California “Low Carbon Roads”?

California Governor Jerry Brown announced his proposed 2016-2017 state budget today. Brown’s $122.6 billion budget includes $11.6 billion for transportation spending, include $100 million from cap and trade funds for a new program called “Low Carbon Roads.”

California bike lane

The Governor’s budget summary message describes “Low Carbon Roads” thusly:

Low Carbon Road Program — $100 million Cap and Trade for Caltrans to implement a new Low Carbon Road Program for local projects that encourage active transportation such as bicycling and walking, and other carbon‑reducing road investments, with at least 50 percent of the funds directed to benefit disadvantaged communities.

A joint press release from California Walks, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Transform, and the California Bicycle Coalition warns that “carbon-reducing road investments” include street improvements like traffic signal synchronization and wider lanes that offer little to active transportation road users while increasing road capacity. Infrastructure spending to improve traffic throughput typically result in an increase vehicle miles traveled — that’s transportation planner jargon for “more traffic.” California Bicycle Coalition notes that spending carbon tax moneys on road “improvement” projects is an illegal use of climate funds because they ultimately lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

CalBike asks that the $100 million for this new “low carbon roads program” instead be allocated to the existing Active Transportation Program, nearly doubling that program’s budget.

Brown also proposes:

  • A new $65 “Road Improvement Charge” fee for all motor vehicles, including hybrids and plug-ins, which may cue up memories of the Gray Davis recall in 2003.
  • Stabilize the state gasoline tax at 18 cents per gallon, eliminating the annual adjustment done each March by the state Board of Equalization, and tie the tax rate to inflation.
  • Brown also proposes an 11 cent increase to the diesel excise.

You can read the proposed California budget summary here [265 page PDF]. The California Bicycle Coalition response can be found here.


  1. Isn’t the problem the uses of the road rather than the roads themselves? Spending to encourage low carbon producing transportation and to discourage higher producers can be accomplished regardless of road type. Get out of the car!

  2. Money spent on encouraging biking and walking will be spent quite differently than money spent on road improvements that have cars in mind. Things like improved bike lanes, creating bike lanes (where there aren’t any) and making more bike paths (for the exclusive use of bikes) don’t benefit car travelers. In San Jose we could use a LOT of repairs to bike lanes and cleaning of bike lanes. The list of improvements that bicycle riders want is long. When enough of these things are done, a whole lot of our neighbors will be joining us out on the street.

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