Traffic Safety Bills Pass First Committee in Sacramento

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The following article first appeared in Streetsblog California.

The Assembly Transportation Committee readily passed a few key bills to improve safety for people on foot and on bikes (and everyone else) earlier this week.

Daylighting

Assemblymember Alex Lee’s bill, A.B. 413, would require cities to prohibit parking near crosswalks, thus improving sightlines at intersections to make crossing safer. It passed the Assembly Transportation Committee on a 10-2 vote.

Marc Vukcevich, policy advocate for Streets for All, the bill’s sponsor, called it “a small tweak that saves countless lives” by allowing people on foot, on bikes, and in cars to more safely and comfortably cross streets at intersections. Daylighting is a “proven safety technique,” he said, and especially helps “shorter folks”- including children and people in wheelchairs, who have a harder time seeing around cars parked close to intersections.

The bill would prohibit parking any cars parking or stopping at the curb within twenty feet of a crosswalk, in accordance with guidance from The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which notes that parking at intersections reduces visibility for oncoming traffic and can obstruct stop signs. It would also align with rules in 43 other states, which already prohibit parking within a certain distance – usually twenty feet – of an intersection,

According to the bill’s staff analysis [PDF], opponents of the bill are asking for an exception for trucks. Both Vukcevich and Andres Ramirez from the City of Fremont, who also testified in support of the bill, pointed out that big trucks are actually the target of the bill, since their size and height create especially difficult obstacles for people to see around, and can block stop signs.

Chris Shimoda, representing the California Trucking Association, complained that A.B. 413 would decrease already scarce curb space. “We understand the author’s intent is to increase safety,” he said, “but lack of parking is the number one issue for American’s truck drivers.”

A Teamster rep, also speaking in opposition to the bill, insisted that the issue wasn’t so much convenience as “the safety of our drivers.” That is, if trucks cannot park at corners – in addition to double parking like they already frequently do, as he described – truck drivers will be put in danger while they go about completing their deliveries.

Assembly Transportation Chair Laura Friedman acknowledged that “the truckers have a valid point” about safety, since they have to deliver in places that were not designed for trucks. But she urged opponents to work with the bill’s author to find a way to address their issues, and voted for the bill.

The committee made two suggestions, which author Lee accepted as amendments: to allow parking slightly closer (within fifteen feet) of intersections that have curb extensions, since those can increase visibility for people trying to cross, and to allow cities to use the empty spaces as on-street parking for bikes and scooters, which present less of a visual obstacle.

Assemblymember Lee reminded the committee of the very high pedestrian fatality rate in California. “Giving up a few parking spaces seems a small price to pay for increased safety,” he said.

Weight-based Registration Fees

Assemblymember Chris Ward’s A.B. 251 also passed. This bill stems from a recommendation by the California Transportation Commission to the legislature, calling for the creation of a task force to study the possibility of adjusting vehicle registration fees according to vehicle weight.

Traffic fatalities have been growing, as have vehicles sold in the U.S., as has a body of evidence that larger, heavier vehicles are more likely to cause serious injuries and fatalities in a crash. And heavier vehicles also take a greater toll on roadways, causing more wear and tear and costing more money in road maintenance than smaller vehicles.

The task force would “study the relationship between vehicle weight and injuries to vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, and degradation to roads,” and then do a cost-benefit analysis of “imposing a passenger vehicle weight fee, or restructuring an existing fee to include consideration of vehicle weight.”

Maybe because the bill was so mincingly minimal – just calling for a study and further discussion of the possibility of restructure fees, not outright calling for a change – but no one spoke in opposition. Chair Friedman pointed out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should be taking this on, “but if they’re not going to, California needs to.”

Bikes on Sidewalks

Assemblymember Isaac Bryan introduced A.B. 825, which would make it legal for bike riders statewide to ride on a sidewalk where there is no safe infrastructure for them on the street. “In California you can be cited for riding on the sidewalk” even where there is no safe alternative, said Bryan. “And nearly all those citations go to people of color – in fact, over seventy percent of those citations go to Latinos.”

“Riders should have the autonomy to decide for themselves whether it is safe to ride on the sidewalk,” he said. “We lose nearly three cyclists in a week to dangerous streets; and my staff couldn’t find a single incident where a pedestrian was killed by a bike.”

CalBike’s Jared Sanchez, speaking in support of the bill, said, “Is sidewalk riding ideal? No. Ideal would be safe, complete streets, but that’s not the reality in California right now, and it would take years to transform every street to a safe route for biking.”

Assemblymember Ward raised questions about liability – saying his city (San Diego) has paid out large settlements to people riding on sidewalks who were injured by hazards that pedestrians could more easily navigate around. “We could do a cost-benefit analysis,” said Bryan. Then he quoted higher amounts paid by San Diego to people who were injured when they were riding on unsafe streets – including fatalities.

Several committee members asked for exceptions for areas where foot traffic is very high, as in tourist areas. Bryan responded that he’s open to discussing that. “But note that bike riders would rather ride on a safe pathway on the street than on a crowded sidewalk. The absence of bike infrastructure would be the only situation where this law would apply,” he said.

Chair Friedman mentioned one worry: that allowing bikes on sidewalks could become an excuse for cities not to put in safe bike lanes.

“If cities aren’t putting in safe bike infrastructure, they’re putting everyone in a dangerous position,” she said. “My hope is that cities are listening and saying: we have to do better,” she said.

That bill passed 11-4.

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