Caltrans Affirms its Commitment to Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety

In recent year Caltrans has shifted priorities a bit from improving traffic flow to increasing safety for at-risk populations (including pedestrians and cyclists) on California highways. Their latest move was to symbolically rename the Nonmotorized Safety branch of the Traffic Operations division to the office of Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety. But a former San Francisco pedestrian and bicycle safety advocate has been appointed to ensure that commitment goes much deeper than the symbolic level.

Expanding San Francisco Ingenuity Statewide

The newly instated chief of this branch, Rachel Carpenter, has jumped right into her role of safety advocate and fully supports Caltrans’s commitment to tripling the amount of bicycle traffic and doubling the number of walking trips all while reducing the number of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities by 10%. Lofty goals with a tight timeline! The agency plans to accomplish them by 2020—in just 4 short years.

But Carpenter knows her stuff. She was formerly an engineer and project manager within the San Francisco MTA Livable Streets division where she worked on bike safety and mobility projects. She told StreetsBlog that San Francisco was on the right path, “moving full steam ahead with its bike and pedestrian projects.”

Some of the changes Caltrans has recently made in an effort to support those statewide goals include endorsing new pedestrian and cyclists-friendly road designs and expanding pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure on State owned roadways.

Making Pedestrians and Cyclists a Priority

Chief Carpenter made it clear at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit that her first priority is creating separate San Jose pedestrian and bicycle improvement programs. These programs will help inform and guide any future highway improvements and will serve a crucial measuring stick against which upcoming projects will be judged.

By focusing on the most dangerous stretches of road, Caltrans can smartly allocate assets to make the most of the money it has available. This is similar to what our city has done to decrease the number of bicycle accidents in San Francisco. To that end, Caltrans is rolling out a pedestrian safety monitoring system capable of showing officials how many pedestrians are injured, where those accidents occur, and why particular locations are dangerous.

By concentrating on the small percentage of roadways and intersections that host the most crashes, our city planners hoped to create a dramatic improvement without wasting precious resources. That’s why we’ve seen such attention to hotspots like Market Street, The Mission, and Polk Street.

Replacing Complacency with Urgency

Carpenter told StreetsBlog one of the most important things she can do is to “bring a sense of urgency” to improvements aimed at reducing fatal and non-fatal pedestrian and bicycle accidents in California. While select municipal areas have already energized their own bicycle safety programs, Caltrans has—up to this point—been notorious among safety advocates for its slow progress.

That slow progress is killing people. In 2014 California led the nation for the highest numbers of both pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. You might argue that’s because our state has a significantly higher population of cyclists and pedestrians but that simply doesn’t matter. Our car-centric way of thinking has to change in order to protect those of us who ride and walk (we’re all pedestrians at some time).

To that end, Carpenter hopes to gain enough momentum to shift thought processes statewide—possibly following a model much like exists today in San Francisco where engineers and city planners take pedestrian and bicyclist safety into account during every stage of planning and execution.

But until those changes eliminate crashes, there is help for pedestrian and bicycle accident victims in the San Francisco area. The experienced San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose bicycle accident lawyers at Sally Morin Law offer hassle-free accident claim resolution. You concentrate on getting back on two wheels—we’ll take of the rest. Submit your case online or call (415) 413-0033 today.