Caltrans Goals: Triple Biking, Double Walking and Transit by 2020

Caltrans’ new Strategic Management Plan sets a goal to triple bike trips and double walking trips in the next five years. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Caltrans released its new Strategic Management Plan [PDF], and it includes priorities and performance targets that show the department is serious about reforming itself.

The new plan includes active transportation and Vision Zero, within its priority number one, “Safety and Health.” It also cites a goal of tripling bicycle mode share and doubling walking and transit mode share by 2020–that means not just the number of trips, but the percentage of total trips in California.

This is a major turnaround for the state DOT, which in the past has focused on motorist safety.

The mode share target is called out under the goal of “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy.” That broad goal also includes lowering vehicle miles traveled (15 percent by 2020) and reducing the percentage of greenhouse gases from transportation (to match current and proposed state mandates).

The Strategic Management Plan is an in-house document, meant to guide decisions made by planners and engineers in the course of planning and completing projects statewide. It stems from the new Caltrans mission, to provide “a safe, sustainable, integrated, and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.” The new mission statement was a response to harsh criticism of the department’s old way of doing things.

“This is a pretty major shift for the department,” said Steven Cliff, newly appointed Assistant Director of Sustainability, and leader of one of the teams working on the plan. “We’ve been working hard to develop new metrics which speak to what we’ve been doing the last couple of years, with our new mission, vision, and goals.”

“It’s meant to be our plan for how we manage our work going forward.”

Teams of staff members from Caltrans headquarters and all its districts have been working on formulating goals for the past year, and will continue to work on refining them and coming up with performance measures to gauge success. Cliff describes the process of creating the plan as collaborative and enthusiastic, involving “detailed, vibrant discussions” among staff about how to create metrics that could achieve their goals.

At first, he said, “It was hard to understand how to move the needle. Early on, the [sustainability] goal itself was already defined: Make long-lasting, smart mobility decisions that improve the environment, support a vibrant economy, and build communities, not sprawl.”

“This was a good goal, of course, but we needed to target the use of the transportation system. I really understood in detail what the biggest driver was—that is, climate change–and the need to meet statewide mandates,” he said. “To make sure the department is working toward those goals, it was all hands on deck. We have to be really serious about it.”

The department’s five new strategic management goals are:

  • Safety and Health
  • Stewardship and Efficiency
  • Sustainability, Livability, and Economy
  • System Performance
  • Organizational Excellence

Each goal includes strategic objectives, performance measures, and targets for those measures. For example, under the goal of Sustainability, Livability, and Economy, the objectives are:

  • People (mobility choice, accessibility, transportation corridors as livable public spaces)
  • Planet (reduce environmental impacts, support reduction of greenhouse gases)
  • Prosperity (improve economic prosperity through resilient and integrated transportation system)

Under the first objective above, the current performance measure is an increase in bike, walk, and transit mode share, with the targets being tripling bike mode share and doubling walk and transit mode share, based on the 2012 California Household Travel survey [PDF]. That survey showed that bicycle mode share in 2012 was 1.5 percent (up from 0.8 percent in 2000), walking trips were 16.6 percent of all trips, and transit trips were 4.4 percent.

So Caltrans is committed to supporting an increase of bike trips to 4.5 percent of all trips in California in the next five years, plus increasing walk trips to 33 percent and transit to almost 9 percent of all trips. Of course that also means lowering the share of car trips by an equal amount, dropping from about 3/4 of all trips to about half.

This is an ambitious goal, but anyone paying attention to the urgency of addressing climate change knows it is necessary.

The next question is how to get there. While Caltrans has some control over funding, it doesn’t make every transportation funding decision in the state. And funding is key. If the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which sets priorities for highway spending, continues to prioritize funding for highway expansions, it will be difficult for the relatively tiny Active Transportation Program to make much of a difference.

The STIP guidelines [PDF] are currently under review and will be adopted this summer. These new performance targets should be used to inform that process.

“I hope it causes people to stop and think about what projects are evaluated on; project delivery, while important, shouldn’t be the only metric upon which a project is evaluated,” said Cliff. “The question to ask is how does it help improve on these other goals, not just sustainability, but all the goals.”

“We know that projects that would help improve accessibility and resiliency should have a higher priority than those that might have some other goals.”

Caltrans can’t achieve these goals alone. However, the mere fact that the department is publicly committing to goals including tripling the share of bicycle trips in the state will lend traction to resisting business-as-usual. Like the California Transportation Plan 2040, it is a good start.

