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AB 645, the lifesaving speed camera bill, is now law!

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Together, we made history for safe streets in our city – and California

On October 13, 2023, Governor Newsom signed AB 645 into law. AB 645 allows six California cities including San Francisco to pilot speed cameras. This is huge news, and we’re so grateful to Governor Newsom – and many others (more on that below).

In San Francisco and California, speed is the #1 cause of severe and fatal traffic crashes. More than 1,000 Californians have died in speed-related traffic crashes every year for the past five years, and many thousands more severely injured. Finally, a proven and powerful tool is available to help address this.

A long journey to this win

Walk SF and the group San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets have been working to pass speed camera legislation for years. The first attempt was in 2017, when then-Assemblymember (now City Attorney) David Chiu introduced a bill to allow a pilot for speed cameras in San Francisco. Two more speed camera bills since failed to get traction.

But happily, this year’s AB 645 authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (44th District – Glendale/Burbank) was a different story. And a big part of why is because of stories.

San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets is a group made up of the loved ones of people who have been killed or injured in traffic crashes, as well as crash survivors themselves. Since the beginning, Families for Safe Streets members have told their stories to lawmakers countless times. They have done this bravely and despite how painful and exhausting it is. They’ve done it to show the “why” of speed cameras, and in hopes of preventing others from suffering the way they have.

Making AB 645 law is deeply personal for Families for Safe Streets members, and their contributions cannot be overstated. They made this bill real for legislators, and it made all the difference in this campaign. This is their win.

Memorable moments from the campaign

The campaign for AB 645 has been an emotional roller coaster. Given the fact that no previous bills ever made it to a full Assembly or Senate vote, each hurdle we faced on the bill’s path to the Governor’s desk felt massive.

Our first trip to Sacramento for AB 645 in April was one I’ll never forget – we filled an entire bus, and visited more than 100 (!) offices of Assemblymembers.

We started gaining new support and momentum for speed cameras that day. Assemblymember Mike Gipson, who lost his son to a hit-and-run driver, joined as a co-author during a particularly emotional meeting.

And in the final week before the deadline for Governor Newsom to sign AB 645, the New York Times published a powerful story featuring Families for Safe Streets member Liz Chavez, whose five-year-old daughter Aileen was killed by a speeding driver. The story by Heather Knight framed AB 645 exactly as it is: commonsense, overdue, and critically needed to prevent tragedies on our streets.

Our celebration after AB 645 became law was unforgettable, too, with Mayor London Breed sharing her excitement for getting speed cameras up and running ASAP, plus David Chiu speaking from the heart about why he couldn’t let trying to pass speed camera legislation go. “This is about the families, and this is about making the deaths stop,” said Chiu. Check out photos from the celebration below, and this news story by CBS Bay Area has footage from the party including some of Mayor Breed’s speech.

So many people and organizations helped to pass AB 645

First, I need to thank Walk SF members for making this win possible. Working on state legislation is a big lift for us as a small nonprofit. Because of members, we were able to do the media work, trips to Sacramento, coalition-building, and ongoing legislative work for years. Plus, our members sent countless phone calls, sent thousands of emails, and were ready to do more at every turn of this campaign.

And as I shared above, the Families for Safe Streets community was essential, going the extra mile many times, giving their time and persevering through some tough losses with previous versions of this bill.

Assemblymember Friedman and her staff worked tirelessly, not just to get the votes needed, but listening to opposition and crafting a bill that was effective and fair, with strong equity and privacy guardrails in it.

We saw wonderful support from the City of San Francisco’s leaders and agencies, starting with Mayor London Breed’s strong endorsement of the legislation. All members of the Board of Supervisors supported AB 645 through a resolution, and extra thanks to Supervisor Dorsey who traveled to Sacramento with Walk SF and Families for Safe Streets in September to meet with Senators. SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin and Board Chair Amanda Eaken also went to the State Capitol to advocate for the legislation.

Bay Area Assemblymembers including Phil Ting, Matt Haney, Buffy Wicks, and Mia Bonta co-sponsored the bill. And State Senator Scott Wiener (a principal co-author of AB 645) was instrumental in moving the bill successfully through the Senate votes.

We were part of a statewide coalition of advocates and city staff, which met every week throughout the year to advance this bill. Our Southern California partners were nothing short of incredible: Streets for All and Streets are for Everyone. Like Walk SF, they were going to Sacramento regularly and lifting up the voices that needed to be heard most, while also doing great organizing and media in LA.

We also had wonderful support from local partners, especially groups in the Vision Zero Coalition as well as the Senior & Disability Group of the Vision Zero Coalition. THANK YOU!

So what’s next?

Here in San Francisco, AB 645 allows a total of 33 speed cameras to be piloted for a five-year period.

Even before the bill was signed by Governor Newsom, the City was starting to lay the groundwork to get these cameras on the ground quickly. Fantastic! Camera placement will be determined in part with local community involvement to create equitable program guidelines. Cameras can be placed only on streets with the highest crash rates or in school zones.

The SFMTA has set a goal of making San Francisco the first city to launch cameras, in early 2025, and Walk SF will be weighing in on their approach for camera placement. The strongest possible camera program is needed, because its success will be critical for passing future legislation to allow more cameras in our city and elsewhere.

As always, Walk SF will continue to push for the City to bring street design improvements to more streets, so that combined with these 33 cameras, a widespread driver behavior shift happens citywide.

Walk San Francisco issued a groundbreaking report last year on exactly how the City can take a more comprehensive approach to bring down dangerous speeds. Streets can be designed to slow drivers in a variety of proven ways: narrowing streets by removing lanes, timing traffic signals, adding posts and curbs in intersections so drivers make turns more slowly, strategic use of speed humps, and much more (read the report for details). We will push for more of these to happen at scale as part of our #SlowOurStreets campaign.

We must #SlowOurStreets to save lives. If you agree, support Walk SF making more wins like AB 645 happen with your generous donation today.

Special thanks to William McLeod for taking many of the photos featured here.