A bill that would exempt bike, pedestrian, light rail, and rapid bus projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was passed in the Assembly on Monday, heading straight to a Senate vote.
Senate Bill 922, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would specifically exempt bicycle transportation plans for an urbanized area for restriping of streets and highways, bicycle parking and storage, signal timing of street and highway intersection operations, and related signage for bicycles, pedestrians, and vehicles until 2030. Pedestrian projects, as well as transit prioritization projects and projects for pedestrian and bicycle facilities or for the institution or increase of new bus rapid transit, bus, or light rail services on public or highway rights-of-way would also be exempt.
In general, exemptions would be for for urbanized projects for bus rapid transit, bus, or light rail service would be covered as well.
Due to dozens of local and county mass transit projects currently awaiting funding and consideration, and likely to miss out on the original CEQA exemptions as they ended in January, Senator Wiener wrote the bill to help reduce delays in approving and constructing the projects to create more sustainable transportation options and reduce carbon emissions.
“We can and must make it easier and faster to build sustainable transportation projects that help get people out of their cars,” said Senator Wiener on Monday. “Increasing walking, biking and public transit options is a great way to reduce carbon emissions and improve the livability of our communities. SB 922 will streamline these projects so we can get them done more quickly.”
SB 922 passes Assembly
In a press release, Wiener also stressed not getting the projects to be bogged down in governmental red tape through institutions such as CEQA and the long-term benefit to the environment they impose.
“Given recent historic infrastructure investments at the federal and state levels, SB 922 will help us get projects up and running in record time,” added Wiener. “This is an important moment to quickly and decisively make use of transformational funds and expand our transportation infrastructure across the state. We cannot allow sustainable transportation projects to get bogged down in years of unnecessary and expensive administrative delays when we could be revitalizing California’s transportation landscape now.”
“Whether it’s the significant time and cost to work through CEQA, or the concerns around possible years-long lawsuits and appeals, without this statutory exemption, California will miss out on the necessary changes we need to reduce emissions and provide sustainable transportation options for communities across the state.”
“Building more sustainable transportation is key to addressing climate change and environmental concerns. When more people use alternatives to cars – like transit, walking and biking – greenhouse gas emissions go down. Projects like these will ensure that investment in our infrastructure and economy doesn’t come at the expense of our environment, and in fact helps lower carbon emissions and lessen our cities’ carbon footprint.”
While SB 922 passed 68-1 on Monday, previous votes, before major amendments were added that added certain limits on exemptions, had been much closer. A previous Senate vote before amendments had passed 24-1 in May, but came with 15 Senators, both Democrat and Republican, refusing to vote due to major issues with the bill.
“A lot of Senators and Assemblymembers are in favor of the bill now, especially with major improvements on the line to numerous transit agencies in both blue and red districts,” a state transit specialist explained who wished to remain anonymous in a Globe interview on Monday. “But amendments have been sorting that out. Honestly, right now, a lot of lawmakers don’t like how these CEQA exemptions are being doled out, but they don’t want to lose major transit projects that will bring in state funding and jobs, not to mention environmental reasons and demand for better mass transit some areas have. Some are just happy to avoid more delays, which CEQA always, always brings along with it.”
“The Senate will likely pass this and Newsom will likely sign it into law. But a big thing to remember is that no matter how well you improve mass transit and biking, and walking, and other non-car options, it doesn’t mean that people will just suddenly be enticed to just stop driving. Improvements help, but more needs to be done if you really want more people out of their cars when they travel.”
SB 922 is expected to be voted on by the Senate soon.
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