Bob Shanteau has provided on CABO Forum a review of the recent Caltrans memo in response to questions from Michael Graff. I am copying it here for wider viewing.
On 4/11/2014 2:25 PM, Michael Graff wrote:
What does “in concert with” mean? Does Caltrans accept the entire NACTO guide as if it were a book of standards?
Or does Caltrans treat the NACTO guide as a book of suggestions? Is it a starting point for Caltrans to “develop and adopt”?
Was Caltrans already developing and adopting standards that directly conflict with the NACTO suggestions?
Bob replied –
The way I read it, the Caltrans Director’s memo addresses two issues: (1) Incorporating the NACTO stuff into Caltrans design standards and guidance; and (2) Who approves design exceptions for design features that do not comply with the bicycle-related standards in the HDM for local agency projects?
On the first issue, he wrote:
“Other references relative to urban street and bicycle facility design can also be valuable resources. Publications such as the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) “Urban Street Design Guide” and “Urban Bikeway Design Guide,” and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) “Designing Urban Walkable Thoroughfares,” are resources that Caltrans and local entities can reference when making planning and design decisions on the State highway system and local streets and roads. Caltrans believes that such guidance, coupled with thorough documentation of engineering judgments made in the process, can be of assistance to communities, particularly in urban areas, to support the planning and design of safe and convenient facilities that they own and operate. Caltrans is currently analyzing these guides to identify areas of improvement in our own standards and guidance. This will be a focus of the Department over the next year.”
As I understand it, Kevin Herritt and crew have been designated that job with the cooperation of a committee that includes one member from CBAC (rather than CBAC itself, which is a mystery to me, since its makeup would seem to meet the requirement in the statute for Caltrans to cooperate with counties and cities).
This revision is being done in compliance with Section 890.6 of the Streets and Highways Code:
“SHC 890.6 The department, in cooperation with county and city governments, shall establish minimum safety design criteria for the planning and construction of bikeways and roadways where bicycle travel is permitted. The criteria shall include, but not be limited to, the design speed of the facility, minimum widths and clearances, grade, radius of curvature, pavement surface, actuation of automatic traffic control devices, drainage, and general safety. The criteria shall be updated biennially, or more often, as needed.”
In 1975, we were having trouble with local agencies building all sorts of bikeway crap, but were able to get them to agree to the need for uniform statewide standards for bikeway related features. That effort resulted in Section 891(a) of the Streets and Highways Code:
“SHC 891 (a) All city, county, regional, and other local agencies responsible for the development or operation of bikeways or roadways where bicycle travel is permitted shall utilize all minimum safety design criteria and uniform specifications and symbols for signs, markers, and traffic control devices established pursuant to Sections 890.6 and 890.8, except as provided in subdivision (b).”
Notice that Caltrans was supposed to update the bicycle-related portions of the HDM every two years in cooperation with the counties and cities. That effort fell apart in about 1978 when Caltrans disbanded the Bicycle Facilities Committee and people forgot about the updating requirement. Some of us thought that when Caltrans formed the California Bicycle Advisory Committee in 1992, it would be tasked with meeting the requirement for Caltrans to update the HDM in cooperation with the counties and cities. That didn’t start happening, however, until a few years ago when some local agencies wanted to build bikeways that did not conform with the Caltans standards and found that they couldn’t without losing design immunity. Normally, a public agency can grant itself a design exception for a feature that does not comply with standards, and Caltrans can do that for itself for non-standard bicycle related features on a state project but the Streets and Highways Code says nothing about local agencies doing the same. After all, SHC 890.6 was adopted because local agencies were building crap bikeways, so why would we give them a loophole to get around having to comply with the uniform statewide standards for bicycle related features we had just adopted?
In my work on bicycle detection I had observed the California Traffic Control Devices Committee routinely approve requests to experiment with non-compliant traffic control devices, so I suggested that Caltrans do the same with bicycle-related design features. Some folks then successfully lobbied the legislature for a way for Caltrans to approve requests to experiment with non-standard design features, resulting in Section 891(b) of the Streets and Highways Code:
“(b) The department, by June 30, 2013, shall establish procedures to permit exceptions to the requirements of subdivision (a) for purposes of research, experimentation, testing, evaluation, or verification.”
During the last CBAC meeting, though, Kevin Herritt said that Caltrans lawyers had had told him Caltrans could not approve requests to experiment for local agencies. Caltrans lawyers simply couldn’t wrap their head around the fact that 40 years ago the legislature had told Caltrans to develop bicycle-related design standards that are uniform statewide when the same is not true for the rest of the Highway Design Manual. (Even though Caltrans does the same for traffic control devices.) When the local agencies realized that Caltrans was not willing to grant requests to experiment on local projects, they worked to get the authority to grant design exceptions on their projects instead.
That takes us to the second issue in the Director’s memo: Who has the authority to approve a design exception for a feature on a local project that does not comply with the bicycle-related portions of the HDM?
On this issue, the Director wrote:
“For improvements on local systems, the responsible local entities have long been delegated authority to exercise their engineering judgment when utilizing applicable standards, including those for bicycle facilities established by Caltrans pursuant to Streets and Highways Code sections 890.6 and 890.8. This delegation and delegation process is outlined in the Caltrans Local Assistance Procedures Manual, Chapter 11, page 11-26. See http://www.dot.ca.gov/…/lam/prog_p/ch11-2012-10-05.pdf.”
“Given the flexibility provided to owners by existing standards and guidance, it remains of the utmost importance, as noted above, for the responsible entity (Caltrans or local authority) to document appropriately their engineering decisions for design-immunity purposes. Adequate documentation will ensure the full protection of design immunity provided under law to the responsible entity.”
The problem is that the Caltrans Director cannot unilaterally change state law, so the statement in that first paragraph may or may not be true. It would be best for the legislature to explicitly grant local agencies the authority to grant design exceptions to bicycle-related design standards in the HDM. As the Director points out, it makes sense for local agencies to have the authority to grant design exceptions on their own projects. But can we trust them not to build crap bikeways again? Or would it be better to hold off and and update the bicycle-related design standards instead? That is the struggle we are going through right now.