56 thoughts on Caltrans Goals: Triple Biking, Double Walking and Transit by 2020

  1. Perhaps they can put a new cover on a CROW manual for bicycle traffic design that says CALTRANS manual for bicycle traffic design. 🙂

  2. Same with Davis…as I mentioned above, even its return to 25% commute modeshare is significant because after its initial bike-infra push in the 50s-60s Davis grew rapidly and comparatively neglected bike infra in the 70s-90s. Modeshare declined, which some saw as evidence even Davis had finally “grown up” and ditched biking. However, as it turns out Davis spent far too much time in the 70s-90s building new areas like this:

    This relative neglect of new bike infrastructure as well as lots of city growth and change in commute patterns (as Davis has grown it has become more interconnected with Sacramento 15 miles away. It’s no longer a little all-university-all-the-time village. And as we know most people traveling 15+ miles will not do so by bike) led to a long-term decline by the 90s.

    In recent years, however, Davis has made a concerted effort to really comprehensively improve its bike policies and has edged back up towards the mid-20s *even for commute modeshare*.

    All those Davisites traveling 15+ miles usually do not do so by bike (even in the Netherlands and Denmark very few travel that far on a bike) so that the city’s commute modeshare would be back in the 25% range is all the more impressive.

    What Davis has really done is mainstream biking for most any trip within town but it’s not been a foregone conclusion due to “bike-crazy” Davisites. The precipitous drop by the 90s shows how even in places with an established bike culture many average people will not bike when the infrastructure becomes hostile to it.

    Btw, that car-centric stretch above (East Covell Blvd) is currently being studied for a Dutch-style protected bike lane and protected intersection:×1024.jpg

  3. Thanks! The data suggest that low-stress networks are key to attracting Interested but Concerned to hop on a bike–especially telling are the much larger increases in biking on protected stretches vs. the normal background city rate.

    Let’s take the example of the Bike Boulevard, widely implemented by Portland and Berkeley (also both with about ~6% bike modeshare, suggesting the upper limit really is those ~7% Enthused but Confident):

    With the image above you can see the problem is that Bike Boulevard strategies are usually just sharrows on standard suburban streets with occasional diverters.
    In the example from Berkeley above you can see the following major flaws:

    –> no narrowing of the wide suburban street

    –> endless horizon in sight for drivers with no apparent obstacles ahead

    –> accordingly, drivers see no visual narrowing or obstacles ahead that clue them to slow down (this is really bad for pedestrians/children playing/etc. too).

    –> (believe it not Berkeley Bike Boulevards typically have as little as 1-3 diverters *total* on their 3-mile + distances. That is far too few to cut down on speeding through car traffic).

    –> Bike Blvds are a nice first step but the problem is that places like Berkeley and Portland have largely implemented these backstreets strategies *at the expense* of any (much less protected) bike infrastructure on key arterials, which keeps people away from where they’d do most of their errands. In addition, arterials may often be more direct routes that are effectively off-limits to all but the Strong and Fearless.

    For example, attached at the end of this post is a screenshot of Google Maps in Portland with the Bicycling layer turned on. If you’re at Case Study Coffee Roasters in the top righthand corner and need to get to the Hollywood Theatre in the lower lefthand corner, the shortest route is clearly via Sandy. However, Sandy has no bike infrastructure *whatsoever* on it. This is what it looks like:

    The only alternative is to use a much longer, more circuitous route on the backstreets to arrive at your destination–and too bad if you had to do some errands at any of the businesses along the way! A true “Bike Mecca” would never have a key arterial like this, yet to this day in 2015 this is still how much of Portland–even in central areas–looks.

    This is the stuff of 6% instead of 20% modeshare and it’s really no surprise why.

  4. Amsterdam is about 38% and Copenhagen about 27%. These don’t tell the entire story though as in Amsterdam (and throughout The Netherlands) bicycling is much more prevalent than statistics indicate as so much of it is for short trips to the grocery, school, or dinner that aren’t often counted in mode share.

  5. In a sense, it’s true we’ve reached Peak Bike if we only design for the Strong and Fearless (who’ll bike anyway) and the Enthused & Confident. From Portland’s own study of its residents:

    Portland mostly has conventional bike lanes, which seem to have done a pretty good job of convincing the Enthused and Confident to hop on a bike, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a Bike Mecca. It’s likely no coincidence that the Enthused and Confident comprise about 7% of the city and its overall bike modal share is at a nearly identical ~6%.

    Despite Portland’s marketing, however, a lot of even central Portland still looks like this:

    (Sandy Blvd.)

