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Posts Tagged ‘California’

Capitol Corridor Money Pit

Caltrans has put out a draft version of its statewide rail plan. At first glance, it looks brilliant. They use ideas borrowed from the Swiss, such as pulse scheduling and integrated ticketing. Perhaps someday even 125mph electrified trains running on frequent schedules.

But dig deeper into the actual projects in the 20-year pipeline and it is disappointing. They will mostly throw money at existing Amtrak corridors that have to share track with freight. It is a huge waste of money — for example:

phase2

So after spending $324 million, we get a whopping 2 additional round-trips added to the schedule — in a corridor that will soon have faster and cheaper BART service.

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This legislative session has already seen bills that would mandate helmets and orange safety vests. A ban on headphones can also be added to the list: SB 491 would prohibit the use of ear buds while riding a bicycle.

The Legislative Analyst summary describes this change as “non-controversial” because existing law already prohibits the use of full ear-covering headsets. Well, one wonders whether the analyst gets out much. Whereas there are hardly any cyclists out there riding around with studio headphones, iPhone-style ear buds are extremely popular. This bill would criminalize a very common behavior among cyclists.

Like the helmet legislation, an ear bud ban sounds sounds great in theory (no pun intended), but lacks any studies or data to back it up. It is unlikely to improve safety, or even change cyclist behavior. But it will almost certainly serve as a pretext for police to harass minorities.

And given the way “distracted walking” has become a thing, then it is not inconceivable that pedestrians will one day get the same treatment.

Cyclist wearing headphones in Copenhagen (www.copenhagenize.com)

Cyclist wearing headphones in Copenhagen (Copenhagenize)

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California, like most states, has not increased its gas tax in a very long time. Instead, the state has relied on a combination of bond measures, and local transportation sales taxes. The last statewide transportation bond measure was Proposition 1B, which raised $19 billion. Most of Prop 1B went to highway projects — including the Caldecott 4th bore, and massive widening of I5 in LA.

Now that Prop 1B funds are running out, highway construction lobbyists are plotting a new ballot measure. This one would permanently increase the vehicle license fee, providing $3 billion per year in new revenue. The new revenue is certainly welcome, as is using the VLF.

Unfortunately, their expenditure plan leaves much to be desired. It would devote 90% of the funds to highways, leaving only 10% for transit. Bikes and peds would receive nothing. If we are going to raise taxes to fix the infrastructure, then let’s fix all the infrastructure.

Even worse, the distribution formula to counties is based on the number of registered vehicles, and the number of road miles. This rewards sprawly counties, at the expense of urban counties with low car ownership.

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California Legislation Year in Review

As the California completes the 2011 Legislative year, let’s survey the results:

SB 910 – the “3 foot passing law” – was passed with broad support in the Legislature, then vetoed by the Governor. Admittedly, this bill was somewhat a token gesture as police officers were unlikely to go around with yard sticks. But still this has become a worrisome trend for bicycle advocates, who are very successful in getting legislation passed only to see bills vetoed by the Governor — especially Democratic Governors. Some advocates may have misplaced trust in Brown. In 8 years as Mayor of Oakland, Brown was at best indifferent to bike/ped issues, and at worst quite inept.

AB 353 – takes away an effective police enforcement measure to arrest unlicensed drivers and to impound their cars. Signed into law by the Governor, this is a real slap in the face to the cycling community. For many years, cyclists have been trying to increase penalties for drivers who injure or kill while driving with a suspended license, or no license at all. Instead, this new law is a major step backwards, and will put non-motorized users at even greater risk.

High-Speed Rail Business Plan – After hounding the Rail Authority for lying strategic misrepresentation over cost and ridership numbers, the CHSRA released a new business plan, in which they all but confess that critics were right all along. And yet, the reaction from Legislators was strangely muted, with Lowenthal declaring “it’s a major step forward.” This is like the proverbial neighborhood dog that chases cars, then finally catches one and is unsure what to do next.

Redevelopment Agencies – One bright spot was the State finally cracking down on Redevelopment Agencies. Even if this was done for the wrong reasons, it will help eliminate the flow of taxdollars to dubious auto-centric projects. That is, if it survives a court challenge.

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