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CA Coalition Calls for More Funding, Staffing for Active Transportation

sundaystreetsberkeley

Increasing funding for the Active Transportation Program could get more people to walk and bike, especially for short trips. Photo of Sunday Streets in Berkeley, by Melanie Curry/Streetsblog.

A coalition of advocacy groups released a petition yesterday calling for California to increase funding for active transportation to help the state meet its climate goals.

The petition calls on the legislature to increase funding for the Active Transportation Program (ATP) by $100 million from its current $120 million per year, integrate green infrastructure and access to parks and green space in the goals of the ATP, and ensure ATP investments provide meaningful benefits to disadvantaged communities.

The coalition points out that nearly 1/5 of all trips in California are made by foot or by bike (this information comes from the National Household Travel Survey, not the U.S. Census, which only counts commute trips). Despite this high mode share, less than two percent of the state transportation budget is spent on the ATP, which brings all active transportation projects under one funding umbrella.

There are currently only four staff assigned to the program (although Caltrans has approximately 19,000 employees). Those staff oversee the 265 projects that received funding in the first cycle of the ATP, and they are working on revising the guidelines for the second round of funding, which will begin at the end of March. The second round will likely double the number of grants, at least under current funding levels.

Even with the minimal investments made in the past, California has seen an increase in walking and bicycling trips. Properly funding the ATP is a no-brainer, according to the coalition. By building infrastructure that encourages people to walk or use their bikes for short trips of less than a mile, the state could make tremendous leaps towards achieving its climate goals by reducing carbon emissions and poor air quality, at the same time reducing congestion for everyone.

“When the ATP was formed in 2013,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, “the whole idea was to consolidate all of the different pots of funding for bike and walking programs and then grow the pot, by adding cap-and-trade funding. That hasn’t happened and, in fact, the funding seems to be mysteriously shrinking.”

“By forming a single stream of funding, and incorporating climate change goals in the legislation,” added Tony Dang of California Walks, “we were positioning the program to receive cap-and-trade funding.” Instead, the only cap-and-trade money made available for active transportation last year was placed under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

“We’ve worked with the Strategic Growth Council to make sure that active transportation is included in their efforts,” said Dang, “but given the amount of money they have, and their mandates for affordable housing, we really don’t think that’s going to be a big enough source of funding, and it won’t be as transformative for walking and biking as we’d hoped it would be.”

ATP staff held a workshop two days ago on its revisions to program guidelines, and way more people wanted to attend than they could accommodate. “It’s clear that this program has a lot of constituents,” said Dang, “and they really need the pot to grow.”

“When you combine all walking and biking trips,” he added, “they account for nearly 20 percent of all the trips taken every day in California. And yet funding for those trips is less than 2 percent of the transportation budget.”

“Californians are clearly not sitting around idle waiting for increased funding, but the state should step up for what people want.”

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Caltrans Report Celebrates Its Support of Active Transportation

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Caltrans Directory Malcolm Dougherty seems to take bicycles seriously. Image: Caltrans, The Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities Report to the California State Legislature, Fiscal Year  2013–14

Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, just released its annual report to the legislature [PDF] on its achievements last year in the area of “non-motorized travel,” and this year the document is more celebratory than it has been in the past.

With good reason. It shows a new side of Caltrans, starting with its cover. Instead of a blurry, weirdly stretched-out photograph of bicycle riders, as on previous reports, this year’s edition features Caltrans Executive Director Malcolm Dougherty standing with his bicycle—and looking like he knows how to ride it.

This new, bike-friendly tone at Caltrans is a welcome change from the past, when the department was  focused on moving cars, and it’s in keeping with other efforts it has been making in the last year. When a report  from the State Smart Transportation Initiative thoroughly drubbed the department for being risk-averse and dysfunctional, its leaders responded by reworking its mission statement, endorsing the principal of more flexible street design guidelines, and creating a new position of Director of Sustainability.

These achievements are celebrated front and center in the new report.

“We are taking a different look at transportation,” said Director Dougherty. “It’s a change in perspective. Before, we saw the need to solve car-oriented transportation problems. Now, we see that there are transportation problems that need to be solved, and multimodal needs have to be considered in those solutions.”

