New report calls for radical reform of Caltrans

Joshua Stark Headshot

A new report calls for dramatic changes to CaltransA new and improved Caltrans may be on the horizon.

Last week, the California State Transportation Agency released a third party assessment of Caltrans. The review, conducted by State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI), is a refreshingly candid and detailed critique, and more importantly offers a host of critical reforms, starting with a proposed one-month quick start to establish a new mission, vision, and goals for the agency.  

California has committed to dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and that means Caltrans needs to be in the business of reducing vehicle travel; specifically, Caltrans’ focus on old standards that favor expanding roads over all else must end.

“… (Caltrans) has not come to grips with the reality of induced traffic and the relationships between transportation and land use.”  (California Department of Transportation SSTI recommendations Executive Summary)

Over the next year TransForm will make it a top priority to build statewide support for some of the report's recommendations. These recommendations include having Caltrans relinquish oversight of bicycle facilities, and fundamentally changing their highway-expansion focus by finally implementing "Smart Mobility 2010" in 2014 (which has been mostly sitting on a shelf).

This report, coupled with the new, progressive leadership at the California State Transportation Agency, provides a once-in-a-generation chance to truly remake and revitalize Caltrans.

A few more of the report’s many good recommendations include:

  • Caltrans should outline a groundbreaking approach to the delivery of transportation services, an approach that is not adequately addressed in their current “improves mobility” mission. SSTI recommends “non-traditional” metrics such as “accessibility and location efficiency, GHG emission reduction, air quality, economic justice, and public health.”
  • Caltrans should avoid “inducing new demand for single occupancy vehicle (SOV) travel.”
  • Caltrans should “better match investments to policy goals expressed in the vision and plan.” This includes needed reforms to the level and type of authority currently vested in the California Transportation Commission.
  • Caltrans should, “relinquish oversight of bike facilities on locally owned streets” and give the option of using an excellent guide on urban design put out by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

One vital recommendation is that direction for change come "from the top down and outside in" to avoid the long-standing status quo at Caltrans where bottoms-up planning via staff only leads to "the culture endorsing itself."  

With your help, TransForm and our allies can help Governor Brown dramatically improve Caltrans as an institution, and with it, create the conditions for transforming our transportation and land-use infrastructure to provide real transportation choices. 

One way to help is by coming to this year’s Transportation Choices Summit and Advocacy Day. Here you will have the chance to interact with many of California’s top experts and advocates and advocate for a radical transformation of Caltrans.

While this is not the first report slamming Caltrans, there is a critical difference today: we see tremendous leadership coming from Governor Brown and Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly, and a stated desire for change by the Caltrans Director.  

TransForm has been working for years to see the kinds of changes that provide real transportation choices, improve the health and well-being of all Californians, and reduce our air pollution and greenhouse gases. With your help, we can truly make these solid, transformational reforms a reality.  

The full report can be found here: SSTI Caltrans Review.     

A great Streetsblog article on the SSTI Review can be found here: Gov’s Report to Caltrans


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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit