Last fall, our Policy Director Jeanie Ward-Waller had a rare moment of downtime between running bills and chasing down budget appropriations while the Legislature was on fall recess. Jeanie has been working with Caltrans over several years to look for better ways to implement a Caltrans policy that has been around for nearly a decade: the policy says that when Caltrans is redesigning or repairing roadways, they have to consider improving them to build complete streets—safe and accessible for everyone. So Jeanie started flipping through the 700 or so scheduled state highway maintenance projects for the next four years to try to better understand what these projects are really doing for bicycling and walking on the ground.
What she found was that Caltrans was missing a key opportunity to make these roads much safer for people walking and bicycling in the course of routine repaving and repairs. Eliminating the freeway repairs (which are, of course, exempt from this policy), she made a long list of nearly 40 projects across the state that could use upgrades in bicycle and pedestrian access.
When she shared her list with Caltrans headquarters, they forwarded it on to the twelve Caltrans district offices around the state, asking: How are you planning to improve bicycle and pedestrian access on these projects?
When many of the districts admitted that they didn’t in fact have plans to include complete streets upgrades on most of these projects, it got the ball rolling on a series of conversations between CalBike and Caltrans leadership. Last month, Jeanie and our partners at California Walks met with representatives from all 12 Caltrans districts, who expressed their gratitude for Jeanie’s research, and their eagerness to figure out how to improve these projects to implement Complete Streets in many cases. Many of them have started to bring projects to their bike-pedestrian advisory boards in their communities to see what changes are needed.
Funding for state highway maintenance and redesign comes from the SHOPP (the State Highway Operations and Protection Program), a fund of $2.5 billion annually. Opening up some of this funding for bikeways and pedestrian access would be revolutionary, and could go a long way toward helping Caltrans put its money where its mouth is, and boost biking and walking. California’s dedicated bicycle and pedestrian fund, the Active Transportation Program, is currently at just $125 million (though we are pushing hard to add $100 million annually). If even a small fraction of the $2.5 billion SHOPP went into bikeways, it would have a significant impact on building great bikeway networks across the state, especially on the state highway routes that Caltrans maintains and which are often high-speed, unsafe routes for bicycling.
We still have a lot of work to do in collaboration with Caltrans to help them begin redesigning these projects, and to figure out a better process so that the Complete Streets requirement doesn’t continue to slip through the cracks. But we’re thrilled at the potential for this program to help us realize our dream of great bikeway networks in all of California’s communities.
Above photo courtesy Allan Crawford.