When Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed CalBike’s Complete Streets bill in 2019, he assured Californians that we didn’t need the mandate for safer streets. Caltrans, he noted, had new leadership and would implement the needed changes without legislation.
Caltrans does appear to have made some positive changes in the past four years. CalBike is working on a report to assess how well the agency has done and where Complete Streets upgrades are lacking. Take our Complete Streets Survey.
However, as the agency prepares to approve new Complete Streets design standards, a last-minute change would exempt freeway interchanges from Complete Streets evaluation, ensuring that some of the most dangerous spots on our roadways will remain lethal to vulnerable road users.
Last week, CalBike sent a letter to Caltrans and CalSTA leadership urging them to apply Complete Streets design standards to all of Caltrans’ rights-of-way that serve as local streets, including interchanges. We hope you’ll add your voice, too (see below).
Complete Streets design guidance for Caltrans engineers
A new Caltrans Design Information Bulletin, DIB-94, Complete Streets Contextual Design Guidance, will set official standards and guidance for state, regional, and local transportation agencies when adding Complete Streets to the state-controlled road network. CalBike has been impressed with the development of the standards as Caltrans works to prioritize Complete Streets. The latest DIB is exactly the type of guidance we need in California to realize Caltrans’ and California State Transportation Agency’s (CalSTA) Complete Streets vision; meet climate action goals; and create a cleaner, safer, more equitable, and more connected active transportation system for all users.
However, there’s a major exception in the bulletin that is, literally, big enough to drive a truck through. None of the official standards and guidance are required where a street intersects with a Caltrans-controlled freeway.
In other words, on any local street that interchanges with a freeway, arguably the most dangerous part of the transportation system, safety upgrades at the interchange are not required and won’t be added without a lengthy additional process.
With this exception, Caltrans makes it difficult, if not impossible, to create connected bikeway networks in many communities. The agency would never build a road that dead-ended at an intersection, then started up again on the other side, yet that’s what this guidance would effectively create for bike improvements.
According to transportation officials, this is because converting an interchange into a Complete Street, with narrower lanes, would be too difficult for freight trucks to navigate. But trucks already navigate narrower roads as soon as they enter a right-of-way that has a safer street in place. This justification, once again, reveals the supremacy our transportation leaders give to freight in our transportation system. More evidence of this, as Streetsblog recently reported: Caltrans routinely makes VMT-reduction exceptions to freight truck traffic induced by new highway capacity.
This change, unfortunately, was introduced at the last minute of the DIB-94 development process, giving the public little time to take notice before the final version of DIB-94 is approved. Removing interchanges from the purview of the DIB effectively creates an onerous process for local agencies working to improve biking and walking networks across state routes and makes Complete Streets much less likely.
Tell Caltrans what you think
Interchanges — overpasses and underpasses with ramp connections to the State or National Highway System — are the only means to cross the highways that bisect many neighborhoods in California.
Before DIB-94 is approved, we’re working behind the scenes to get it to a place that will align with Caltrans’ official complete streets policy (DP-37). Please contact Caltrans to remind them of the importance of applying Complete Street design standards to Catrans’ non-freeway rights-of-way, including interchanges.