Big Win! New SPUR-Sponsored Legislation Will Help California Commit to Sustainable Transportation

biking on the bike lane in san jose

Photo by Sergio Ruiz

Governments, advocates and businesses already face great challenges in transforming California’s car-oriented transportation system to one that is affordable, equitable and consistent with the state’s climate goals. But it’s even harder when state laws consistently undermine our best efforts. Governor Newsom recently signed three SPUR-sponsored transportation bills that will help affordable and sustainable transportation options succeed by stopping policies and practices that have been undermining their success for decades.


Prohibiting Minimum Parking Mandates

California has countless programs and funding sources to help advance transit-oriented development. Encouraging jobs, housing and services close to great transit improves affordability, reduces greenhouse gasses and helps transit agencies by increasing their fare revenue. However, cities often force transit-adjacent developments to build excessive amounts of parking, even when a project specifically targets businesses and households that rely on transit and active transportation over private vehicles. This copious parking leads to more cars, more congestion, more costly housing, fewer transit riders, more hazardous road conditions around transit hubs and fewer apartments available for people who would actually rely on the nearby transit.

AB 2097 (Friedman) will prohibit cities from enforcing local minimum parking requirements on most residential, commercial and mixed-use developments within a half-mile of a major transit stop. As voices across the state have pointed out, this legislation will make housing more affordable to build and reduce carbon emissions from driving.

The reason cities impose minimum parking requirements is widely understood, but misguided. The objective is to manage parking spillover from new development. But minimum parking requirements do a poor job at stopping spillover. Take, for example, a city that requires a minimum of one parking space per housing unit on land adjacent to transit. There’s nothing to stop households in that area from owning two or three cars each and parking them in the surrounding neighborhoods. If a city wishes to successfully manage parking spillover, it must do so directly, by managing residential and commercial curb and off-street parking through strategies such as time-limits, parking permits, pricing and enforcement. Until jurisdictions manage spillover parking directly, many local residents and businesses will continue to oppose transit-oriented development.

AB 2097 is an opportunity to stop the failed and costly policy of forcing parking into transit oriented developments and turn the city's attention to parking management strategies that will actually create predictable and reliable parking systems.

SPUR co-sponsored this legislation with the Bay Area Council, California YIMBY, Abundant Housing LA and the Council of Infill Builders.


Streamlining Sustainable Transportation Projects

California seeks to reduce the cost, frustration and climate impacts of getting around by offering more transit and active transportation options. The state and local jurisdictions spend billions on these efforts, but much of it gets eaten-up in the state’s own bureaucratic red tape, legal fees,and long delays that increase project delivery costs.

SB 922 (Wiener) extends until 2030 a streamlined approval process for sustainable transportation projects, including improvements for walking, biking, public transit efficiency and wayfinding; rail stations; zero-emission transit refueling facilities; and carpooling. The concept for the legislation arose from SPUR’s policy report More for Less, which looked at ways to improve the planning and delivery of transit projects. In 2021, SPUR also evaluated SB 922’s predecessor, SB 288, finding that, if extended, the streamlined approval process could yield significant additional statewide environmental and mobility benefits.

SPUR’s analysis found that within 6 months of these tools being authorized, 15 sustainable transportation projects took advantage to accelerate project delivery, with a significant majority of those projects located in disadvantaged communities. Projects that benefited included a new dedicated busway serving communities in the Salinas/Monterey area, as well as quick-build pedestrian safety improvements along a high-injury street in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.

SPUR’s analysis also found that a number of transit projects in the planning phase could not take advantage of streamlined regulations because SB 288 will expire before these projects can apply. So SB 922 offers an opportunity for a much broader range of sustainable transportation projects to benefit from this successful program.

SPUR co-sponsored SB 922 with the California Transit Association, Bay Area Council, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.


Allowing Commuters to Receive Cash Instead of a Parking Space

Where state and local governments have managed to deliver more climate-friendly and more equitable commute options, taxpayer investments are often still undermined by employers who offer significant subsidies for those who choose to drive to work. Research supports basic intuition that employees usually drive when they have a free parking space at work, even when confronted with stressful congestion, costly fuel and great alternatives. It’s time we stop undermining our own investments in healther, more affordable and more sustainable commuting.

AB 2206 (Lee) will combat carbon emissions from driving and improve commuter choice by increasing the number of employees who can receive cash in exchange for giving up their parking space. Case studies of employers who have implemented such programs, known as “parking cash-out,” show great results. For example, a review of eight case studies found the following: “After cashing out, solo driving to work fell by 17 percent. Carpooling increased by 64 percent. Transit ridership increased by 50 percent. Walking and bicycling increased by 33 percent.”

California has had a parking cash-out law in place for three decades, requiring most employers with 50 or more employees to offer workers the options of cash instead of a parking subsidy, but there has been little enforcement. As a result, many jurisdictions ignore the law completely.

AB 2206 directly tackles some reasons that implementation of parking cash-out has been so sparse. First, the law spells out how to determine the value of a parking subsidy that employers are offering, making clear how much cash employees are due when they choose to give up their parking space and get to work by other means. Second, the law requires employers to document how they’ve notified qualifying employees of their right to cash in place of their parking subsidy. This will increase the number of employees who know about this option and create an easy opening for them to request the cash alternative.


Next Steps

SPUR applauds Assemblymember Laura Friedman, Senator Scott Wiener, and Assemblymember Alex Lee, respectively, for their leadership on these important new laws. Now that they’ve been signed by Governor Newsom, these three new laws won’t solve problems by themselves. We still need developers that take advantage of low parking requirements to build more walkable, affordable, low-car developments near transit. We still need local governments and transit agencies to fund and deliver streamlined sustainable transportation improvements. And we still need local governments to enforce commuters’ rights to give up their parking space for cash. But these new laws will help us get out of our own way, which is a prerequisite to success.