To provide a safe, sustainable, integrated, and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability. Sound familiar? No, it’s not SVBC’s mission, but Caltrans’. The agency recently underwent reorganization and a call for change via the State Smart Transportation Initiative report on Caltrans. Since then, the Governor and other leaders have been pushing California’s major transportation agencies to lead the way to safe and healthy transportation networks. This includes goals to triple bicycling rates and double walking and transit rates by 2020.

In July 2013, the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) was created. Before that, transportation was one of the forty-six departments under the California Business, Transportation, and Housing agency. Many of those departments have now gone away or been consolidated. The new-ish CalSTA is now one of ten agencies in the Governor’s cabinet and has the key transportation, safety, and mobility departments underneath it: Caltrans (with the largest budget and number of employees), Department of Motor Vehicles, California Highway Patrol, High Speed Rail, the California Transportation Commission, Office of Traffic Safety, and a few smaller offices. CalSTA still liaises with the housing department, because housing and transportation are inextricably linked.

That’s where Kate White comes in. We are excited to have Kate, the Deputy Secretary of Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination for CalSTA, as our keynote speaker for the 2016 Silicon Valley Bike Summit. We sat down with Kate recently to understand her role, the various agencies’ involvement in transportation planning, and how they impact our region.

Question: What is your role as the Deputy Secretary of Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination at CalSTA?

KW: My charge is to align the environmental policies of California with our transportation sector, including planning priorities for infill instead of sprawl, natural resource conservation, and reducing emissions. About 60-70% of my job is working with Caltrans: how can Caltrans contribute toward those environmental goals in everything they do? For housing coordination, I work with housing departments and convene a monthly transportation and housing workgroup, which is a forum for policy leads at the various agencies to meet and go through plans every month.

Question: What are the top priorities and projects for CalSTA and Caltrans? 

KW: One priority is to do everything we can from the transportation sector side of the world to support the sustainable communities strategies that all the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) adopted after SB 375 passed in 2008. We are looking at all the policies and practices across our departments, whether that’s CHP enforcement of traffic laws, to DMV’s driver handbook, to Caltrans’ design manuals, to high speed rail’s business plan: what can all of these transportation efforts do to help reinforce the sustainable communities strategies? The new regional transportation plans incorporating the new strategies are a major shift from how regional transportation plans had been done for decades. Now with SB375, land use and greenhouse gas reduction targets have to be part of the equation. There are summaries of this in the California Transportation Plan 2040 [released last week]. Sales tax measures are also changing too, to better support biking and walking safety infrastructure projects. [The Bay Area’s regional transportation plan is Plan Bay Area.] The state is here to support and reinforce your plans, not to come in and tell you what to do. We gave the Air Resources Board the authority to set targets in coordination with MPOs. Strategies have a lot of flexibility in how you get there, whether transit-focused or emphasizing new shared mobility or focused more on land use/bike/ped/shorter trips, etc.

Another one of CalSTA’s major priorities is advancing high speed rail (HSR) per the new business plan, which is very exciting for Silicon Valley because we are going north first to Diridon from the Central Valley (“Valley to Valley”). The Caltrain electrification will help double capacity on Caltrain corridor in the short term and in the long term HSR will be able to run on the same tracks. This serves dual goals: rail modernization in California as well as the seamless integration with regional and local transit and biking and walking connections. Our objective is to have a mode shift in California and provide viable alternatives to long or short car trips.

Caltrans has a new Strategic Management Plan 2015-2020 with some very ambitious and realistic goals in there. We have a new mission: To provide a safe, sustainable, integrated, and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability. We want to be much more sustainable, integrated with local transportation systems and bike/ped networks, more efficient with dollars spent, and be part of enhancing livability of California. There are five overarching goals, number one goal is safety and health and active transportation is part of that.

What are some ways your agencies promote bicycling and walking throughout California? 

KW: We take part in the Health in All Policies Taskforce (HiAP), which falls under the Strategic Growth Council. It’s a cross agency task force that has initiatives to integrate health into state policies and practices. One of the focus areas is active transportation, which has been really helpful in bringing some of the departments together to prioritize this work. For example, the DMV is making changes to the handbook and training to better incorporate considerations of biking. HiAP has also helped to inform the California Transportation Commission on active transportation and making sure that disadvantaged communities, health, and equity are incorporated into the Active Transportation Program.

The Active Transportation Program funds biking and walking projects and programs around the state and is one of the largest pots of money for this work in the country.

Caltrans’ traffic operations division has a new bike and pedestrian safety initiative. We’ve seen reductions in car crashes on the state highway system, but an increase in bike and pedestrian collisions on highways. This project is putting together maps of all the hotspots across the state and then working with the local jurisdictions to see what improvements can be made. [Note: Rachel Carpenter from Caltrans will be speaking on this topic at the Summit!]

Tell us about your bike and where you like to ride.

KW: I’ve ridden a bike since I was eight. Now I mostly use a bike for transportation, riding in suits and dresses around the capital. I have a step-through frame bike so my dress doesn’t get caught up in the wheel. I’ve been biking a lot more since I moved to Sacramento three years ago. The biking in Sacramento is really quite pleasant: there’s good existing infrastructure and Sacramento is working on the Grid 2.0 project, making one-way streets two-way and adding bike lanes. It is also great having the American River bike trail nearby – it’s thirty miles of uninterrupted trails; you don’t pass a car once. The trail starts in downtown Sacramento and goes all along the river then all the way to Folsom to the foothills. An adopt-a-trail program keeps up the trails with different sponsors contributing. On the weekends, you’ll see tons of families and kids. Incredible amenity. I go out there about once a month.