    While it’s better than it used to be, Portland is still lacking in implementing pervasive low-stress bike networks, including protected bike lanes at key intervals (especially arterials, as seen above) and other treatments. We’re not the only ones to notice this, actually:

    If any American city can lay claim to being America’s Bike Mecca it should probably be Davis, which has for decades invested in good low-stress networks, including plenty of separated infrastructure:

    Davis is a really instructive example because its high bike modeshare has not always been a foregone conclusion. After an initial push in the 50s-70s Davis began to rest on its laurels a bit through the 80s-90s by comparatively neglecting bike infrastructure and saw its bike modeshare decline into the teens by the 90s:

    However, in the 90s Davis started to wake up and began stepping up its game again in terms of bike policy. It’s not been overnight but since the early-mid 2000s Davis’s bike modeshare has been steadily rising again despite the city’s growth and commuter/demographic changes (in terms of jobs and commute distances it’s now a lot more interconnected with Sacramento in terms of commute patterns than the self-contained all-university all-the-time village it used to be).

    Some more recent examples of what Davis has been up to in the past decade:×691.jpg×718.jpg

    You can see the bike modeshare climb in the past ~10 years here, now at about 25%:

    –> under “topic or table name” type S0801

    –> then type in Davis, CA

    Btw, this has been a boon in terms of road safety for all users (drivers, walkers, bikers) in Davis:

    Also, the increase in bike modeshare due to protected stretches is not confined to Davis by any means. Other US cities which have implemented them have noticed modeshare rises on such stretches consistently above the background rate, which is yet another signal in the bigger picture that we have only reached Peak Bicycling if we continue the conventional-only bike infrastructure approaches.

    This is apparently true in places as disparate as NYC, DC, and Long Beach:

    This is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the data out there. The substantial and growing body of research with good quantifiable metrics overwhelmingly points to the conclusion that bike modeshare growth is very much tied to the kind of infrastructure built.

    After all, it makes sense that only small percentages of people would ever want to bike here:

    Whereas understandably many more find this palatable:

  6. Yes, well, that is what cyclists in my city do right now, however, there are 18 crossings of the expressway through my city, and 4 have no ramps. In several places in town you’d have to bike more than 5 kms out of your way to get to a safe crossing and 10 km back. It is a huge issue. Bending away from the road to cross the ramp might be possible, but the three issues with that are having sufficient ROW, having to climb up a grade in order to meet the ramp which is coming from a highway on an embankment or in a lowered channel, and also, trying to cross traffic moving in excess of 100 km/h off the highway. I really don’t see a better option though.

  7. Ditto for my local routes. The worst point for bicycling is the passage next to a freeway onramp – no bike lane, no sidewalk, no signal protection, and cars crossing your path as they accelerate to get on the freeway. It’s terrifying.

  8. OK, let’s take just urban areas. If the most bike friendly commumities can only manage 6% of commuters whl bike, this tells me that investment in more bicycle infrastructure will have a diminishing ROI.

  9. Sometimes, I wonder if we haven’t reached “peak bicycling”. Despite all the amenities that have been created for bicyclists, there comes a point when there is a diminishing return. Even Portland, the bicycling mecca cannot seem to get above 6% of all commuters.

  10. Cal trans District # 4 Scenic Hwy 116! The Unicorporated Villages & Neighborhoods between Forestville, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Guernewood Park, Monte Rio have been asking for assistance in this exact thing for a long time now!

  11. Tell Caltrans to support livable re-design of Hyperion Bridge! Frankly, I am getting tired of all this useless goal-setting. We know what works (removing space from cars and creating separated facilities for bikes) or making de-tours for cars and allowing most convenient routes by bike or foot. There is zero indication that Caltrans, or any agency/local government, is willing to do what is necessary to make walking and bicycling safer and more convenient. You can’t just magically triple biking rates, and if it happens without massive changes it is unlikely such increases will last over time.

  12. It is like turning an ocean liner with a rowboat. In Marysville, Caltrans removed long established Class II Bikeways when repaving roadways.

  13. Intercity routes would be nice but the most important facet of this new goal is how Caltrans managed highways through cities are designed. Also since Caltrans is the senior authority on urban freeway interchanges they have the ability to make a city street hostile to bicyclists and pedestrians. Or not.

  14. There is the High Desert Corridor that would be built with a paralleling bikeway. Caltrans also recently allowed bikes to go on I-40 in the areas where there is no realistic alternative and they’re now looking at I-10 in the Banning Pass area. The short-term approach is of course just saying that bikes can ride on the shoulder, but I’m sure that we can now get them to think more long-term and commit to building an actual bikeway.

