3 Great Things about Caltrans’ Separated Bikeway Guidance

The final draft of Caltrans’ guidance on protected bike lanes was released last week, in time to meet a December 31 deadline specified in the Protected Bikeways Act of 2014 (AB 1193, sponsored by CalBike, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting). “Design Information Bulletin #89: Class IV Bikeway Guidance” is welcome advice and encouragement of on-street bikeways separated from car traffic. The lack of official recognition and guidance on protected bike lanes has prevented most local planners and engineers from building the kind of facility that will help Caltrans meet its goal of tripling bicycling. What’s great about the Final Draft? What’s not so great, and what are we doing about it?

Great Thing #1: It exists. Even though the Protected Bikeways Act allows local agencies to rely on guidance from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), many local engineers still consider Caltrans the only authoritative source. They will not build protected bike lanes until Caltrans tells them how. This guide does that, eliminating the last excuse for not building protected bike lanes where they belong. The use of the “Design Information Bulletin” is a typical way that Caltrans deals with new standards that will quickly evolve. The Highway Design Manual will incorporate them by specific reference.

Kevin Herritt, the Caltrans official in charge of this project, said that the Design Information Bulletin is a “living document” that can be updated quickly. And that’s a good thing, because as soon as it’s published, it will be outdated. The Massachusetts Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide is already a model that Caltrans would do well to emulate. Herritt and Division Chief Tim Craggs said they were committed to constant improvements to the guidance.

Great Thing #2: It includes protected intersections. While the first draft assumed that every protected bike lane would disappear as it approaches the intersection, the final draft, at our insistence, provides advice on continuing the protected bike lane through the intersection. This puts Caltrans ahead of NACTO, whose latest published guidance doesn’t mention protected intersections. Caltrans’ guidance is very thin, however, and the illustrations do not depict best practice. The photograph shows the protected intersection in Davis, which is a terrible example, as a recent CalBike fact-finding trip discovered. It was confusing for bike riders and built to accommodate too-fast car traffic. It’s critical that this groundbreaking inclusion of protected intersections cite better practice.

Great Thing #3: It uses permissive language while encouraging high standards. It calls for fairly wide bikeways, for example, but uses the words “should” and “may” frequently in order to permit informed variation from the highest standard. The draft guidance does a good job of providing information to help an engineer balance the need for high quality infrastructure against the limitations of a specific site, so that protected bike lanes can be installed in more places where they are the best choice. CalBike applauds Caltrans for this perspective on these guidelines, and looks forward to extensive training for traffic engineers and designers and planners across the state as these guidelines are used to build infrastructure.