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Caltrans Grants $550 Million to Transit Projects Statewide

Caltrans announced over the holiday weekend that it has allocated one of the remaining chunks of money from Prop 1B, the massive transportation bond act approved by California voters in 2006.

Over $550 million was awarded to transit capital projects throughout the state. The projects include building transit centers and bus stop facilities, replacing buses and rail cars, and building repair facilities. Large and small agencies received the funds; a complete list is available here [PDF].

Among the largest receipients is Los Angeles' Metro Expo Rail Phase 2. Photo via Metro's The Source.

Among the largest Prop 1B transit capital funding recipients is $106 million for Los Angeles’ Metro Expo light rail. Photo of Expo Phase 2 construction via Metro’s The Source.

The largest allocations include:

  • $106 million to L.A. Metro for Exposition light rail, phase 2
  • $81 million to San Francisco Muni to complete the Central Subway project
  • $58 million to L.A. Metro for the Regional Connector light rail subway
  • $43 million to Orange County for the Raymond Avenue grade separation
  • $41 million to L.A. Metro for bus procurement
  • $36 million to San Diego for light rail vehicles
  • $30 million to Santa Clara for the Alum Rock Bus Rapid Transit
  • $20 million to AC Transit to complete the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco

Many smaller projects were also awarded funds, a total of $559,368,166 for 77 projects. Kern and Fresno counties received money to buy natural gas buses and a new fleetwide computer system, Santa Monica got money to replace buses, and the city of Chowchilla got enough to purchase one new transit bus. The smallest award went to California City, in the Mojave desert: $11,715 for a park-and-ride lot.

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Speaking With Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ New Sustainability Director

cliff

Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ first Assistant Director of Sustainability. Photo: Caltrans

As part of its ongoing work to expand its focus beyond just highways, California’s Department of Transportation, better known as Caltrans, recently created a new position — the Assistant Director of Sustainability. Steven Cliff, the new hire, will oversee the integration of one of the department’s newest goals: “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy.”

Cliff comes from the California Air Resources Board, where he helped develop ways to implement AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, and helped develop the cap-and-trade program. He has a background in global climate science and air quality research at the University of California, Davis, where he held a research faculty position before taking on policy work at the ARB.

Changes at Caltrans

Caltrans’ sustainability goal is part of the department’s newly formulated mission and vision statements. Those statements resulted from months of intensive work in response to outside pressure on the department to face the fact that its car-focused, highway-loving, bureaucratic ways were not serving Californians.

The pressure came from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), the new-ish agency with oversight over Caltrans and several other agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol, that before 2013 answered only to the governor.

One of CalSTA’s first actions was to commission an outside study on the state of affairs at Caltrans.

The resulting report, from the State Smart Transportation Initiative [PDF], ripped into Caltrans, calling it rigid, out of step, and overly risk-averse. The report led to several legislative hearings last year, and led to Caltrans’ endorsement of the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide as an alternative to the department’s own hidebound guidelines, which squelched safer and innovative street designs — especially bicycle infrastructure.

Caltrans dumped its old mission statement, “Improve mobility across California,” for a new one: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.”

In the process it also came up with a new vision statement and formulated ten new goals to help achieve that vision. The newest one, “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy,” Caltrans explains as: “[Making] long-lasting, smart mobility decisions that improve the environment, support a vibrant economy, and build communities, not sprawl” (emphasis added).

Cliff, the new Assistant Director for Sustainability, has the job of leading up the effort to develop the sustainability goal, create objectives for it, and formulate performance measures to evaluate how well those objectives are achieved. When the work is finished, it will help inform the department’s five-year strategic plan, due next spring.

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Governor Brown Signs Protected Bike Lane Bill, Car Fee for Bike Paths

Governor Brown recently approved A.B. 1193, which would allow protected bike lanes, like this one on 3rd Street in Long Beach, CA, to be more easily implemented throughout California. Photo: Joe Linton, Streetsblog LA

Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills on Saturday that will make it easier for California cities to build better bike infrastructure.

The governor approved Assembly Bill 1193, which means protected bike lanes, or cycletracks, will become an official part of Caltrans’ guidelines on bike infrastructure. Brown also signed Senate Bill 1183, which will allow local governments to use a vehicle surcharge to pay for bike paths and bike facility maintenance.

State to Create Standards Supporting Protected Bike Lanes

A.B. 1193, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will require Caltrans to create engineering standards for protected bike lanes, which until now have been discouraged by a complex approval processes and a lack of state guidance. This new class of lane — called cycletracks, or “class IV bikeways,” in Caltrans terms — are separated from motor traffic using a physical barrier, such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.

