Update from Sacramento: Speed Cameras, Bike Lane Camera Enforcement, and RSR Bridge Bills Pass First Committee

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This article first appeared at Streetsblog California.

Here’s a brief recap of Monday’s Assembly Transportation Hearing:

Speed Cameras

Assembly Transportation Chair Laura Friedman’s A.B. 645, to create a pilot program for automated speed enforcement, passed the Assembly Transportation Committee. This was not surprising; it has passed the same committee twice in past years, and the author’s position as committee chair counts for a lot.

In addition, there has been a lot of vocal support for the bill. This recent post goes over details in the proposed legislation.

“This bill as been very carefully crafted to removes almost all opposition,” said Friedman during the hearing. It addresses many of the previously stated opposition arguments, among them the potential for automated enforcement to be used purely to raise revenue (there are strict limitations on what it could be used for) and concerns about privacy (images can only be made of license plates, and must be destroyed within a short period of time). See the bill’s detailed, twelve-page analysis [PDF] for even more details.

At this hearing, no witnesses spoke in opposition, and the analysis also lists no official opposition. However, that doesn’t mean it is in the clear. The bill’s next stop is the Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, which is likely to produce a more complicated discussion. If it passes that committee, it would proceed to the Assembly Appropriations committee, where in the last several years similar bills were stopped cold without any discussion.

In other words, there may be official opposition that hasn’t yet been made public, and there may also be unofficial pressure to kill the bill again.

Advocates for automated speed enforcement are asking supporters to sign a petition to ask Assembly leaders to pass the bill.

Bike Lane Violations

Another bill that passed the committee yesterday was A.B. 361, from Assemblymember Christopher Ward, which would allow cities to use vehicle-mounted cameras to issue citations to drivers who park in bike lanes. Transit agencies are already allowed to enforce transit lanes with bus-mounted cameras; this would allow agencies and city-owned vehicles to do the same for bike lane violations.

Another Car Lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

Also in today’s Assembly Transportation Committee, Assemblymember Damon Connolly’s bill to have Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority consider turning the bicycle lane on the top of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge over to cars, A.B. 1464, also passed easily. The only opposition was from a single caller.

Assemblymember Connolly leaned heavily on claims that expanding car access would bring environmental benefits. He argued that the people driving on the bridge every day were poor people of color forced to travel long distances and spend “sixteen minutes in gridlocked traffic” every morning. For them, he said, “biking and walking and public transit is impractical.”

These claims serve mainly to reveal how deeply pro-car, anti-transit bias runs. Transit may be impractical for many people right now, but that is due to the fact that California keeps accommodating personal vehicles instead of investing in cleaner, better alternatives. If California stays committed to expanding car capacity, then biking and walking and public transit will remain “impractical” for many years into the future.

No one on the committee seemed to notice that one of the witnesses in favor of the bill undercut Connolly’s argument here. This witness lives in Richmond and fishes at Point Molate, a few miles from home. He complained about being stuck in that “six minutes of gridlock” every morning to get to his fishing spot. Imagine if there were a bus – or pedestrian and bike access – across that chokepoint! Note that one of the reasons he “has to drive” on that freeway is because the Chevron refinery blocks all other access through that area.

There’s another question here that no one raised: why is this bill necessary? That is, it simply directs Caltrans and the Toll Authority to “consider” Connolly’s convoluted plan. Couldn’t they just do that anyway?

And if they are not doing so, it’s fair to ask why not. Maybe – or is this just a pipe dream? – there are some in those agencies who understand the concept of induced demand and/or are growing tired of constantly accommodating more cars on that bridge.

A Conversation About Gas Prices

Also at yesterday’s hearing, Assemblymember James Gallagher made a valiant attempt to convince the committee that removing fuel and refineries from cap-and-trade rules would lead to cheaper gas prices for consumers. His idea, encapsulated in A.B. 1265, is meritless, and could have led to long arguments about whether cap-and-trade is a tax or how much it costs consumers. Or, as it might have under Assemblymember Friedman’s predecessor Jim Frazier, it could have led to the chair peering over the top of a pair of glasses and delivering a patronizing scolding.

Instead, she and the committee listened politely, and she pointed out that, in fact, there is no way to guarantee that the oil companies would pass on any cost savings to consumers. In fact, they have lately done the exact opposite.

And, she reminded everyone listening, the whole point of cap-and-trade – and of California’s requirement for gas stations to sell a slightly more expensive “summer blend” of fuels – is to enhance public health.

No one spoke in support or opposition to Gallagher’s bill, and it was destined to go nowhere. But there was a polite conversation about it before the committee voted it down.

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