Caltrans needs to stop focusing so much on moving cars and let cities build safer street designs with protected bike lanes, says a new report commissioned by Governor Jerry Brown and CA Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly.
SF’s parking-protected bike lanes on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park are technically illegal, according to Caltrans. Photo: Mark Dreger/Flickr
The report [PDF] calls out Caltrans’ “archaic” practices when it comes to imposing outdated, automobile-centric design standards on city streets in California, and says the department should reform its “culture of risk aversion and even fear,” which often prevents local city planners from implementing modern designs for bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets.
When agencies like the SF Municipal Transportation Agency want to implement protected bike lanes, they must take a legal risk since Caltrans hasn’t approved such designs, and design exceptions require “a painful and time-consuming process,” says the report, produced by the State Smart Transportation Initiative.
“Caltrans’ peculiar standards on bicycle facilities even pertain to locally owned streets, precluding some active transportation initiatives,” the report says. “The agency and department should support, or propose if no bill is forthcoming, legislation to end the archaic practice of imposing state rules on local streets for bicycle facilities.”
In a statement, TransForm said the report “offers a refreshingly candid and detailed critique, and more importantly points to a host of critical reforms.”
“The report recommends the direction come ‘from the top down and outside in,’ to avoid the long-standing status quo at Caltrans where bottom-up planning via staff just leads to ‘the culture endorsing itself,'” said TransForm.
Stuart Cohen, TransForm’s executive director and a member of Secretary Kelly’s CA Transportation Infrastructure Priorities workgroup, said that “this is not the first report slamming Caltrans” but that the critical difference comes from the “tremendous leadership” of Governor Brown and Kelly, who commissioned the review.
“We asked for an honest assessment because we are committed to modernizing Caltrans and improving transportation for all Californians,” Kelly said in a statement.
Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty issued a statement saying that “we see this as a tremendous opportunity to reassess our priorities and improve our performance.”
“We have some internal reforms already underway so we can hit the ground running,” he said.