The Bills that Passed and the Bills that Died State Legislative Roundup
The California state legislative session has come to a close. Now we get to check the scorecard to see how far our elected leaders were willing to go to improve biking and walking in the state. Below is a summary of the wins, losses, and what we can look for in the year ahead.
First, I want to give a heartfelt thanks to our members and supporters for their engagement on these issues. While much of the statewide work on these bills was carried by the California Bicycle Coalition, it’s on all of us here in the Bay to make sure that our local electeds hear from us, and they did. When we asked, hundreds of people emailed Sen. McGuire and Asm. Levine, and they voted in favor of all of the bills we were supporting.
AB 43 Lowering Speed Limits (Friedman)
Speed limits in California are set in a rather bizarre way. Speed limits are set based on the speed at which the fastest 15% of drivers travel, rather than being determined by evidence-based safe speeds (for the curious, here is a deep-dive on this arcane rule). This results in what is called “speed creep,” where cities have to keep raising speed limits as drivers go faster and faster.
This bill does not wholly reform that, but gives cities the ability to reduce speed limits by 5 mph below what the rules would otherwise mandate.
AB 773 – The Slow Streets Act (Nazarian)
When the pandemic hit, Governor Newsom issued an emergency executive order that allowed cities and towns across the state to close streets to through traffic and open them to people walking, playing, rolling, or riding. This bill extends that authorization permanently, letting cities establish Slow Streets outside of the Covid emergency. Reimagining our streets as public places to meet and congregate was one of the true silver linings of the pandemic, and we were very pleased to see this bill sail through the legislature.
E-Bike Subsidies (included in the state budget)
This started out as a bill but for procedural reasons was shifted into the budget, but the outcome is the same. As a result, $10 million is being moved from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program to provide purchase incentives for electric bicycles. The details are still being worked out, but it’s our understanding that the majority of funding will be available for lower-income households who might otherwise have trouble affording an e-bike. We’ll provide updates when they become available.
AB 122 – The Bicycle Safety Stop (Boerner Horvath)
This bill, which we covered in depth here, would have mimicked existing law in Washington, Oregon, and (famously) Idaho, allowing bicyclists to slow and yield at stop signs rather than coming to a full and complete stop. Despite being a common-sense reform that has not resulted in any noticeable rise in bicycle crashes in the above states, the Governor vetoed the bill (which had already passed both houses). In his veto statement, he cites the increasing number of bicyclist-involved crashes and suggests that the law would have made riding more dangerous for children. But existing law only discourages people from riding, which the Governor failed to see.
Traffic stops for jaywalking are a widely practiced police tactic that have more to do with providing pretext for searches than increasing pedestrian safety. And in fact, the “crime” of jaywalking was invented by the early automotive lobby to clear streets of pedestrians in favor of free car travel.
This bill would only have prohibited police from ticketing people when the street was obviously clear, but still maintained that crossing was illegal when it created a threat of a crash. Despite this, the governor suggested in his veto message that ticketing pedestrians for crossing the street, even when safe, is the best way to improve the state’s dubious safety record.
AB 550 (Chiu)
The biggest determinant in the severity of a traffic crash is the speed of the vehicle(s) involved. Pedestrians hit by a car going 20 mph have a 90% chance of survival, which drops to 10% if the car is going 40 mph.
This bill would have authorized an automated speed enforcement pilot program in six California cities, with money collected from citations coming back to fund safe streets improvements rather than going into the general fund or police budgets. Despite significant support, it was held without explanation by Assembly Appropriations Chair Lorena Gonzales and was never voted on.
The Unfinished Business
On the federal level, we’re still waiting for the nail-biting finish of the Congressional session, which will determine what happens to a couple of key bike provisions. These are the e-bike subsidy (separate from the one passed at the state level) and the bicycle commuter benefit. We’ll have more to say about those when we know whether they have passed or not.
Thank you again to everyone who wrote in to your state legislators or the governor about the above bills. If you have any questions or feedback for us about how we communicate this stuff (which we know is complex), please let us know!
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