Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tomorrow Morning: A Huge Turning Point for California Traffic Control

Tomorrow morning will be a turning point for bicycle politics in California.

If the recommendations made by Jim Baross (League of American Bicyclists, California Bicycle Coalition, California Association of Bicycling Organizations, San Diego County Bicycle Coalition) are upheld and implemented by the California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC), then CTCDC will allow for a bicyclist to sit on the Committee, as well. Currently, there is no representative from any sort of bicycle organization on this committee. As of today, there are 8 members; 2 from the Auto Club (AAA), 1 from California Highway Patrol, 1 from Caltrans, and 2 each representing cities and counties.

According to a conversation Jim and I had recently, if CTCDC does not uphold and implement his official reccomendation, which is made on behalf of the national, statewide, and local bicycling organizations he represents, then he will go to Senator Christine Kehoe and request legislation that will force CTCDC to fairly represent cyclists.

At this point, cyclists are only allowed to have a say during the 'public comment' portion of the meeting. A cyclist representing a cycling organization is not allowed to be apart of the internal decision-making process. Seems rather unfair doesn't it?

Mr. Baross has got some great ideas, too. In his words, here's three other requests he'll be making:

'I am asking for your help. Attend this event. Numbers count. Then when/if we are successful, I'll be celebrating at the beginning of the CM Jan 29th with a huge (fake) cake.

Having bicyclists and supporters of bicycling at this important meeting will help get four improvements – long overdue –approved for us. Please plan to come. Tell your friends. The room seats 100.

Jan. 21st beginning at 9 AM at the Old Town offices of Caltrans, near the Old Town Trolley station.
4050 Taylor Street, 92110 in the large Garcia meeting room
Bike parking is only allowed outside on a limited number of racks; bring a lock.
Join me for a lunch break bike ride through Old Town or on the new bike path; for anyone who wants to join in.

There are four bicycling issues to be heard at this special San Diego meeting of the California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC). This committee is the officially accepted body to provide direction/recommendations to Caltrans about all roadway signs, signals, pavement markings, etc. Yes, there will be a bunch of “suits” but come as you are; looking like bicyclists who support our issues would be good. Otherwise it’s just me there.

Item 10-1, Traffic signals and timing for bicycists – Have you ever had trouble getting a traffic signal to change for you or been caught when a traffic light that changed from green to yellow to red before you could make it across the intersection?

The State passed a requirement two years ago (AB 1581) to require that on-demand/traffic-actuated traffic signals work for bicyclists (and motorcyclists) and that the signal phasing/timing should allow for our safe passage. The requirement applies to all new or major-modified signals BUT ONLY after specifications and guidance was developed by Caltrans. After two years of work, study and discussions Caltrans has adopted the required specifications BUT a lot of Traffic Engineers are objecting - allowing time for bicyclists will make motorists wait longer; oh no. Show up to make it clear to them that the safety of bicyclists is more important than the convenience of motorists! Just being there as a bicyclist will help. You could speak up too, especially if you have or know someone affected by non-reacting traffic signals – there have been several crashes, traffic tickets and fatalities in SD County related to signals that didn’t work for bicyclists. Help protect the requirement to have them work for us. [Bold emphasis added]. We have no problem with some tweaking and further study, but the requirements for these things to work for us should stay in effect!

Item 10-2 Accommodating bicyclists in roadway construction zones – approval of this would add drawings and specifications where no adequate directions have existed before in official Caltrans documents for more safely accommodating bicyclists through construction zones.

Item 10-4 request to experiment with a Bicycle Box at a signalized intersection in San Luis Obispo. The question is whether a special area just for bicyclists at the front of the lane at an intersection should be allowed to be tested. Whether it’s a good idea or not, we think it should be tested, right?'

Lately, 'traffic engineers,' who we at Bic Control call 'automobile traffic engineers,' have been arguing that modifying the existing urban/traffic system to accommodate cyclists while slowing down automobile travel speeds supposedly increases pollution by increasing idling time. This is a somewhat new approach automobile traffic engineers have taken in trying to justify their car-first, cyclists/pedestrians-last planning philosophies. This is an extremely pessimistic approach to sustainable transportation. Should we remove stop signs from our neighborhoods and force cyclists to move over for a motorist every time one approaches from behind--thereby creating a dangerous and deadly urban environment--so that we can reduce motorists' idling time? The reason that 46% of San Diego's Greenhouse Gases are emitted from automobiles is not because idling times are too long. The reason is because there are too many people in San Diego commuting in single occupancy motor vehicles! We need to improve conditions so that more people in San Diego take alternative transportation. We need to improve our transportation system, our urban design, our outreach, education, and infrastructure so that people can safely and efficiently take transit, walk, or bike.

Reducing motorists' idling times by denying cyclists a safe opportunity to cross through an intersection is in no way justified--it's deadly. And to insinuate that doing so (i.e. upholding some automobile traffic engineers car-first, pedestrians/cyclists-last philosophy) is more sustainable than accommodating cyclists is laughable.

Reducing idling time--as long as it's not at the expense of zero-emissions cyclists' safety--is fine. However, reducing idling time is not enough to meet the goals of the California Global Warming Solutions Act. Theoretically, at first, emissions might be slightly reduced if urban/traffic environments are altered to reduce idling and to "keep car traffic coming through." However, in the long run (i.e. after a year or more) emissions will actually increase if we turn our neighborhood streets into miniature-freeways. The easier you make it for people to drive, the more they will do it. This idea is comparable to the argument that adding more freeway lanes actually reduces traffic. That is not true. Studied urban planners know that the opposite happens. When you add more freeway lanes, you actually increase automobile capacity--more cars on the road.

It's called automobile facilitation and it's a gap solution in the fight against global warming. We need less automobile facilitation. And we need more bicycle, high-speed transit, and local transit facilitation.

We need long-term solutions, not gap solutions!

Go Jim!

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