Caltrans Second Quarter Mile Marker

In Caltrans’ latest quarterly report, the Mile Marker we see signs that Caltrans’ work to make California’s transportation system more sustainable and livable, and to encourage bicycling, may slowly be coming to fruition.

It’s inspiring that the front page of the Mile Marker not only features people riding bikes, but they were sure to include more utilitarian bike riders, and even one rider not wearing a helmet! It’s exciting to see Caltrans promote riding a bike as a normal, safe, activity.

Capture

One of the the first things to note in the report is in the message from Malcolm Dougherty, the Director of Caltrans, he highlights that the progress report of the Mile Marker finally includes safety data for people walking and biking. See below:

Capture

Not only is the Mile Marker tracking safety data for people walking and biking, but they are beginning to follow through on their recent adoption of our goal to triple bicycling by 2020 by tracking the number of people walking and biking.

Next, the Mile Marker highlights Caltrans’ new mission, and clarifies that not only is safety the agency’s top priority, but that they are connecting safety with what we presume to be societal health. Talking to Caltrans engineers, you may get the understanding that the agency is more concerned with bridge and highway “health,” but as the article states, Caltrans has placed a new priority on active transportation.

The next section highlights their work “Toward ZERO Deaths” (Caltrans’ somewhat strange alternative branding to the international Vision Zero initiative). Although we are excited that the California Department of Transportation is (finally) highlighting bike/ped stats, there are a few problems with the reporting. First, the death rate for motorists is framed with unfathomably inhuman numbers, while the bicycle/pedestrian rate is expressed only vaguely (e.g. mode share has doubled, but fatalities have gone up). How many deaths per 100-million miles are there for bicyclists? Why are the numbers not comparable? Why 100-million miles? That’s almost the distance to the sun. What does that have to do with my everyday life? Secondly, unlike other countries and cities that have adopted a Vision Zero initiative, where the adoptee’s transportation system vows to not cause a single death by a certain date, the “Toward ZERO Deaths” initiative only promises to reduce fatalities by 10% each year. That means: moving people faster is more important than human life, and they have no intent in ending all transportation deaths at any time. Reducing the mortality rate by 10% each year will never get us to zero. If you travel 10% of the way to work every hour on your bike, you’ll never actually make it to work, you’ll just eventually be riding very, very slowly.

The next section is about culverts, which is a drainage channel. The only thing that’s interesting from the perspective of a bicycle advocate about this section is that they use these adorable radio controlled machines called “Microtraxx Tunnel Mucker” to clean out the culverts.

The fact that Caltrans’ is so excited about such a silly new tool gives us hope that there will be more mini-street sweepers throughout the state to clean us the miles and miles of interconnected protected bike lanes and bikeway networks we are going to build throughout the state, like this one that LA Mayor Eric Garcetti was promoting on his Facebook page:

Capture

The best piece in the Mile Marker, and the one that is the most inspiring and hopeful, is entitled “Road Diet Feeds Bike and Ped.”

Capture

This piece highlights Shasta Living Streets (a fiscally sponsored project of the California Bicycle Coalition), which has worked to reduce the amount of car space on State Route 273 which runs through the heart of Redding. Shasta Living Streets successfully worked with Caltrans District 2 leaders to reduce unnecessary space for cars to implement a bike lane. Caltrans even highlighted our praise of the project.

Is this article evidence that Caltrans is beginning to turn a corner? Will Caltrans stop the “standard” restriping and resurfacing of the Caltrans’ owned arterials that are often both wildly dangerous for people on bikes and people walking, and the most direct route to the most common destinations — putting efficiency and personal safety at odds?

Read the full Mile Marker at http://www.dot.ca.gov/ctjournal/MileMarker/2015-2/index.html