Growing support for active transportation has been manifesting itself into calls for more and safer opportunities for bicycling and walking all across the country. In some instances, this booming trend is the catalyst that pushes municipal planners to provide more bike paths, trails and pathways--a response to the demands of the population.
But how prepared are the planners, designers, engineers and work crews of our state departments of transportation to deliver this active transportation infrastructure? Aware of the critical role of these staff in facilitating walking and biking, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) recently led a study of the California Department of Transportation's (Caltrans) bicycle- and pedestrian-related technical training for its staff.
While California has made significant gains in its policies and procedures to improve its statewide active transportation system, the study reveals that there is still room for improvement.
For example, during a series of interviews with Caltrans staff, it was found that fewer than 60 percent of planners, and fewer than 50 percent of traffic operations staff, were "moderately familiar or very familiar" with California Complete Streets policies, including Caltrans' own directive that all of its projects accommodate all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users.
Similarly, a majority of respondents (51.4 percent) felt that Caltrans did not do an effective job of advertising bicycle/pedestrian training for staff being offered by other districts or divisions.
While bicycle and pedestrian facilities are often thought of as the province of local streets, and, therefore, local government, bicyclists and pedestrians have legal access on all conventional highways and State Highway System expressways, and about 25 percent of California's freeways. Of particular importance, state highways function as the main street for hundreds of communities throughout the state, especially in rural areas. This means that Caltrans' ability and willingness to prioritize walking and biking has a huge impact on access, safety and mobility in local communities.
Among the recommendations of the study, which was led by RTC's Western Region Director Laura Cohen, and co-authored by California Walks, California Active Communities, and the California Department of Public Health, was that Caltrans needs to better integrate bicycle and pedestrian considerations early in the planning process.
More difficult, but equally as important, Caltrans also needs to foster an organizational culture that treats bicycle and pedestrian transportation on par with other modes.
Data for the report was gathered through personal interviews with more than two dozen Caltrans managers that play a role in bicycle and pedestrian projects, an online survey emailed to more than 1,000 Caltrans staff, and a review of current training offerings.
The report, "Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Training for Caltrans Staff," is now available in RTC's Trail-Building Toolbox at www.railstotrails.org.