I just took advantage of a long plane trip to finish reading this long and thorough review of Caltrans written by the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI). It’s surprising to see such stinging criticism of a state agency commissioned by another agency and it’s hopeful to see a roadmap for transformation of the agency.
SSTI calls for a major “culture change” at Caltrans. It lauds a 2010 Caltrans effort called Smart Mobility then goes on to say that Caltrans “has almost completely ignored the report and failed to implement its important recommendations.” The report reveals with undisguised disdain a number of senior managers who think that “bicycle and pedestrian facilities are not part of Caltrans’ mission.” One of four “first priorities” perfectly matches our top legislative goal: the “department should support … legislation to end the archaic practice of imposing state rules on local streets for bicycle facilities.”
The report backs up my own perspective of Caltrans. The agency reminds me of the early 1990s in San Francisco, when I got my start in advocacy. We had allies, including one bicycle coordinator in a position we worked hard to create. Even the agency director was supportive. But the mission of the agency was to move cars, and bikes were just not important. We had to argue for every accommodation. Coming to Caltrans is like going back 20 years.
With the SSTI report backing up the good work of our allies at Caltrans including Director Malcolm Dougherty and with the leadership of Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly and his deputy Kate White (who got her start in San Francisco in the 1990s), I am optimistic that we can expect culture change at Caltrans. It won’t happen overnight, but in far sooner than twenty years Caltrans will be where the San Francisco agency is today. The SFMTA’s traffic division is called the Sustainable Streets and their goal is to move people, not cars, and they understand they need to increase biking and walking to achieve their goal.
Congratulations to Brian Kelly and everyone at the Transportation Agency and Caltrans for heartily accepting this report and thanks in advance for implementing its recommendations. You have our support and we’ll have your back as you make the bold changes necessary to become a leader for sustainable transportation.