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The cover from the 2011-12 report. “Young child experiencing the joys of nonmotorized transportation,” says its caption. Image: Caltrans

Just saying the department has a new focus, however, isn’t going to change a thing. Dougherty has been traveling the state, meeting with Caltrans district staff to discuss the new mission, its accompanying vision statement, and the objectives and goals that are being developed to go with them. “A fair amount of our employees were already sensitive to and incorporating bicycle and pedestrian concerns into their planning,” he said, “and some of them have stated that they’re glad we’re going in this direction.”

Caltrans still has a long way to go to become a truly multimodal state transportation department. Renaming the report would be a start. “Non-motorized transportation” smacks of Old Engineer Speak, and describing bicycling and walking that way is a little like calling women “nonmen.” Nevertheless, the 2013-2014 Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities report does highlight some real achievements.

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Friday Fun: Caltrans Blows Up a Boulder!

blowinguprock

Who doesn’t want to watch (safely) exploding rocks? (Screengrab)

A video released today by Caltrans shows a work crew blasting apart a boulder that threatened to fall onto Highway 101 near Crescent City. Who doesn’t want to watch rocks exploding? With all safety precautions in place, of course.

Caltrans has been under pressure to change its bureaucratic, outdated culture since the 2013 creation of an agency to oversee it (the California State Transportation Agency, or CalSTA) and the publication of a damning report last year. Since then, the department has made many strides in the right directions, from publishing a new mission statement, to endorsing less constricting guidelines for street design, to creating the new position of Director of Sustainability.

The department also been attempting to communicate better with the public and the media, producing a newsletter, Mile Marker, about its achievements, as well as semi-regular  “News Flash” announcements.

The latest News Flash is pure fun: Caltrans work crews decided to blow up a rock, and we get to watch.

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CA Active Transportation Program Funding Unchanged for Next Two Years

This Complete Streets plan in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in 2014. Image: Wallace Robers & Todd, via City of Albany

The Complete Streets plan for San Pablo Avenue in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in the 2014 allocation. Image: Wallace Roberts & Todd, via City of Albany

Although Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed FY 2015 budget showed a decrease in the line item for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), Caltrans Budget Chief Steven Keck assured the California Transportation Commission at its meeting last week that the change was technical and the funding level would be the same as last year’s.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty later confirmed that “as of today going forward, our plan is: no change in the ATP budget.”

While the funding is not being cut from 2014 levels, there is still concern that the need to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists is far greater than the funding provided in the ATP.

And the commissioners seem to agree.

Commissioner Yvonne Burke expressed surprise that there wasn’t more of a fuss kicked up at the meeting. Commissioner Carl Guardino was the only speaker who called attention to the program’s paltry funding, noting that the need for it “greatly outstrips the amount of funding available.”

The ATP allocates most of the state’s funding targeted at increasing walking and bicycling. It was created by statute [PDF] in 2013, combining state and federal funding for bicycle infrastructure, Safe Routes to Schools, and other similar funds into a single pot. In its first two-year cycle, it awarded a total of a little over $350 million for 267 projects throughout the state.

Tracing the sources of money in the ATP can be tricky. Early budget proposals typically incorporate some uncertainty about funding levels, since calculating the state’s revenues from taxes can be an inaccurate science. Other budgetary practices, like last year’s repayment of $9 million that had been borrowed from the ATP’s precursor, the Bicycle Transportation Account, further muddy the waters.

Whatever the reasons for it, the confusion over an issue as simple as “how much money will the state be spending on walking and bicycling infrastructure” adds to the impression that Caltrans is not a very transparent organization.

At last week’s meeting, commission staff presented and discussed draft revisions to the program guidelines [PDF] for the second two-year cycle of funding, set to begin in June.

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CA Budget Details: Active Transportation Gets Less Money

Active Transportation Project applications pile up at Caltrans headquarters on May 21.Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Caltrans received over 770 applications for Active Transportation Projects in May last year.
Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed 2015-16 budget. The 270-page summary [PDF] included a passing reference to $360 million previously allocated for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), as part of state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging more bicycling and walking. But the budget summary offered no details about future funding, nor what allocations for the coming year might be.

The details were released late that afternoon, and they show that the state is not yet taking the commitment to active transportation seriously. The ATP’s allocation for 2015-16 under Brown’s proposed budget is considerably less than the previous year’s funding level.

