CABO opposes SB 1183, tax/fees for bike sales for trails
The California Association of Bicycling Organizations respectfully continues to oppose SB 1183. The April 21 amendments, replacing a sales tax on bicycles with a surcharge on motor vehicle registration, may help reduce the administrative issues associated with collection. But we still have serious concerns with the bill’s restriction of the revenue for “improvements to paved and natural surface trails, including the rehabilitation, restoration, and expansion of existing trails, the development of new trails, and the maintenance and upkeep of local and regional trail systems and networks.”
Although the source of funding no longer involves a bicycle tax, and the bill is no longer titled the “Local Bike Infrastructure Enhancement line 28 Act of 2014,” Legislative Counsel’s digest still describes it as “Vehicle registration fees: surcharge for bicycle infrastructure.” To the extent that park districts may want to improve and maintain unpaved trails, including those for mountain bikes, this is fine. But cities and counties, which would also be authorized to impose the surcharge (subject to two-thirds voter approval), might have less need for unpaved park trails and greater need for paved bicycle infrastructure. To the extent that the surcharge is perceived as a source of bicycle funding, restricting it to “trails” is inappropriate.
The term “trail” has no meaning in the Streets and Highways Code or design standards as a bicycle facility. To the extent that it’s interpreted as an off-road facility (properly known as a “bike path”), this source of funding would encourage local agencies to focus on paths regardless of their suitability, when other types of bicycle improvements might be safer and more efficient. If the funding is to be used for bicycles, it would be better to allow local discretion similar to project eligibility under the Active Transportation Program, which can be found in Streets and Highways Code §2382(e) and could be incorporated by reference.
There is an additional obstacle, in that several courts have held that all paved bike paths are considered recreational trails subject to comprehensive local immunity from liability, regardless of other statutes whose intent was to require that bike path adhere to specified design standards. As a result, bicyclists who have been injured by noncompliant or poorly maintained facilities cannot recover damages, and agencies have no legal incentive to adhere to established engineering standards. These injustices could be remedied simply by amending Government Code §831.4(b) to read “(b) Any trail used for the above purposes that is not a bikeway as defined in Section 890.4 of the Streets and Highways Code.” Alternatively, the following sentence could be added to Streets and Highways Code §890.4(a): “A Class I bikeway is not a trail for purposes of Government Code Section 831.4.”
Amendments such as the ones we suggest would make us much more favorably disposed toward the bill.