The New Kid on the Block?
Traffic safety has not been a traditional topic of focus under CEQA. Well, that’s about to change due to SB 743. The new law is elevating safety into the forefront of CEQA transportation impact analysis and will likely accelerate the evolution of safety analysis along the way. So, what exactly happened? First, SB 743 included the following references regarding traffic safety.
It is the intent of the Legislature to…
Ensure that the environmental impacts of traffic, such as noise, air pollution, and safety concerns, continue to be properly addressed and mitigated through the California Environmental Quality Act.
Chapter 2.7. Section 21099(b)(3)
This subdivision does not relieve a public agency of the requirement to analyze a project’s potentially significant transportation impacts related to air quality, noise, safety, or any other impact associated with transportation. The methodology established by these guidelines shall not create a presumption that a project will not result in significant impacts related to air quality, noise, safety, or any other impact associated with transportation. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the adequacy of parking for a project shall not support a finding of significance pursuant to this section.
The intent appears to be that the new law was not intending to change any analysis requirements (or current practice) related to air quality, noise, and safety. But under the law of unintended consequences, the law is likely to substantially change how safety is analyzed. For most projects, safety was rarely addressed in the transportation impact section of CEQA documents. Under the preliminary guidance issued for SB 743 by OPR, local safety was included as referenced below.
Text of Proposed New Section 15064.3(b)(3)
(3) Local Safety. In addition to a project’s effect on vehicle miles traveled, a lead agency may also consider localized effects of project-related transportation on safety. Examples of objective factors that may be relevant may include: (A) Increase exposure of bicyclists and pedestrians in vehicle conflict areas (i.e., remove pedestrian and bicycle facilities, increase roadway crossing times or distances, etc.). (B) Contribute to queuing on freeway off-ramps where queues extend onto the mainline. (C) Contribute to speed differentials of greater than 15 miles per hour between adjacent travel lanes. (D) Increase motor vehicle speeds. (E) Increase distance between pedestrian or bicycle crossings.
While this is likely new guidance for many agencies (and still evolving through the SB 743 process), all of the specified factors above have been used by Fehr & Peers in previous studies especially when multimodal safety was a concern. This is one of our specialty areas having helped to develop multimodal safety guides, tools, and training programs. These include the following resources:
- Technical Guides for Conducting Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Assessments for California Communities for the U.C. Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies, Technology Transfer Program (Tech Transfer).
- Complete Streets Planning and Design Course – C. Berkeley Tech Transfer
- Recommended Design Guidelines to Accommodate Pedestrians and Bicycles at Interchanges for the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)
- WalkFirst Streetscape Prioritization, City and County of San Francisco
- Xwalk+ – a Fehr & Peers ASAP tool for the safe design of crosswalks.
With more infill development in urban areas, multimodal conflicts are likely to increase. Combined with SB 743 and new Vision Zero goals adopted by cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, more agencies are likely to require multimodal safety analysis as part of CEQA compliance.