This is the first step in the budget process. The governor proposes a budget, which then is discussed in the legislature–the first such hearing was held today in the Assembly. In the spring Brown will propose revisions, based on legislative feedback, which will then undergo further discussions and revision. The final budget must be passed by June.

The budget proposal reads like an exercise in bureaucratic obfuscation. You can find the transportation section here [PDF], but good luck figuring it out. With some hand-holding and a lot of consultation with people who know way more than I do, this is what I found buried in the numbers:

  • The overall budget for transportation, almost $16 billion, will increase by $200 million over last year’s budget
  • That doesn’t seem like a lot, given inflation
  • Despite that increase, the proposed 2015-16 ATP allocation from state funds will decrease by twenty percent over the 2014 allocation, from $43 million to $34 million
  • In addition, the proposed 2015-16 ATP allocation from federal funds will decrease by five percent over 2014, from $95 million to $90 million

There are caveats and many questions remaining. For example, the aforementioned $360 million to the ATP in the budget summary was for three years’ worth of funding. The next round of ATP funding will also be for a multi-year program, but how that fits with the numbers in the current budget is not clear. It’s also not clear yet whether the next round of ATP funding will be for two years or three years.

The initial round of ATP funding, allocated in May, received 770 applications that requested about $1 billion in funding. Only 265 of those projects got funded. Sure, they probably weren’t all perfect applications, but likely many of them were, and 34 percent is still a small portion of projects to fund. It is clear that there is heavy demand for the Active Transportation Program funding.

Yet the proposed budget shows no commitment to expanding the ATP, and little commitment to keeping its funding at the same level, despite the climate change goals articulated in the governor’s recent speeches, and despite the clear connection between increased bicycling and walking trips and reduced fuel use and emissions.

Calls to the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans have not yet produced any answers to the remaining questions. Stay tuned as we dig further.

Meanwhile the California Transportation Commission is set to approve revised guidelines for the second round of ATP funding. It held one workshop last week in Los Angeles [PDF], and the draft guidelines [PDF] will likely be approved at the commission’s next meeting on January 22 in Sacramento.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to melanie@streetsblog.org.
For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

 

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CA Seeks Input on 2015 Active Transportation Program Guidelines

A rendering of a proposals for Oakland’s Lake Merritt/Bay Trail connector, the design of which was funded by the Active Transportation Program. Image: Oakland Public Works

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) is seeking input on revised guidelines for the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The ATP is the main source of state funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, mostly through federal transportation grants to local cities. The proposed changes to the ATP guidelines are mostly minor, but include eliminating the requirement for matching funds and de-emphasizing bike plans.

ATP is a very new program. Its first funding round was just completed in November, so it’s too early to judge the on-the-ground success of any of the projects it’s funded. Nevertheless, the second funding cycle will commence in the spring. CTC staff has proposed changes to program guidelines [PDF] and invited potential applicants and interested parties to weigh in. Although the changes are not extensive, they were the subject of three hours of detailed discussion at CTC’s workshop last Monday in Sacramento.

The CTC plans to revise the guidelines based on comments from this workshop and a second one, which will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on January 8 at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) offices, on the 12th floor of 818 West 7th Street, in downtown Los Angeles.

The guidelines are scheduled for adoption by the CTC in March, and the Round Two call for projects would then go out immediately, with applications expected to be due in June.

Caltrans plans to offer workshops in March to go over program requirements, answer questions, and train applicants on the new benefit/cost model it has developed for the application process. Check the Caltrans website for updates.

After the jump are a few highlights from last week’s discussion.

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Caltrans Grants $550 Million to Transit Projects Statewide

Caltrans announced over the holiday weekend that it has allocated one of the remaining chunks of money from Prop 1B, the massive transportation bond act approved by California voters in 2006.

Over $550 million was awarded to transit capital projects throughout the state. The projects include building transit centers and bus stop facilities, replacing buses and rail cars, and building repair facilities. Large and small agencies received the funds; a complete list is available here [PDF].

Among the largest receipients is Los Angeles' Metro Expo Rail Phase 2. Photo via Metro's The Source.

Among the largest Prop 1B transit capital funding recipients is $106 million for Los Angeles’ Metro Expo light rail. Photo of Expo Phase 2 construction via Metro’s The Source.

