Bill tries anew to get bike, walk lanes on streets
Wiener’s legislation seeks to require Caltrans to expand on large projects
“This is more state interference and an attempt to control local transportation.” Quentin Kopp, former chairman of state Senate Transportation Committee
The streets are not just for cars anymore.
That’s the credo behind a bill that state Sen. Scott Wiener will announce Monday, requiring the state Department of Transportation — Caltrans — to consider bike lanes, buses and pedestrian walkways whenever it starts a major road project.
It would mainly apply to state highways that function as city streets — “the 19th Avenues and Van Nesses of the world,” said Wiener, D-San Francisco, referring to a bustling artery in the Sunset District, and a thoroughfare that stretches north from Civic Center.
He first pitched the bill in 2017, but it died in committee. Wiener pulled it back the next year to avoid getting caught up in the state gas tax debate.
Now the political will exists to broaden and “electrify” the state’s transportation system, Wiener said. He hastened to add that the bill isn’t trying to wipe out cars — it’s just “recognizing that a lot of people would love to get around without having to drive everywhere.”
“Complete streets,” which accommodate all forms of transportation, would help Caltrans meet a goal it set in 2015 to triple the number of bicycle trips and double the number of people walking throughout the state. Those targets are critical to combat traffic congestion and climate change “that’s strangling the planet,” Wiener said. A recent California Air Resources Board report showed that carbon emissions have increased as more people drive longer distances between home and work.
Streets designed solely for vehicles also create danger for cyclists and pedestrians. In Wiener’s home turf of San Francisco, officials, cyclists and safety advocates are trying to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.
Wiener’s vision of the future in many ways is grounded in the past. A century ago, California’s streets were rife with trolleys, people strolling and even the occasional horse and buggy — car culture didn’t boom until the 1950s, with the rise of a vast, interstate highway network that allowed middle-class families to flee to the suburbs.
“And then we built everything around the needs of sprawl: enormous parking structures, wider streets, streetcar lines ripped up everywhere,” Wiener said.
In recent years, some Bay Area cities began reversing that urban design. San Francisco and San Jose are shaving off lanes on major roadways to make room for wider sidewalks, bikeways and bulging curbs. Transit officials are pursuing a long-awaited $300 million bike path on the western span of the Bay Bridge, and in Oakland, some starry-eyed urbanists have dreamed of razing the Interstate 980 freeway.
Even so, the bill has critics, some of whom call it a heavyhanded attempt from Sacramento to reshape cities.
“This is more state interference and an attempt to control local transportation,” said Quentin Kopp, a former chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee. “Legally, it’s justifiable,” Kopp added. “But I believe strongly in local control.”
Yet many others see the bill as a way of correcting land use patterns that no longer work for California.
While the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission has not taken a stand, its members like the “back to the future” idea of welcoming everyone on the street, said legislative director Randy Rentschler.
“That’s why we put so much money into bicycles and pedestrians,” he said of the MTC, which plans and funds transportation projects throughout the nine-county region.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, first pitched the bill in 2017, but it died in committee.