California bike politics and transportation funding

California State Senator Jim Beall, the powerful head of the California Senate Transportation Committee who happens to represent most of Santa Clara County (aka “Silicon Valley”), is well known around these parts for his long-time friendliness to bike advocates going back at least 20 years to his time serving as a Santa Clara County Supervisor. The California Bicycle Coalition gave Senator Beall a 100% score in their recently released legislative voting record report, huzzah.

Senator Jim Beall bicycle voting record

Senator Beall’s contribution to the on-going Special Legislative Session for Transportation Funding is SBX 1-1, which calls for $4.3B in new taxes to mostly pay for road maintenance, but also contributes $300 million to the California Trade Corridor Improvement Plan. Beall has said specifically would like to see lanes added to the freeways serving the Port of Los Angeles using these funds. This won’t make him popular to Angelenos living along the Long Beach Freeway corridor.

Overall, this is a decent bill. 7% of these new funds are for new construction (the Trade Corridor Improvement Plan), while SBX 1-1 also contains important Complete Streets requirements for projects using these funds.

While Democrats are inclined to pass SBX 1-1 and control both houses of the California Assembly, they don’t have the supermajority required to pass any tax measure in California. The opposing Republican transportation plan for California involves:

  • SB X1-11 streamlines the build process by removing the CEQA requirement for an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) on projects that involve certain transportation infrastructure projects in an existing right-of-way;
  • Huff’s SCA X1-1 Retricts borrowing against transportation taxes, and also limits funding available for mass transit projects; and
  • Huff’s SB X1-2 would dedicate $1.4 billion in cap-and-trade “carbon tax” funds for road construction, because reducing congestion by adding lanes reduces per-vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, woo hoo!

Regarding SB X1-2: Although engineers still talk about “congestion relief” when designing highway expansions, policy people at Caltrans and other state and Federal highway agencies have long acknowledged the reality of “induced demand,” which, in simple terms, is the idea that if you build it, they will come. SB 743, passed in 2013, directs agencies to examine impact on VMT as part of the CEQA process, and the current draft of this new guideline includes an entire section on induced travel. Currently, the only examination is a box on the CEQA checklist, and many planners routinely mark the “No Impact” box here.

There’s also some attention to more widespread acknowledgement that spending tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to add lanes and interchanges doesn’t improve travel times. The most recent iteration of environmental documents released for widening Highway 1 across Santa Cruz County doesn’t even mention congestion relief anymore — this is now a project to improve safety and encourage carpooling and transit.


  1. Removing the CEQA requirement wouldn’t be as big a threat as it might seem. From what I’ve seen, nobody reads EIRs anyway, nor do they seem to provide any real leverage for bicyclists. The San Tomas Acquino Creek Trail closures is one case in point, and the recent draft EIR for Santa Clara’s new “city center” is another. The report starts off mentioning that CA is moving away from LOS measurements, then proceeds into pages of tables measuring LOS and the impact the new ‘supermall’ will have on it. In the pedestrian and bicycle section it mentions that 2010 Santa Clara guidelines do not allow existing bike lanes to be removed, then it flags some of the LOS chokepoints as being able to be improved by potentially removing bike lanes. It shows primary bicycle access to the area to be the STAC Trail, yet doesn’t mention that it gets closed due to events or flooding. I found that particular EIR through links here, by the way, and I encourage everyone to seek it out and write comments to Santa Clara city council.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.