To Assembly Member Phil Ting
The California Association of Bicycling Organizations, the association of California’s bicycle clubs, would like to register its support of your AB 1193 provided it is amended, as proposed, to change the term “protected bike lanes” to “separated bikeways.” We are greatly concerned, however, about another amendment to make the minimum safety design criteria established in Streets and Highways Code §890.6 optional, and to eliminate the experimental process associated with them. This amendment resembles the bill as introduced, and our objections to it are the same as they were then. Eliminating this requirement would be an enormous mistake. If this amendment is included, our position changes to strong opposition.
The bill’s sponsor, the California Bicycle Coalition (CBC), asks why local agencies shouldn’t have the same latitude with respect to local bikeways as they have with respect to local roads. But this comparison, while it may seem attractive, overlooks a number of important points:
• Much as local agencies might prefer to have complete control over their own streets and roads, this is not the case. For instance, cities and counties may enact traffic regulations only as expressly authorized (Vehicle Code §21), and they must adhere to uniform standards and specifications for all traffic control devices (signs, signals, and markings) (Vehicle Code §21401). These provisions are important to insure uniformity, predictability, and best practices, but innovation is not neglected. The California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices includes a well-defined procedure for agencies to experiment with new or improved devices. The committee that oversees these experiments, and advises Caltrans generally on traffic control devices, gives local agencies a say by including representatives from the League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties.
• When it comes to physical design of streets and highways, nearly all California agencies voluntarily adopt the Caltrans Highway Design Manual as their design guide. The HDM’s standards are well-established, and traffic engineers are thoroughly trained in their use. The outcome is therefore generally uniform and consistent, and there is no need to mandate compliance (other than through funding mechanisms).
• With bikeways, on the other hand, the situation is much less predictable. Most traffic engineers receive little or no training in designing bicycle facilities. Many may be qualified to do so, but it cannot be assumed that all are or that they are familiar with proper standards to follow. That is why the Legislature enacted the California Bikeways Act in 1975 (now called the California Bicycle Transportation Act, Streets and Highways Code §§890 et seq). This act begins: It is the intent of the Legislature, in enacting this article, to establish a bicycle transportation system. It is the further intent of the Legislature that this transportation system shall be designed and developed to achieve the functional commuting needs of the employee, student, business person, and shopper as the foremost consideration in route selection, to have the physical safety of the bicyclist and bicyclist’s property as a major planning component, and to have the capacity to accommodate bicyclists of all ages and skills. The Legislature implemented this intent, among other ways, by directing Caltrans, in cooperation with county and city governments, to develop minimum safety design criteria for bikeways, and to develop uniform signs and specifications for traffic control devices for bikeways. It further directed agencies responsible for bikeways to use these minimum safety design criteria and uniform specifications.
• These standards and specifications have been enormously beneficial in insuring that bikeway designs adhere to accepted safety standards. But there is no enforcement mechanism other than funding procedures or liability. A few traffic engineers who may be either unaware of or indifferent to these standards have consequently been responsible for thousands of examples of California bikeways that violate basic minimum safety principles, either in geometric design (widths, routing, especially at intersections) or in traffic controls (signs, signals and markings). Often, for no valid engineering reason, or worse still, for reasons contrary to sound traffic movements, these bikeways deviate from mandatory standards in ways that expose cyclists to greater crash risk. What’s needed is better compliance mechanisms for standards, not greater latitude to deviate from them arbitrarily. We don’t need more such bad designs.
• The California Bikeways Act, however, had one important shortcoming. Until recently, cities and counties were not permitted to deviate from mandatory bikeway standards in order to experiment with modified, improved, or new designs. This issue was successfully addressed in the last session by AB 819 (Wieckowski), co-sponsored by CABO and CBC, which directed Caltrans to create an experimental process similar to the existing one for traffic control devices. This process would simultaneously have allowed for creative and innovative design improvements, collected valuable data for evaluating them and eventually incorporating them into standards, and relieved local agencies of the threat of liability for experimentation. Unfortunately, Caltrans has refused to implement the experimental process in any meaningful way. -2-
• Furthermore, Streets and Highways Code §890.6 requires bikeway design criteria to be updated biennially, or more often, as needed. But this has not been done, despite repeated requests to Caltrans from CABO, CBC, and the California Bicycle Advisory Committee (CBAC) (appointed by Caltrans to advise it on bicycle matters). State bikeway standards have fallen behind those in other documents such as the nationally accepted AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities. It seems that Caltrans may finally be embarking on such an update process, but it is critical that it be founded on evidence-based technical review whose outcome is not predetermined. Among CBAC’s responsibilities, as chartered by Caltrans, is to “provide input to Caltrans on designs, concepts, standards, and manuals related to bicycle facilities and for consideration to incorporate into existing Caltrans standards or manuals.” CBAC is also the body that provides the “cooperation with county and city governments” specified in Streets and Highways Code §890.6. It is therefore vital that CBAC play a role as bikeway standards are revised.
Proponents of this amendment might anticipate that deregulation will unleash a torrent of creativity and innovation. CABO and CBC have significant disagreements over bicycle facility design, but that is not even the issue here. The danger is the license granted to substandard, poorly conceived designs that neither CABO nor CBC would approve of.
We therefore urge you and the Legislature not to include such an amendment in AB 1193, and instead to influence Caltrans to update its design standards and to implement an effective experimental process. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
We don’t know what position Caltrans might take on this bill. But we feel obligated to point out that in several recent decisions involving bicycling policy, Caltrans and its consultants did not seek the opinion of CABO or CBAC, and may therefore not be fully aware of all sides of these issues. Furthermore, it is also CBAC’s chartered responsibility to “Review proposed legislation related to bicycling.” Caltrans has not yet sought CBAC’s opinion on the radical changes that might be included in AB 1193. Decisions of this magnitude should not be made hastily, in a final policy committee hearing, over amendments that are not yet even in print.