Caltrans District 4 Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting recap – Safety at freeway crossings

Today’s Caltrans District 4 Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting covered a topic about which Bike Concord members have expressed consistent concern:  bicycle safety at freeway crossings.

Representatives of contractor Fehr & Peers presented best practices for pedestrian and bicycle safety at these points.

A subcommittee of the BAC and PAC also presented their findings about best practices.

The treatments and principles presented would go far to make our street crossings at freeway ramps safe for non-motor traffic in Concord.  I (Kenji) requested and was given an opportunity to make a comment after the presentations, to the effect that Caltrans’ active involvement is needed in order to persuade our engineering and transportation staff in Concord to take these best practices seriously and work to put them into operation here.

My notes on the meeting and comment follow below.

District 4 covers the Bay Area.  Like any advisory committee, the District 4 BAC is a group of people representing various interests who examine and discuss certain questions, and then make recommendations to a body which has decision-making power.  In this case that body is various divisions and officials for District 4.

The BAC’s recommendations are conveyed to Caltrans by Beth Thomas, Caltrans’ bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for District 4.

The BAC meets about four times a year.  Recently it has tended to hold two of these meetings jointly with the District 4 Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC – not to be confused with the unrelated Plan Advisory Committee here in Concord, referred to as the PAC in other entries on this blog).  This was one such meeting.

Bike Concord’s minutes

The meeting was called to order at 1:11pm.

It was noted that public comment on non-agenda items was scheduled at the beginning of the meeting so that commenters would not have to stay for the whole meeting.

Attending committee members gave their names and who they were representing. There was a phone bridge to another location. Brad Beck from CCTA on the line, inter alia. The rest will be listed in Caltrans’ official meeting summary.

There were no public comments on non-agenda items.

The Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC) voted unanimously to approve their March meeting summary.

The Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) voted unanimously to approve their May meeting summary.

Report on Class IV Bikeway Summit held May 27. Caltrans Division of Design had sent out a public survey about their upcoming Class IV bikeway definition. These are bikeways between sidewalk and street with some kind of physical protection. Per AB 1193, Caltrans has until Jan 21, 2016 to develop design guidelines for Class IV bikeways. Respondents were asked if they would like to participate in a summit on the subject. About half (60-70 people) of those interested were selected to attend. People were distributed to tables for discussion of specified questions, and occasionally shuffled between tables.

California Traffic Control Devices Committee meeting on June 4, regarding guidance for bicycle signal faces, to replace current guidance. The proposed new guidance was based on national guidance, with a couple of modifications. The Committee responded that they wanted to see experiments to demonstrate efficacy before approving the proposal. John Ciccarelli (sp?) who developed the proposal is now resigning from his position, so will not be able to pursue the proposal further. Federal highway authorities refused to certify the proposal as being in substantial conformity with their guidelines, which specify that a bicycle signal face and pedestrian signal face may not be used simultaneously. Another federal guideline that conflicts with the proposed new Caltrans guidelines is that a bicycle signal face can only be used for an exclusive bicycle phase – not for a bicycle lead time ahead of a motor traffic phase, for instance, and also not for bicycle passage while motor traffic is also crossing the intersection even if the two do not cross paths.

Beth and John asked the Committee to recommend that Caltrans submit a letter to the federal authority on the matter requesting interim approval. [Missed some of the details on this.]

[Did not understand all the details of guidance and regulatory bodies, but it involves something called IA16.]

Concern was raised by a PAC member about conflicts between bicycle traffic and people boarding buses when a Class IV bikeway crosses a bus loading zone. Caltrans staff was requested to involve the PAC as well as the BAC in the Class IV design process so as to catch concerns like this.

Fehr & Peers presentation

Fehr & Peers presentation on Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) recommended design guidelines to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles at interchanges. (Follow along in the .pdf)

Represented by Meghan Mitman and Matthew Ridgway. These are national guidelines.

The process for these guidelines started with examination of to-scale drawings of freeway interchanges.

Presentation page: “Where does the freeway end?” Streets at freeway exits need to make it clear that they are not part of the freeway. Speed is an important part of this.

Presentation page: “Guiding principles”.

  • Provide bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
  • Design ramp geometries to encourage slower vehicle speeds until past crosswalk.
  • Locate the crosswalk […]
  • Where bicyclists would travel between moving vehicles for more than 200 feet, install a buffer zone.
  • Where bicyclists merge across a vehicle lane, allow flexibility to transition when/where safe. […]

Presentation page: “High Speeds, Poor Visibility”.

Presentation page: “Prefer Slow Speed Right Angle Urban Designs”.

Presentation page: “Positive example”. Photo of a freeway offramp marking with a red line the long, slow curve which the offramp used to feature, encouraging high speed. It is now a sharper turn, which lowers motor speeds and frees up space.

Presentation page: “Published Guidance”.

Presentation page: “Design Assumptions”.

  • 6′ bike lanes.
  • 6′ sidewalks. […]

Presentation page: “Xwalk + Tool Output”. Key points:

  • Position crosswalk between the narrowest point of the ramp and the corner. (“Split the difference.”) This is the most visible location.
  • Start HOV lanes downstream of the crosswalk. This can lose about a car’s worth of queuing capacity, but considerably improves crossing safety by preventing a multiple-threat situation.
  • For freeway onramps with a dedicated feeder lane on the street [e.g. I-680 at westbound Concord Ave, one of Concord’s most dangerous crossings for bicycle traffic], start a marked zone (not a single point) about 200 ft before the ramp for bicycle traffic to move left.
  • Offramps should have squared-off turns and stop control.

A concern was raised about motor traffic backing up on an offramp due to slowing caused by squaring off the corners. Larry [last name?] of Caltrans, who approves freeway ramp designs, acknowledge that this is a concern, but said there are ways to mitigate it.