Protected bike lanes have been shown to increase the number of people bicycling on them, to make cyclists feel safer, and to decrease the number of wrong-way and sidewalk riders on streets that have them.

The new law will also allow cities and counties to build cycletracks without consulting Caltrans, unless the facilities are built on state highways. California cities that build protected bike lanes will have the option of using the standards to be developed by Caltrans or some other generally accepted standards, sparing them from Caltrans’ arduous approval process.

Locals Can Now Pass Vehicle Fees to Build and Maintain Bikeways

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“Not a Freeway” — Re-Branding the Excesses of the $1.4B Presidio Parkway

A temporary bypass road, with a movable median barrier, runs by the Main Post Tunnels under construction for the Presidio Parkway early this year. Photo: Presidio Parkway

When visitors land on the front page of the Presidio Parkway’s website, they see an animated pelican emerging from beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, gliding across green hills and blue skies. When the bird lands, you can “Meet Parker” with a click and learn all about the Presidio Parkway Pelican.

The PR team for this freeway project wants you to know that Parker the fictional pelican is “very excited about the improvements the new Presidio Parkway will bring to his favorite national park!”

This “former military pilot” even has his own color-within-the-lines page [PDF] that parents can print out for their kids to fill in. Perhaps that helps distract the whole family from the $1.4 billion taxpayers will be forking over for the next 30 years to build a one-mile freeway connecting the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco’s Marina District.

The Presidio Parkway probably needs a re-branding campaign like this to make it palatable to the public. With the images of birds, clouds, and rolling hills, you can’t really tell that this project is about building a gargantuan concrete structure. In fact, the website insists that it’s “a parkway, not a freeway” with a logo depicting a quaint, narrow road, somehow free of motor vehicles, snaking through the grass to everybody’s favorite bridge.

Screenshot of the banner on PresidioParkway.com

There’s no doubt the depression-era Doyle Drive needed to be replaced, and there’s good reason the design of its successor has been deliberated since the 80s. The elevated highway was crumbling and would likely have succumbed to the next big earthquake. Designed to steer the motoring public around the former Presidio military base, it cut off the national park from the Bay.

The new road will be less of a monstrosity, and the temporary structure built in the first phase has already provided a “seismically safe” road for drivers. Car traffic is currently routed through the first of four planned tunnels via a temporary bypass road. In 2015, both pairs of tunnels are expected to open, and on top of them will be 13 acres of parkland that people and wildlife can traverse freely to Crissy Field.

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Protected Bike Lanes Bill Passes CA Senate Transportation Committee

The “Protected Bikeways Act,” A.B. 1193, passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Thursday on a 10-0 vote, despite opposition from some quarters. The bill must still be approved by the full Senate and Governor Jerry Brown.

A protected bike lane in Temple City. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would compel Caltrans to create guidelines for protected bike lanes, a type of facility that is not currently allowed under California law.

A second measure in the bill would give local jurisdictions — cities and counties — the freedom to follow Caltrans standards for bicycle infrastructure or to choose some other guidance. Currently all bicycle infrastructure in California must adhere to Caltrans standards, whether it’s built on state highways or local streets. There are a few limited exceptions to this, generally through cumbersome experimental processes, but overall Caltrans’ antiquated standards have limited implementation of infrastructure that has proven safe in other states and other countries.

“This comes down to an issue of local control,” said Ting. “Cities have control over every aspect of their streets except when it comes to bikes.”

Supporters at the hearing included representatives from Napa County, the city of San Jose, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

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CA Senate Committee to Consider Protected Bike Lanes Bill Tomorrow

A key hearing will be held in Sacramento tomorrow on legislation that would pave the way for more California cities to build protected bike lanes, also known as “cycle tracks.”

Legislation by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-SF) aims to make protected bike lanes, such as this one in Long Beach, more common throughout California. Photo: Gary Kavanagh

Currently the California Highway Design Manual does not allow protected bike lanes, and state law requires local jurisdictions to follow Caltrans specifications for bicycle facilities on all roads, not just state-controlled highways. No such requirement exists for any other type of street infrastucture — just bicycle facilities.

A.B. 1193, the “Safe Routes for Urban Cyclists,” from Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would require Caltrans to develop standards for bike lanes that are physically separated from motor traffic. At the same time, the bill would permit cities to opt out of using Caltrans specifications for bike facilities on local streets and roads.

The legislation follows the spirit of a recommendation from the recent State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report on Caltrans that Caltrans “support, or propose if no bill is forthcoming, legislation to end the archaic practice of imposing state rules on local streets for bicycle facilities.”

