A significant legislative development promises to make California streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. California Senate Bill 538, penned by Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Pasadena), has successfully passed the Senate Floor. The bill marks a decisive step towards providing safer transportation options for Californians, specifically targeting the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.
Senate Bill 538 sets out to make the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) more inclusive and representative of all mobility options. To achieve this goal, the bill stipulates the appointment of a Chief Advisor on Cycling and Active Transportation, a position that will serve as the department’s foremost advisor on all matters related to bicycle transportation, safety, and infrastructure.
The essence of this legislation resonates with Senator Portantino’s belief in prioritizing cyclist and pedestrian safety in transportation planning and implementation.
“When we plan and implement transportation policies, it’s important that we are safeguarding cyclist and pedestrian safety.” Portantino added that having someone at Caltrans dedicated to focusing on the needs of cycling communities and tasked with implementing safe street policies “just makes sense.”
Currently, the California Department of Transportation includes the Bicycle Facilities Unit (BFU), a unit that coordinates all aspects of Caltrans bicycle programs.
The BFU also promotes well-designed bicycle facilities and cultivates the necessary funding, regulations, and education to make these facilities possible. However, there is a noticeable absence of a specialized department chair who can advise Caltrans on issues specifically related to bicycle transportation. Senate Bill 538 aims to rectify this by instituting a Chief Advisor on Cycling and Active Transportation.
Marc Vukcevich, State Policy Advocate for Streets for All, expressed his support for the bill, stating, “Our goal with this bill is to shape Caltrans to be inclusive and representative of all mobility options.” He further explained the significance of the new role, saying, “By having a Chief Advisor on Bicycling and Active Transportation, there would be a position that can have a voice at the table to improve bike and pedestrian safety across the state.”
Vukcevich emphasized that this person will have the necessary authority, expertise, purview, and staff needed to protect vulnerable road users at a time when pedestrian fatalities are at a 40-year high.
Having cleared the Senate, the bill now moves to the Assembly Committee on Transportation.
If ultimately passed into law, it will require cities and counties to identify and map the places where bike riders and pedestrians experience high rates of injury. This data will then be incorporated into their General Plans, prompting actionable steps to reduce traffic fatalities. This effort aligns with Senator Portantino’s stated concerns that despite efforts to make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, many roads remain dangerously unsafe.