With a recent report calling out the need for Caltrans to focus less on building highways and more on letting cities build people-friendly streets, state legislators have an eye trained on the agency’s progress towards reform.
The California Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee held a hearing yesterday to discuss the new report [PDF], conducted by the State Smart Transportation Initiative and commissioned by the California Transportation Agency (CalSTA), which was formed by Governor Jerry Brown and CalSTA Secretary Brian Kelly last year to oversee all of the state’s transportation agencies.
The report is sharply critical of Caltrans’ “archaic” practices when it comes to imposing automobile-centric design standards on city streets, and says the department should reform its risk-averse culture, which often prevents local city planners from implementing modern designs for bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets.
Two of the report’s authors, Joel Rogers and Eric Sundquist of SSTI, presented their findings to the committee, arguing that the way Caltrans is currently structured prevents it from helping meet state goals like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving transit networks, and building complete streets. A complete, systemic reorganization of the agency is their recommended solution.
The report asks a series of questions on whether the agency has the right tools “to help it achieve the mobility, safety, and environmental stewardship goals that are expected from California’s transportation system.” The answer, the authors conclude, is a resounding “no.”
“Caltrans’ operative mission and goals are out of step and work at cross purposes with the transportation needs and policy framework of the state,” Rogers told the Senate committee. “The skills and technical expertise of its staff are not congruent with modern demands.”
The report criticizes the “rule-bound” culture at the agency that causes employees to focus on avoiding risk rather than streamlining projects that provide cities better transit and safe streets for walking and biking. And, Rogers told the committee, “You, the Legislature, have a heavy hand in making Caltrans as dysfunctional as you now find it.”