Monday, January 25, 2010

CTCDC Says "No": No Bicyclists Allowed on Committee, No Bike Boxes, No Removal of Bike-Sensitive Signals

Last Thursday, January 21, the California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC) met at the Caltrans office in Old Town to make decisions that would effect the well-being of road users throughout California. For bicycle advocates, there were four main issues at hand; (1) Bicyclist representation on CTCDC; (2) A proposal to remove bike signal detection and signal timing at intersections; (3) Bike Box experiment proposal for San Luis Obispo; (4) New guidelines for bicyclists through construction zones.

CTCDC said "No" to each of the above issues, with the exception of Issue 4, which pertained to the acceptance of new guidelines that would allow bicyclists to more safely ride on roads through construction zones. According to Kathy Keehan, Executive Director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition (SDCBC), this proposal passed easily. Several bicyclists have died in construction zones in the last couple years, according to San Diego-resident Jim Baross, a representative for SDCBC, California Association of Bicycle Organizations (CABO), and California Bicycle Advisory Committee (CBAC).

Issue 1--request for bicyclist representation on CTCDC--was a defeat. CTCDC voted against the idea to include representatives of bicycling organizations on the committee. As of today, CTCDC is composed of eight members; two from the Auto Club (AAA), one from California Highway Patrol, one from Caltrans, and two representing cities and two representing counties. While CTCDC's "No Cyclists Allowed" vote was frustrating, this particular issue is not dead. Mr. Baross plans to go to Senator Christine Kehoe and ask her to introduce legislation that will require CTCDC to allow a bicycling organization representative on the committee. Mr. Baross, as he told me himself, is concerned that this legislation will inspire other groups--such as accessible society reps, pro-pedestrian reps, electric vehicle reps, alternative-transportation reps, truckers, etc.--to join CTCDC, as well. I think that will actually be a good thing! The more representatives we have who are knowledgeable on facilitating sustainable transportation and livable streets, the better.

Only one of CTCDC's "No"s--which was in response to Issue 2--will benefit bicyclists. In this era of global warming, where rhetoric about global warming-solutions is at an all time high, one would think that transportation-experts in California, would be working diligently to accommodate zero-emissions commuters such as cyclists. That's not the case. And even worse, there are some decision-makers--such as the CTCDC committee member supporting Issue 2--who are working to achieve the exact opposite. Those decision-makers want life for bicyclists to be significantly worse, so that life for motorists can be slightly better.

In November 2009, CTCDC adopted guidelines that require signal detectors in California intersections to trip for cyclists, and when tripped, to ensure that the light would stay "green" long enough for a cyclist to ride through the intersection. Signal detectors that did not recognize cyclists as legitimate road users were unfair and lights that would go "red" too soon put cyclists' lives at risk. Sensibly, CTCDC realized that they needed to solve this problem and so, a few months ago, they did just that. Last Thursday, however, an a CTCDC committee-member who represented cities, proposed that California do away with the new standards set in November and go back to the "old auto-centric way of doing things." Fortunately, that proposal was defeated. As Mr. Baross put it, this issue was pitting bicyclists' safety and ability to travel against motorists' level of service/convenience/delay.

Issue 3--request to experiment with a Bike Box in San Luis Obispo--was a defeat for cyclists. San Luis Obispo wants to follow the footsteps of bike-friendly cities such as Portland and Seattle, who already have Bike Boxes throughout their cities. New York City, one of the fastest growing cities for bicycling, has also installed a number of Bike Boxes throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Unfortunately, a relatively small group of cyclists in California have been standing in front and blocking the development of Bike Boxes. Mr. Baross, who represented CBAC and CABO but not SDCBC on this particular issue, presented a case against Bike Boxes. Instead, he proposed a Sharrow and a Bike May Use Full Lane sign in place of the Bike Box. While Sharrows and BMUFL signs are desirable forms of infrastructure, generally speaking, they do not, however, achieve the same thing that a Bike Box achieves. A Bike Box allows for cyclists to get priority when stopped at an intersection and allows cyclists to easily position themselves in the lane they want. Bike Boxes wouldn't be placed at every intersection--just those that would benefit from one. Bikes Boxes, with a little education on how to use them, would well serve many intersections in San Diego.