The largest allocations include:

  • $106 million to L.A. Metro for Exposition light rail, phase 2
  • $81 million to San Francisco Muni to complete the Central Subway project
  • $58 million to L.A. Metro for the Regional Connector light rail subway
  • $43 million to Orange County for the Raymond Avenue grade separation
  • $41 million to L.A. Metro for bus procurement
  • $36 million to San Diego for light rail vehicles
  • $30 million to Santa Clara for the Alum Rock Bus Rapid Transit
  • $20 million to AC Transit to complete the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco

Many smaller projects were also awarded funds, a total of $559,368,166 for 77 projects. Kern and Fresno counties received money to buy natural gas buses and a new fleetwide computer system, Santa Monica got money to replace buses, and the city of Chowchilla got enough to purchase one new transit bus. The smallest award went to California City, in the Mojave desert: $11,715 for a park-and-ride lot.

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Speaking with Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ New Sustainability Director

Steven Cliff, Caltrans’ first Assistant Director of Sustainability. Photo: Caltrans

As part of its ongoing work to expand its focus beyond just highways, California’s Department of Transportation, better known as Caltrans, recently created a new position — the Assistant Director of Sustainability. Steven Cliff, the new hire, will oversee the integration of one of the department’s newest goals: “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy.”

Cliff comes from the California Air Resources Board, where he helped develop ways to implement AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, and helped develop the cap-and-trade program. He has a background in global climate science and air quality research at the University of California, Davis, where he held a research faculty position before taking on policy work at the ARB.

Changes at Caltrans

Caltrans’ sustainability goal is part of the department’s newly formulated mission and vision statements. Those statements resulted from months of intensive work in response to outside pressure on the department to face the fact that its car-focused, highway-loving, bureaucratic ways were not serving Californians.

The pressure came from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), the new-ish agency with oversight over Caltrans and several other agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol, that before 2013 answered only to the governor.

One of CalSTA’s first actions was to commission an outside study on the state of affairs at Caltrans.

The resulting report, from the State Smart Transportation Initiative [PDF], ripped into Caltrans, calling it rigid, out of step, and overly risk-averse. The report led to several legislative hearings last year, and led to Caltrans’ endorsement of the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide as an alternative to the department’s own hidebound guidelines, which squelched safer and innovative street designs — especially bicycle infrastructure.

Caltrans dumped its old mission statement, “Improve mobility across California,” for a new one: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.”

In the process it also came up with a new vision statement and formulated ten new goals to help achieve that vision. The newest one, “Sustainability, Livability, and Economy,” Caltrans explains as: “[Making] long-lasting, smart mobility decisions that improve the environment, support a vibrant economy, and build communities, not sprawl” (emphasis added).

Cliff, the new Assistant Director for Sustainability, has the job of leading up the effort to develop the sustainability goal, create objectives for it, and formulate performance measures to evaluate how well those objectives are achieved. When the work is finished, it will help inform the department’s five-year strategic plan, due next spring.

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CalBike Looks Back at This Year’s Legislative Efforts–and Ahead to the Next

Calbike2The California Bicycle Coalition–CalBike–supports local bicycle advocacy efforts to build better bike networks. It does this in part through its work on state legislation that promotes bicycling and via its efforts to increase the amount of funding available for building better bike infrastructure.

We liked their end-of-session legislative wrap-up, focusing on bikes–an important part of Streetsblog’s beat–so we’re reposting it for you here. We edited it slightly for length.

California is poised to become one of the most bike-innovative states in the nation. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) got a new mission and vision statement this year that is more bicycle friendly, and endorsed progressive street designs. A new State Transportation Agency is shaking up how California traditionally thinks of transportation, and we got to see the first rounds of the Governor’s new “Active Transportation Program.”

While the 2014 legislative session wasn’t ideal in every way, our policymakers took huge steps forward, most importantly with exciting advances toward modern street design. You can find links to exact bill language, fact sheets, and letters to and from lawmakers at the California Bicycle Coalition website here.

We Win Better Bikeways
The California Bicycle Coalition’s main strategy for enabling more people to ride a bike is to get communities to build bicycle-specific infrastructure: networks of paths, protected bike lanes, and calm streets that get people where they need to go, and that are built to be comfortable for anyone ages 8-80. Design rules, outdated laws, and inadequate public investment have been preventing better bikeways for years.