Caltrans recently complied with another SSTI recommendation when it endorsed design guidelines for bicycle infrastructure from the National Association of City Transportation Officials. However, while that endorsement adds some tools to the toolkit for planners, the NACTO guidelines are not yet included of the California Highway Design Manual, which local jurisdictions are still bound to.

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Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

For social media coverage of California’s statewide transportation issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like the Streetsblog California Facebook page.

Here’s Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of legislation and events related to sustainable transportation at the California capitol.

  • News on the implementation of S.B. 743, which removes Automobile Level of Service from consideration as an environmental impact in areas with robust transit. The state’s Office of Planning and Research released the public comments it has received on its update of CEQA guidelines and its draft guidelines for S.B. 743, which Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) introduced and was passed last year. S.B. 743 requires the OPR to come up with a new urban planning metric to replace LOS that measures the effect of development and transportation projects on all traffic, not just car drivers. Proponents are enthusiastic about eliminating an outdated, car-centric measure that has led to wider, faster streets. Critics worry that longer have the means to require developers to improve streets. The next steps: drafting the actual guidelines, releasing them for public comment in late spring, and producing a final draft version of the guidelines by July 1.
  • Caltrans published a new mission statement: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.” This is a vast improvement over the old one, “Caltrans improves mobility across California,” and it contains all the right buzzwords. The mission statement was the first item on the Early Action Plan outlined in the State Smart Transportation Initiative report urging deep reforms in Caltrans. Check — now to work.
  • More extensive senate hearings saw debates about the governor’s cap-and-trade expenditure plan and high-speed rail, this time in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation. CA High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales defended the use of cap-and-trade funds for high speed rail, and Senator Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) attacked cap-and-trade as a slush fund and high-speed rail as an expensive project that will produce a “puny” reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Plenty of comments from the Legislative Analyst’s Office and various interest groups.
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Spectacular New Devil’s Slide Trail Difficult to Reach Without a Car

A 1.3-mile section of abandoned Highway 1 south of Pacifica was converted into the new Devil’s Slide Trail, seen here just before its grand opening to the public on March 27. Photo: Andrew Boone

The 1.3-mile “Devil’s Slide” segment of Highway 1 just south of Pacifica is the latest addition to San Mateo County’s 20 parks. The freshly-paved walking and biking trail offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and its coastal cliffs, and it’s by far the widest trail in the San Francisco Bay Area, with 12 feet striped for walking and 12 feet for bicycling.

“This is inarguably one of the most beautiful segments of the California Coastal Trail,” said Coastal Conservancy Executive Officer Samual Schuchat at the trail’s ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday. “It’s incredibly exciting to open it, after years of driving through here and wanting to take in these views but being afraid that you would crash.”

The geologically hazardous section of highway was closed to cars in March of last year with the opening of the twin Tom Lantos tunnels, which Caltrans constructed to bypass this stretch. As Deidra Kennedy of the Pacifica Historical Society told the SF Chronicle last week, Caltrans originally planned to build an inland bypass and bury the Devil’s Slide highway, but local activists persuaded them to instead build a tunnel and re-purpose the coastal road.

Construction included re-paving the road, building parking lots, bus stops, and public restrooms at both ends, and adding three overlooks, 12 benches, and a variety of educational panels alongside the trail to help visitors learn about the area’s geology and ecology. The San Mateo County Parks Department spent $2 million on the highway-to-trail project, and will invest another $492,000 per year to maintain it, or roughly 5 percent of the department’s annual budget.

Getting to the new trail without a car, however, is a challenge. Since the trail was carved from Highway 1, the highway remains the only way to get there.

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California Biking, Walking, Transit Use Up Despite Little Investment

Caltrans' latest Household Travel Survey report shows significant increases in walking and bicycling

The news from Caltrans’ 2012 California Household Travel Survey is not too surprising: Californians are making more trips by walking, bicycling, and transit than they were in 2000. The survey found the percentage of trips by these modes doubled in ten years and make up nearly 23 percent of all trips in the state.

That means car trips decreased dramatically, from 86 percent of trips to 75 percent. This includes trips where people are passengers in cars — for drivers only, the decrease is from 60 percent of trips to 49 percent. This confirms a recent US Public Interest Group (PIRG) report that got a lot of media attention about millenials choosing to drive less and being more interested in active forms of transportation.

“The California data is the first new travel survey since the last federal National Household Travel Survey in 2009, so it’s very significant that it shows such a steep decline in driving and a doubling in the share of transit, biking and walking,” said Phineas Baxandall of USPIRG. “It shows the last federal survey wasn’t a fluke.” The national survey showed a jump in walking trips, a slight increase in transit trips, and an increase in “other” modes, under which bicycle trips would fall.

“The fact that we’re seeing this in California, the heart of the former car culture, is also delicious,” he added.

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