Overall, the results of last Thursday's CTCDC meeting are mixed. What I look forward to next, is legislation from Senator Kehoe that will place cyclists and livable streets experts on CTCDC. If California is serious about satisfying the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act, it must allow cyclists, livable streets experts, and other sustainable transportation experts in on the the decision-making process and not relegated to the sidelines.

Previous CTCDC-related entry: Tomorrow Morning: Huge Turning Point for California Traffic Control.


  1. Wow! I can't believe everything was a no go! I think the bike box idea is so wonderful, and not as expensive as makeing sure every signal had the capability to pick up on a bike. And SLO just wanted to try it out. I'm really shocked, and disapointed.

  2. Hi Randy,

    How did I miss seeing you at the meeting? No bicyclists (other than the representatives from San Luis Obispo) spoke on behalf of bike boxes. Where were all the bike box advocates?

    I thought about standing up and saying that bike boxes are indeed popular with a lot of cyclists who want to see California imitate the Portland or Copenhagen model. But then it didn't seem like popularity would really sway the day because what the committee cared most about was the legal issue with bike boxes.

    The main reason the committee rejected the bike box proposal was that these treatments are apparently illegal or unenforceable in California at this point, given that cyclists are treated as having all of the rights and responsibilities as vehicle drivers. There seems to be no way to enforce vehicles staying behind one limit line, while cyclists get to move ahead to a different limit line.

    Long Beach has new(ish) bike boxes, and apparently vehicles intrude on these boxes all the time. However, no tickets have been issued for this violation (according to the Long Beach engineer who spoke at the meeting) and I'd guess it's because of this legal issue.

    So it seems there would need to be a change in the Vehicle Code to allow bicycles to be treated differently than vehicles for this purpose. Maybe that's where the advocacy should start.

    I also thought Jim was pretty convincing about sharrows, both in their being more appropriate for this intersection in San Luis Obispo and in their already being approved for use in California (and about to be approved for use on streets without onstreet parking). His message was, "let's experiment with the innovations we know are coming, rather than jumping ahead to something that hasn't been fully vetted" (major paraphrase).

    I'm a big fan of sharrows and want to see them particularly on Nobel between Regents and I-5. Areas of the center city where there's no room for a bike lane would also benefit greatly from them. The more experimentation that can be done with them the better, to convince our conservative San Diego traffic engineers that they're okay to try here too.

  3. Sharrows would be a step in the right direction. But I don't know how much they would help.

  4. I wonder how much work it will be to get some sort of temporary legal authority to enforce bike boxes. I believe the "lack" of representation was from the common belief in common sense, that if it works most other places, it should follow that it works here. And thus, we all assumed it would be..a given. So, we learn. And unfortunately, proponents of other ideals were present.

    So, we have to ask, how can we get temporary legal authority to try a bike box in a few places to see if it indeed will work in California?

    I think that's the best way ahead.

    I was able to see Sharrows in action in San Francisco. I was amazed at how simple it works. In places where you can't put an adequate bike lane due to existing design, but yet in places where bicycle traffic is high enough ~ a sharrow should work. Sharrows are not the only answer, but one of them. Bic control, nice blog post!

  5. Not that experimenting with bike boxes wouldn't be a good thing to try in CA, but here in Portland, the jury's still out on how helpful they are/have been/could be. Of all the places around Portland where I encounter them, the only one that I use regularly is the one in the Rose Quarter Transit Center. It makes a lot of sense there because it allows cyclists to position themselves well ahead of waiting busses, and position themselves directly across from where the bike lane picks up across the intersection (the bike lane jogs to the right at this particular location).

    Otherwise, bike boxes don't seem to me to have made much difference, and I don't often see cyclists using them.