Note:GJEL Accident AttorneysStreetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California regularly sponsor coverage Unless otherwise noted in the storyGJEL Accident AttorneysSponsored content does not require editorial direction from the company.
Senator Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco), introduced Friday’s legislation S.B. 922, a bill that would exempt environmentally-friendly transportation projectsA long environmental review.
The bill acknowledges that sustainable transportation such as biking, walking and transit has climate and environmental benefits. It doesn’t need to be a two-hundred-page paper to explain this.
The California Environmental Quality Act offers a valuable avenue for the public’s feedback to improve projects, but unfortunately CEQA is often used to stop good ones. One example is San Francisco was prohibited from installing a bike rack for four years because a gadfly and his attorney argued that the BikePlan needed to include a long, wasteful Environmental Assessment Statement..
S.B. 922 makes permanent CEQA exemption under S.B. 288, which was adopted in 2020. This exemption applies to active transport plans, feasibility studies for active transport, and bicycle, pedestrian and transit projects. They include bicycle parking, signal timing and wayfinding, transit priority projects, pedestrian or bicycle facilities, bus rapid transit, bus or light rail services, including dedicated transit lanes and queue jump lanes for high-occupancy vehicles, transit stop boards islands, and pedestrian improvements like widening sidewalks or adding pedestrian refuge islands.
The new bill adds carpool lanes to the list of projects granted CEQA streamlining, but only those that convert existing lanes to high-occupancy vehicle lanes – not ones that add new lanes.
Senator Wiener said, during a press conference in San Francisco, that the bill was S.B. 922 “is tightly crafted so it applies only to very specific projects. Any light rail or Bus Rapid Transit projects [offered this streamlining] would have to be on existing right of way – for example, along existing, abandoned trackline.”
Parking policies and projects that reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements, eliminate parking, or implement transportation demand management are another addition to the exclusion list.
Projects over a certain size – that cost over $100 million – would also have to comply with rules requiring transparency and racial equity. A business case for the project must be presented. It should include the reason for the project, the problem it seeks to solve, and any other options that might be available to achieve those goals. For larger projects, it would be necessary to conduct a racial equality analysis and a residential displacement analysis that presents strategies to avoid displacement.
S.B. 288 has already had a positive impact on a number of communities, speeding up safety projects that would otherwise be stuck in CEQA. Senator Wiener pointed out a busway in Salinas. Culver city has dedicated bike and bus lanes, and the L.A. City Transportation Department’s (LADOT) electric bus charging infrastructure are two examples of recent successful uses for the bill. S.B. was also beneficial to pedestrian and bicycle safety projects, and HOV and bus-only lanes in San Francisco. 288 exemptions.
“These are projects that are right now delivering safety,” said San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SMFTA) Director Jeff Tumlin at today’s press conference. “Without S.B. 288, we would still be mired in bureaucratic processes.”
S.B. 922 outlines the public engagement processes. 922, said Tumlin, “are more effective than CEQA processes. They let whole communities be involved, rather than just people who can afford lawyers.”
The press conference took place at a tiny park in the Bay View neighborhood of San Francisco, which the various officials and community organizers present referred to as “disconnected from the city” and “abandoned.” In the last few years, Bay View has created a community transportation plan that includes traffic calming, traffic barriers, and similar safety treatments on the area’s high-injury corridors.
S.B. 922 is required to ensure that community-supported projects are actually realized. Theo Ellington, a homeowner in Hunter’s Point Shipyard, told the gathered media that “S.B. 922 reduces red tape and gives neighborhoods like Bayview/Hunters Point greater opportunities to streamline transit projects and infrastructure projects that have been long overdue.
For climate, for safety, for health, for the environment, and for economic reasons, “we need the infrastructure NOW,” said Tilly Chang, director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. “We need projects that prioritize efficient modes and maximize transit reliability NOW – not after seven years of environmental processing.”