Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty highlights penultimate plenary

This is the first in a series of articles about the “2015 California Bicycle Summit – Equity in Motion.” Register for the summit to get every article in your email inbox, or check our website for updates. Each article will feature a speaker or theme of the summit. Today’s article is about Malcolm Dougherty, Director of California’s Department of Transportation since May 2012.Screen-shot-2015-02-26-at-10.53.36-AM

When not at work, Mr. Dougherty can often be found on the seat of a bicycle. In his work at Caltrans, he has reliably backed a walking and bicycling agenda for this massive 20,000-person, $12 billion agency. It’s no easy task changing the priorities of such an entrenched bureaucracy, but he has not flinched in the face of sometimes vicious criticism. One of his first tasks was to accept a report commissioned by the Governor that was widely considered a scathing indictment of the agency.

The report accused Caltrans of “acting too much as your highway department, not your mobility department.” It said its “mission, vision, and goals are not well aligned” with current needs. It is crippled by a “culture of fear” that prohibits its staff from deviating from established practice even when those practices don’t serve the public.

None of these criticisms would surprise longtime bicycle advocates, who have faced the intransigence of Caltrans officials. But Dougherty’s response might surprise them: he embraced the report. He updated the agency’s mission, vision and goals. He appointed change-makers at the highest level. He supported our efforts to liberalize design guidance with AB 1193 and endorsed modern design guides as an alternative to the outdated California manuals. Dougherty regularly rides his bike around Sacramento, most recently on September 12 when he tweeted that his ride got him to reflect on the need to #fixtheroads. His efforts earned him accolades from us and others, such as the 2014 Excellence in Leadership award from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Dougherty reports to Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly, who was our keynote speaker at the 2013 California Bicycle Summit. Kelly claimed to be enacting changes to implement the values and priorities of the Brown administration, but we hadn’t seen much evidence of that at Caltrans where it matters. Today we can say that Dougherty has provided the evidence and we are proud to invite him to present at our penultimate plenary on Tuesday, October 27. We will have time for questions, so get ready for an exciting, interactive session—and maybe a bike ride—with the Caltrans Director.