Between 2006 and 2010, San Francisco had to hit pause on installing bike lanes, which for a time were thwarted by environmental lawsuits. Yes, you read that right.
Complainants argued The City failed to analyze its bike plan’s impact on parking, traffic and public transit, leaving cyclists in a lurch until the lawsuits were finally thrown out.
In 2020, the state legislature moved to prevent that scenario from recurring, with a law, SB 288, that temporarily exempted certain green transportation projects from lengthy, costly reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Now, that law’s author, state Sen. Scott Wiener, is hoping to make those changes permanent, and expand upon them with a bill introduced Friday.
Under the new law, SB 922, projects that make streets safer for walking and biking, improve bus speeds or modernize light rail stations would not require review under CEQA — a process that in some cases takes years.
“Expanding public transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure puts people to work and mitigates the worst impacts of climate change,” Wiener said in a statement. “Our federal and state governments are making huge investments in infrastructure, and we need to get these projects going much faster than we have in the past.”
SB 288, which will expire in 2023 unless SB 922 is passed, has streamlined transportation projects across the state. But it has been especially significant in San Francisco, where it’s been used in concert with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s “quick-build program” to deliver pedestrian and bike safety improvements on a timeline of months, rather than years.
Projects that have benefited from SB 288 include pedestrian safety improvements on Leavenworth in the Tenderloin and Williams in Bayview. The protected bike lanes on Innes and Evans in Hunters Point also benefited from the law.
The quick-build program considerably increased the pace of bike lane and transit-only lane installation since it began in 2019, creating dozens of miles of right of way reserved for cyclists and buses.
In addition to making the provisions in SB 288 permanent, SB 922 adds categories of projects that are exempt from CEQA, including carpool lanes, bus service on freeways and bike share stations.
The bill also includes labor protections and a clause that ensures the law cannot be used to add new capacity for cars. Eligible projects costing more than $100 million would be required to go through community engagement requirements, and undergo an analysis of impact on low-income communities of color — processes previously undertaken via CEQA.
The law is co-sponsored by the California Transit Association, SPUR, the Bay Area Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. The bill’s previous iteration had support from many public transit agencies across the state, and faced little organized opposition.
At the bill’s formal announcement in Hunters Point on Monday, Wiener appeared alongside SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin.
In a statement, Tumlin called the bill “a well-matched legislative initiative with our Vision Zero goal to end traffic-related deaths and serious injuries for San Francisco.”