vetoed a similar bill in 2019, saying Caltrans is "already doing this." But state and local planning departments allow so many exceptions to Caltrans rules that the end result is that they are NOT doing this.

Another bill from Senator Wiener, S.B. 961, has two important provisions: First, it would require large trucks and trailers to have side guards to prevent car drivers, bike riders, and pedestrians from being crushed under the wheels. This is part of an ongoing fight nationally to make big rigs safer for people around them; the industry has pushed back hard against mandating these safety devices, and the federal government has backed down on requiring them, even though they would likely save many lives.

The other provision in S.B. 961 is equally "controversial" on the national stage, but equally important: it would require new cars to have speed governors on them so that going much over the speed limit is virtually impossible. Here, again, the industry has fought hard to keep this rule off the books, even though it would be likely to save many lives.

It's weird that requiring speed governors on tiny e-scooters is accepted as a common-sense solution, but the same technology on a car or truck gets so much resistance.

Another potential safety change is from Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). A.B. 2744 would prohibit vehicles from turning right from a bike lane unless it is clearly also marked as a right-turn lane.

Planning

Still on the docket from last session are a couple of important planning bills from Assemblymember Friedman: A.B. 6 and A.B. 7 would both require state transportation funding programs to incorporate climate principles and goals into their projects and demonstrate how projects would help achieve the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Assemblymember Friedman also has a bill, A.B. 2290, that would prohibit the use of ATP funding for Class III bikeways - which are basically useless, signed routes, sometimes with sharrows - unless the roads are slow-speed routes. It would require road projects to include bike and pedestrian facilities that have been adopted in a local active transportation or bicycle plan, regardless of whether there's a parallel facility for bike riders or not (currently they can use that as an excuse not to build what's in their plans). The ongoing lesson from LA's Measure HLA is that cities routinely ignore their own plans, and lawsuits may be the only way to force them to do the right thing.

Friedman's bill also requires Caltrans to develop standards for "quick-build" bikeways, which would allow cities to quickly build out safe bike networks and offer a safe alternative to driving.

Senator Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas) has a somewhat similar bill, A.B. 1216, which would prohibit anyone from using Active Transportation Program funding for Class III bikeways, and prohibit them from being used an any road over 30 mph.

Another bill would prohibit the CTC from allocating money under the Trade Corridor Enhancement Program, which is funded by S.B. 1, for adding a general purpose lane to a highway or expanding highway capacity in a disadvantaged community. A.B. 2535, from Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), would also require at least half of the funds under that program to go for zero-emission freight infrastructure.

And A.B. 2086, from Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo (D-Santa Clarita), would require Caltrans to develop public guidelines for demonstrating progress on its "Four Core" priorities of safety, equity, climate action, and economic prosperity. It would also require the development of a public online dashboard with annual project investments broken down by geography, district, and program area. Note these are both ongoing efforts at Caltrans, in response to years of requests from people advocating for more rational, balanced, and sustainable transportation investments than simply highway spending. Having it in statute would reinforce the need to make this information publicly available, and adds deadlines.

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