Lauren Ledbetter asked what triggers a freeway interchange redesign from Caltrans’ point of view. Are safety concerns for non-motor traffic sufficient, or does this happen only to alleviate motor congestion? Beth (Caltrans) said this depends on funder priorities, and listed a few bodies with relevant funding.

Larry said 75% of statewide transportation money is locally controlled. The remainder is used by Caltrans to maintain existing infrastructure.

In response to a question, Larry said $2-5 million is the cost of squaring offramp corners.

A suggestion was raised for more radical solutions, e.g. removing some interchanges altogether.

A question was asked why grade separation is not among the recommendations. Meghan said this was not seen as serving land use effectively, and it was too expensive. US-50 in Sacramento was an example of an attempt at grade separation between motor and non-motor modes, and cost was very high.

Matthew Bomberg suggested that interchange redesigns happen most often when the infrastructure is old and needs new work. Suggested that local residents could be notified when this is soon to happen and given input opportunities.

Matthew Bomberg asked about flexible hit-posts as a guideline to protect non-motor travel lanes. Meghan said this level of detail had not been included.

Larry asked whether the idea of bicycles yielding to motor traffic coming into a dedicated receptor lane from an onramp had also been considered for offramps. Meghan said it had not.

Matthew Ridgway said Cloverdale had received a grant for interchange work at an interchange with 4 motor lanes in each way. Caltrans funded a study to cut down motor lanes for dedicated non-motor space.

Presentation page: “What’s Missing?” Treatments not included in recommendations, although not necessarily discouraged. Double crossover diamond, displaced left turn, right turn lane adjacent to shared right.

SPUI = Single-Point Urban Interchange. Recommendations presented for these.

Continued committee discussion of conflicts between motor vehicles turning at intersections and pedestrians and bicyclists trying to cross, with a focus on signalized intersections and freeway ramp openings, and consideration of policy and guidance recommendations.

BAC/PAC subcommittee presentation

The BAC/PAC subcommittee on this subject gave a presentation on their work. (Follow along in the .pdf)

Notes on miscellaneous points follow.

Caltrans has a strategic objective “Toward Zero Deaths”. Also aims to triple bicycle mode share and double pedestrian mode share.

Caltrans has design resources for bicycle and pedestrian safety at intersections and interchanges. Listed in the BAC/PAC subcommittee’s presentation.

Best practices shown and discussed. One, involving a skipped-strip bike lane guide bicycle traffic to the left of a dedicated onramp feeder lane, was disputed as a best practice due to ambiguity about which mode has the right of way.

Presentation page: “‘Permissive’ and ‘Concurrent’ phasing creates ‘Invited Conflict,’ giving bad advice to motorists and causing preventable injuries and deaths to pedestrians and bicyclists.” Photo of a car entering a crosswalk with pedestrians in it in New York City.

SF’s Fell and Mason as an example of a Class 1 bikeway crossing a road. Subcommittee asks if Caltrans can issue guidance that the crossing should have a protected phase.

Jean Severinghaus made the point that perceptual conflicts are a deterrent to bicycling and walking, as well as actual collisions. This is important for Caltrans to bear in mind as its goal is to triple bicycle mode share and double pedestrian mode share.

Data shows that in >70% of motor x non-motor collisions in marked crossing, the motorist is at fault.

Numerous photo examples given of intersections where permissive phasing for motor traffic crossing non-motor lines of travel has caused high injury rates.

Made comment.

Comment

Committee and staff members, thank you for this discussion and for the opportunity to comment.

My name is Kenji Yamada.  I live and work in Concord, Contra Costa County, and am here today on behalf of Bike Concord.  We are a local organization of Concord residents, working for safe, convenient bicycling in our community.  One of our founders, Adam Foster, is a member of the District 4 Bicycle Advisory Committee.

My principal reason for attending and commenting today is to ask you to recommend to Caltrans that they:

  1. Take the initiative in approaching municipal authorities to make surface street crossings of freeways safe and easy to negotiate for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, and exercising all possible influence to bring the thoughtful treatments you have discussed today to our streets.  It is difficult for residents alone to persuade city traffic engineers and managers to install serious bicycle and pedestrian treatments at points of high motor traffic.  We need strong, active involvement from Caltrans on our behalf.
  2. Make these crossings a high priority.  We in Bike Concord, and in the wider Bay Area bicycling community, are very glad to see Caltrans’ recent shift in emphasis towards mainstreaming active modes of transportation.  To attain this laudable goal, Caltrans must focus on the factors and experiences which most deter people from choosing active transportation.  Unsafe street crossings at freeways are one of the biggest deterrents in Concord at least, and in many other suburban Bay Area communities.

Bike Concord has built a custom online map tool to gather input from the public on which points and streetspans in Concord most need improvement in order to make bicycling a practical transportation choice.  Our local freeway crossings are among the highest-scoring points.

We have approached various members of staff and Council at the City of Concord about this problem with little success so far.  The typical response has been that the City is not free to change roadway designs at freeway crossings, as Caltrans jurisdiction is involved.  Another issue cited, of course, is lack of funding for any improvements.

In the hope of bringing together the City and Caltrans to solve this problem, which appears to require both of them, I have personally spoken to Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff to request her intercession, as our elected representative between the state and municipal levels of government.  At her request, I sent an email on June 3 to one of her staff members, containing a list of the specific freeways crossings that concern us.  I have not received any response yet.  I hope Sup. Mitchoff has followed up or will soon follow up with the appropriate contacts at Caltrans.

I would be happy to provide to any Caltrans board, staff, or committee member the same list, and any other information needed, including video footage of the bicycling experience at any or all of these crossings, if desired.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important safety issue.

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