Across California, many state roadways owned and maintained by Caltrans function as city and neighborhood surface streets and small-town main streets that carry local traffic as well as people on foot, bike, and transit. These streets are some of the most dangerous roads in our communities thanks to Caltrans’ historical single-minded focus on moving cars quickly and efficiently, instead of prioritizing other road users such as people biking, walking, or waiting for the bus, making their way to and from work, school, or transit stations.
Examples of state-owned roads in urbanized areas include:
- San Francisco: Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Avenue (Highway 101) and 19th Avenue (Highway 1)
- Berkeley: San Pablo Ave (Hwy 123) and Ashby Ave (Hwy 13)
- Los Angeles County: Santa Monica Blvd (Hwy 2), Hawthorne Blvd (Hwy 107), and Alameda St (Hwy 47)
- San Bernardino: Foothill Blvd (Hwy 66)
- Bakersfield: 23rd and 24th Streets (Hwy 178)
- West Sacramento: Jefferson Blvd (Hwy 84)
In 2008, Caltrans adopted a strong internal Complete Streets policy which states that it will consider the needs of all road users on all project types and in all phases of project design and delivery. Unfortunately, Caltrans’ design practices remain grounded in an earlier era, when Level-of-Service, or roads’ capacity to move cars through quickly, was Caltrans’ only consideration in roadway design. In 2015, the agency adopted goals to triple bicycling and double walking statewide by the year 2020. However, Caltrans has not made a serious effort to implement these goals as part of all road rehabilitation and maintenance work. Instead, Caltrans continues to prioritize the movement of car and truck traffic through cities and towns, increasing congestion and air pollution in neighborhoods rather than creating streets that are safe, convenient, and inviting places to walk, bike, and use public transit. For example, El Camino Real (SR-82) in the Bay Area cuts through Peninsula communities and inexplicably lacks sidewalks in numerous locations, let alone much-needed bicycle lanes and improved crossings for pedestrians and transit users.
CalBike and its partners California Walks, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association are aiming to change this norm through proper legislative measures. This session, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 760, the Complete Streets bill, to prioritize the creation of ‘complete streets,’ including safer sidewalks, bikeways, and crosswalks, on roads owned and managed by Caltrans during routine road repaving and maintenance. With a highway maintenance budget of $2.4 billion dollars for the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP), this bill will bring millions of dollars into communities for safe crossings, protected bikeways, and traffic calming measures, for example.
The bill sets new policies and allocates funding to help Caltrans implement the agency’s already adopted Strategic Management Plan goals to make streets safer and more accessible for everyone, including children, seniors, and families, and to accommodate all transportation modes, including walking, biking, and public transit. SB 760 changes the guidelines dictating how State Highway funds are spent to ensure that improving accessibility, reducing vehicle miles traveled, and promoting public health are top considerations. The current primary priority for Caltrans is the operation, maintenance, and rehabilitation of state highways. The bill also establishes a Division of Active Transportation within Caltrans, which will be charged with adhering to complete streets performance measures.
“State-owned highways that run through local communities should be designed for safe use by everyone, not just cars,” said Senator Wiener. “For too long, Caltrans has talked about complete streets as a policy, but hasn’t actually delivered these improvements in its projects. SB 760 will ensure that as we rehabilitate roads that run through the centers of our towns and cities, we are prioritizing active transportation uses like walking, bicycling, and riding public transportation. Streets designed for all residents create safer and healthier communities.”
The long-term impact of this will be that major arterial streets in communities across the state will become safer environments and serve to promote, rather than hinder, the health of the communities they impact. This legislation will create a permanent change in the way Caltrans redesigns its state highways during routine repair and maintenance, requiring that design engineers evaluate the land use impacts of state highway projects, as well as consult with residents and community-based advocates in the impacted communities to better understand their needs for travel along and across the roadway.
Community residents know best what the safety issues are in their neighborhoods, and how their specific travel needs can best be met. Engineers will use the robust community feedback to transform these dangerous roads into long-lasting complete streets facilities with inviting sidewalks, protected bikeways, traffic calming improvements, frequent high-visibility crosswalks, and more, in communities around California, permanently changing the safety of these streets. Low-income communities of color across California that suffer traffic violence, poor air quality, and a basic inability to travel safely on foot or bike along and across dangerous state highways will benefit greatly. It will make it safer for children to get to school and to play in their neighborhoods, and for people of all ages to safely bike and walk to access public transportation and meet their daily needs. It will improve children’s health and reduce their obesity rates.
“Caltrans has a long history of working to make California a better place to drive,” Jeanie Ward-Waller, Policy Director for the California Bicycle Coalition. “We’ve been pushing the agency to make our state roads better for people biking and walking for years, and while we’ve seen progress in planning and goal-setting, that progress hasn’t been realized yet in better projects on the ground. SB 760 will push Caltrans to follow through in project implementation and to be a leader in designing safe streets.”