Design rules changed this year. In April, California became the third state to endorse the NACTO Urban Streets Design Guide. “We’re trying to change the mentality of our Department of Transportation,” emphasized Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. The mere endorsement wasn’t enough, however, as the Caltrans Design Chief made clear a few weeks later, stating flatly that “the standards haven’t changed.”

In September, Caltrans took another step by supporting AB 1193, the Protected Bikeways Act. Authored by Assembly Member Phil Ting and the California Bicycle Coalition’s top priority for the 2014 legislative session, this bill has two primary functions:

  • It removes language from the California Highway Design Manual (guidelines for how to design our streets) that  prohibited engineers and planners from building protected bike lanes — bikeways that have been proven to get more people to ride bikes. AB 1193 also requires Caltrans to set “minimum safety design criteria” for protected bike lanes by January 1, 2016. With new design rules, California has a chance to promote the best designs in the country and become a leader in bikeway design.
  • It allows municipalities to use other guidelines for street design, such as the bike-friendly Urban Bikeway Design Guide produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

In short, Caltrans and our policymakers are responding to the voices of the people calling for a revolution in street design. A vital next step is to advocate for protected bike lanes locally. You can pledge your support here for protected bike lanes so local advocates can find supporters in your area.

More Funding Approved, but Not Much
More funding is essential to building the infrastructure California needs to get more people to ride bikes. It is also key to economic sustainability. Active transportation infrastructure creates more jobs during construction and supports the local economy during its lifetime.

At $129 million, or barely 1 percent of the state’s transportation budget for biking and walking combined, funding for bike infrastructure is paltry at best.

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Thoughts at a Workshop On Replacing CA’s Gas Tax With a Mileage Fee

In 2017, California plans to pilot a new mileage-based Road User Charge designed to potentially replace the current state gas tax. Photo Wikimedia

Earlier this week, I attended a California Sustainable Transportation Funding Workshop, hosted by Caltrans, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the California Transportation Commission (CTC), and the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance (MBUFA). The half-day program focused on how the state of California could shift from our current gas tax funding stream to one based on a per-mile fee.

Let me first say that I usually mostly hang out with a bunch of left-of-center city people like me; we get around mostly by bicycling and walking. My friends and colleagues tend to support the idea of a per-mile fee, because we expect that it could help motivate people to drive less, and use other modes more.

This workshop wasn’t populated by a bunch of people like me. I don’t think anyone else arrived there by bicycle. As far as I could tell, it was primarily people who are more mainstream: people who drive and who, for the foreseeable future, expect our car-centric transportation system to look more or less like it does now. Among the program’s sponsors was the libertarian Reason Foundation.

What was interesting about the workshop was where the left and the right agreed: gas tax revenues aren’t enough to cover transportation infrastructure costs, and per-mile fees could work better. Similar right-left agreements occur with some Shoup-inspired parking reforms and Express Lane toll programs.

California's Gas Tax

In 1994, California’s Gas Tax was set at 18 cents per gallon. It remains unchanged today, but, due to inflation, that 18 cents is now worth about 11 cents. Graph via Caltrans

Speakers at the conference set the stage by describing the situation, which they described as “The Federal & California Financial Cliff.” The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. The California gas tax is an additional 18 cents per gallon. These amounts were set in the early 1990s. Unlike percentage-based sales taxes, which fluctuate with price changes, the gas tax remains at a flat rate. Since the ’90s, inflation has effectively reduced California’s gas tax to its lowest inflation-adjusted level since California gas taxes began in 1923.

Gas taxes are dedicated to be spent on transportation only. As the gas taxes lose value over time, governmental transportation budgets are increasingly subsidized by other taxes paid by everyone, including sales taxes, property taxes, etc. Recent estimates show that only about half of overall transportation funding is paid for by dedicated gas tax revenues. To some extent, this is fair: even non-drivers derive some benefits from highways, because everyone buys goods shipped by truck. The unfair aspect of this system is that non-drivers’ taxes go, in part, to freeways that non-drivers do not use.

Transportation leaders are generally aware that general funds subsidize transportation expenditures, but many drivers assume that driving-based taxes are what pays for roads. Many drivers, though already subsidized by non-drivers, still think they’re paying too much.

There are at least three more factors that influence the gas-tax-income vs. transportation-expenditures mismatch.  Read more…