A high-profile advocacy group for American bicyclists gave California, long a favorite of the organization, some strong suggestions in its latest report. The criticism mostly stemmed from recent setbacks in our state’s efforts to make its roadways safer and better for all travelers no matter how they get around.

Cycling league keeps its eye on America’s “Complete Streets”

The League of American Bicyclists has advocated for the interests of bicyclists for 140 years. Its annual Bicycle Friendly America provides a set of state-by-state report cards measuring how welcoming each state is for bicyclists. It also ranks states, rewarding those moving forward and, perhaps, embarrassing states that are slow in making progress.

A key measure of the over 100 data points LAB uses for Bicycle Friendly America is a statewide “Complete Streets” policy.

Complete Streets laws require that new and rebuilt streets put travelers of all ages, abilities, and modes of transportation front and center when projects are planned, designed, operated, and maintained. You could say the goal is to stop building streets for cars and then adding whatever else might seem affordable as an afterthought.

Is California’s progress stalling?

LAB’s Bicycle Friendly America has mostly been loving California. From an initial ranking of 19 among the 50 states in 2013, we rose steadily to number three in 2017 and slipped to four in the latest report. Why have we stalled or even slipped? Aside from other states aggressively getting into the game, LAB is especially disappointed with our recent progress on Complete Streets.

Their 2019 report cites Governor Newsom’s October veto of “Complete Streets For All,” which would have required Caltrans to take into account bicycle, pedestrian and wheelchair safety when it works on local streets that are also state roads. Polling suggested 78% of state residents supported the aims of the bill, according to the California Bicycle Coalition.

Although the bill’s sponsor said the cost would range from $20,000 and $600,000 per mile, Caltrans put the number at $4.5 million per mile. LAB, in its annual report card, cited the “misleading and extremely high estimated costs” from Caltrans, suggesting “the agency needs continued culture change to prioritize safety.”

Lack of transparency said to hurt Complete Streets efforts

Another focus for LAB’s annual report is the way states gather and report information, make data-driven changes and include the community in their decisions.

So, in its latest report, the group called on California to a better job of measuring its own progress on its own Complete Streets law, signed in 2008 by Governor Schwarzenegger. Today, the group said, the state should “build transparent performance measures for its compliance.”

This need for transparency and a change in culture is even clearer given the much-debated cost estimates from Caltrans, followed by the current governor’s veto, according to LAB.