There’s been some consternation amongst commenters following our post announcing our intention to package a number of priority bike projects together for environmental review. (Thanks also to Streetsblog for covering this.) We’ve asked City Planning staff to explain the reasoning for doing so a little further, and to try to clarify a few points.
Jane Choi, whom many will remember from the City’s recent Bike Plan meetings, has graciously agreed to provide a little more context.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was adopted in 1970 and requires that state and local agencies identify and disclose to decision makers and the public the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. With regard to implementing projects such as bicycle lanes, one may wonder why a project that can seemingly have a positive impact on the environment would need such disclosures.
Before we jump into exploring this question, those looking for more information on how the CEQA process impacts bicycle facility implementation should check out the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s (SFBC) webpage on CEQA and their Bike Plan EIR, which have a wealth of information given the city/county’s recent victories in moving forward with their plan. The South Coast Air Quality Management District also has a great FAQ page.
CEQA applies to projects undertaken by a public agency, funded by a public agency or which require an issuance of a permit by a public agency in the State of California (Pub. Res. Code § 21065; Guidelines § 15378(a)). A “project” means the whole of an action that has a potential for resulting in physical change to the environment and is an activity that may be subject to several discretionary approvals by governmental agencies. A “project” may include construction activities, clearing or grading of land, improvements to existing structures, and activities or equipment involving the issuance of a permit.
Not all Bike Lane Projects Are Equal under CEQA Review
The removal of a travel lane for cars and the installation of a bike lane may be a project that has an impact that could require an EIR. However, not all reconfiguration projects for bikes require an EIR if the impacts are below City-established thresholds or the project’s impacts can be resolved or mitigated. Similar to the recent project on Myra Ave, many of the streets in the 2010 Bicycle Plan either do not have impacts or have impacts that can be mitigated without a full blown EIR. A project is found to have impacts if the action from the project causes a negative environmental impact based on thresholds set by the City. State law allows local jurisdictions to set their own thresholds for the impacts cause by projects. In the area of transportation/circulation impacts, the City’s current standards for what causes a traffic impact is based on the City’s adopted auto Level-of-Service (LOS) Thresholds (see page 14 of the City Traffic Study Guidelines). The City is legally required to further study any project that may lower the level of service for automobiles, even though the project may have a positive overall impact when considering all modes of transportation.
At the start of a project, the responsible agency begins by defining the “project description.” Crafting the correct project description is critical, as the project description is used to determine the impacts that are created by the project. The City will be conducting scoping meetings to get input on crafting this project description. Before the City begins its work, the cycling community’s input will be crucial, starting with the BPIT.
The 2010 Bicycle Plan’s MND Cleared Some Streets, Not All
One question is why didn’t the Bicycle Plan’s Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) clear the bicycle facilities for immediate construction. Some future bicycle lanes, such as 7th Street, were cleared in the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the 2010 Bicycle Plan and do not require further environmental clearance because the reconfiguration of the street to include bicycle lanes would not cause significant impact as defined in the state and local CEQA guidelines.
The 2010 Plan clearly states that “lanes that cannot be accommodated in the current street width without potentially significantly impacting traffic and/or parking in the area will require further study” (Chapter 5, Pg 114). At the time there was “not enough information to analyze these lanes in detail to verify their feasibility and a route alignment study may be needed to determine the best alignment within the general corridor.” These streets are the types of streets that are being packaged through the Five Year Implementation Strategy’s annual environmental review. Per the Bicycle Plan, “…many future Bicycle lanes will require additional analysis (particularly impacts on traffic) pursuant to CEQA.” However, “not all bikeway projects that require additional analysis will require a lengthy and costly full Environmental Impact Report (EIR).”
LA models San Francisco’s Process
San Francisco recently cleared several streets for bicycle lane implementation. Some wonder whether LA can do the same. City staff are modeling the current proposed strategy of bundling projects into smaller packages after San Francisco’s Bicycle Plan EIR. San Francisco’s Bicycle Plan EIR cleared 30 miles of new lane projects for implementation. Each package will be limited to a similar size in terms of mileage due to cost, funding and feasibility. The draft proposed Package 1 has about 45 miles of streets.