    However, it will ultimately come down to the cities and counties in a lot of places and that’s where Caltrans can effect change by putting in more robust standards. Although ‘Complete Streets’ plans are coming out all over the place now, many of them are extremely lacking, relying on gutter stripes and paved shoulders to meet the definition of “complete”. That is obviously inadequate, so Caltrans should ideally issue clearer guidance on when a separate facility should be the preferred alternative to ensure that future projects get built right from the beginning.

  15. Redesigns would certainly work, but I’m mostly just talking about bending the bikeway away from the road prior to the slip ramp then going straight across it. Of course, it also comes down to planning in that ideally, the main bike route would not be located on a road that’s likely to have slip ramps anyway. That doesn’t mean something shouldn’t be done, but just that it probably would be more cost-effective to put the main bike route on another street that crosses the limited access highway but doesn’t have any ramps for it.

  16. Well you’re suggesting eliminating the slip ramps then? I don’t disagree, but that’s not really a solution to crossing slip ramps. Fundamentally they’re traveling parallel to the road to start, very hard to cross at right angles.

  17. That’s basically what happened at the US-101 and Capitol expressway interchange. Previously a very bicycle hostile 60MPH full cloverleaf, it is now replaced with better right angle geometry and some traffic lights to moderate the speeds.

    Right now google maps is in an interesting state where you can see the old cloverleaf configuration being demolished in the aerial view and the new configuration overlaid in the map view. Here’s the link, hopefully discus does not mangle it to the multiple world view:,-121.8163565,555m/data=!3m1!1e3

    here’s the link again “broken:” with a space after https:

    https ://,-121.8163565,555m/data=!3m1!1e3

    repair it and replay of discus fumbles.

  18. Agreed. The worst intersection in my neighborhood is where the 110 freeway spits cars out onto the city streets (in Pasadena.) It’s like 8 lanes, with one crosswalk, and the lights are synced to skip the pedestrian crossing cycle every other light… fun times!

  19. I just did a double-take to make sure this wasn’t on old article from April 1st, hehe.

  20. Time will tell if they put their money where their mouth is when it comes to funding active transportation, transit and rail projects. The Phantom has also been told that management has been eliminating flex-time and telecommuting options for their own employees, forcing them to to make more trips at peak hours. Pay is far below local agencies, cities and the private sector, forcing many employees to commute great distances, or take on second jobs. Not the kind of workplace that will attract or encourage creative and innovative employees.

  21. CalTrans is definitely helping with their $1 fares on their bike shuttles from MacArthur Bart in Oakland to their drop off sport near the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. It’s $2/day for transportation, it’s awesome.

  22. It’s great that the people at the top are saying this, but the managers and engineers working on individual projects need to get the message.

    On things currently in the works in the Bay Area, the results are mixed. Caltrans is, for example, proposing to widen CA-29 in Napa, to make car traffic move faster, and actually *remove* existing bike lanes. ( If that’s not the “bad old way” of doing things, I don’t know what is. On the other hand, they’ve finally stopped blocking the Richmond Bridge bike path.

    If Caltrans is really serious, it needs to redesign some of the car-centric Bay Area roads it controls that are also key walking and biking routes, such as Tiburon Blvd and Skyline Blvd.

  23. So will there be new routes for bikes and pedestrians to travel between cities where currently the only option is on a highway?

  24. My jaw has dropped. And my eyes will pop out and roll on the floor if they actually put the $$ behind this initiative and are able to withstand the s-storm of motorist backlash to actually get it done.

  25. Tripling bicycling by 2020 is an admirable goal. Is there any indication of HOW Caltrans intends to triple bicycling in five years? NYC roughly tripled bicycling in about ten years via significant and rapid infrastructure modifications and the introduction of the USA’s largest bike share program. Perhaps in the May revise Caltrans will propose an immediate Active Transportation Program budget allocation increase to one billion dollars annually?

  26. Sounds like Caltrans is starting to align itself with a more sustainable model of planning. Encouraging to say the least. Lets hope that there is action to follow. Stay tuned!

  27. For the streets/highways that CalTrans controls directly, to let more people ride bikes they need to totally revamp the freeway on-ramps and off-ramps. These are often the most dangerous and scariest part of many routes, and there is usually no reasonable way around them.

  28. I don’t know what these plans mean in practice, but it’s great to see a meaningful plan on a relatively short timespan of five years. Feels like these ten and twenty year plans are too far out in the future to change the autocentric status quo, and kick the can down the road.

  29. “This is a major turnaround for the state DOT, which in the past has focused on motorist safety.” NO! They focused on moving the maximum number of cars, safely. Big difference.

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