California Department of Transportation

Planning FAQs

Q: How are planning decisions made?

A: Planning decisions are made in a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive fashion. Continuing means planning decisions are made and revisited over time to ensure the decisions still make sense and are the best courses of action. Cooperative means there are many people, interest groups, agencies, and stakeholders involved. Everyone has a right to voice their opinion on the proposed decision. After hearing and carefully weighing all the opinions, the decision-making authority makes the planning decision. The decision-making authority is usually an elected or appointed board of people who represent the public at large. Comprehensive means that all relevant information and factors are considered in making the decision. Transportation planning decisions include consideration of environmental, social, economic, financial, political, land use, and equity information and factors.

Q: Who can tell me what's being planned in my community?

A: There are four good sources. First, your city and county planning departments can tell you what is being planned on local streets and roads. They can also tell you about new housing projects, shopping centers, and other land use projects that may affect your local transportation system. Second, your local transit agency can tell you about changes in transit schedules, routes and service. Third, there are regional transportation planning agencies that cover all areas of the State. Your local agency can tell you what's being planned for the larger street, roads and highways in your area, as well as major transit and airport improvements. Finally, your local Caltrans office can tell you what is planned for every state highway in and near your community.

Your local city and county planning departments and transit agencies are in the phonebook, under the Government listings. Many of them also have email.

Q: What is the transportation planning process?

A: The transportation planning process is a problem-solving method. It provides information for decision-makers to consider while making policy, investment and other decisions related to the transportation system. The transportation planning process is carried out in the continuing, cooperative and comprehensive fashion described above. The process can be described in the following steps:

1. Goal Setting (What do we want the future to be?)
2. Problem Identification (What are the problems in reaching our goals?)
3. Data collection and analysis (What is the current situation, projected issues, etc.?)
4. Alternative Actions (What are possible solutions to fixing the problems?)
5. Evaluation of Alternatives (What are the pros and cons of each solution?)
6. Recommended Alternative (What is the best course of action to take?)
7. Implementation (Carry out the solution or combination of solutions)
8. Monitor and Feedback (What happened? Did the solution(s) solve the problem? Are there other problems?)

Q: How is the public included in transportation planning decisions?

A: Public involvement in transportation planning is an integral part of the consultative transportation planning process in California. This consultative process permeates the entire transportation decision-making process and is accomplished through various public involvement opportunities depending on the needs of a given transportation plan, program or project. Through public workshops, hearings, open houses, task forces, citizen committees, commission meetings and the media, the public is informed of transportation planning issues and given opportunities to comment on such plans or programs. These occur at the local, regional or state agency levels.

For example, the statewide long-range transportation planning process that culminated in the 1998 California Transportation Plan update employed several strategies that resulted in an enhanced public participation process. A database of all stakeholders, including city and county representatives in California as well as numerous interest groups with specific concerns, was developed to keep those stakeholders apprised of the project. Emerging technology including the internet was used to reach the public and gain input via e-mail.

Q: How are transportation systems and land use connected?

A: The critical connections between land use and transportation is established both in statutes and in practice. Planning, Zoning, and Development Law, which gives cities and counties the authority to regulate land use, requires that "a general plan contain a circulation element which is correlated with the land use element." General Plan Guidelines further require that "the general plan must reflect both the anticipated level of land development and the road system necessary to serve that level."

On a practical side, maintaining a balanced relationship between land use and transportation assists California in achieving statewide infrastructure needs, mobility, and controlled economic growth. The onset of urban sprawl, unmitigated growth, and traffic congestion are a direct result of poor land use/transportation planning. On the other hand, a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) which is moderate to higher density development located within an easy walk of a major transit stop that includes a mix of residential, employment, and shopping opportunities designed for pedestrians, without excluding the auto, can be an example of good coordination between land use and transportation.

Q: What is our planning program's role in public participation?

A: The central role of Division of Transportation Planning (DOTP) in public participation is to provide department-wide leadership in public involvement by continually exploring opportunities in all our decision-making processes to increase public input and therefore, our effectiveness. The federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) is empathetic on the role of public participation in the transportation planning process. The DOTP shares this renewed emphasis on broadening public involvement and is currently documenting effective public involvement practices within and outside of Caltrans. This will create a resource for the department on effective public participation to be used throughout all project stages.

Q: What is our division's role in congestion mitigation?

A: Consistent with Caltrans mission to improve mobility across California, DOTP is continuously working to develop and implement planning tools and activities to help address capacity on state highways and to help increase consumer mode choice. To achieve these goals, DOTP provides system planning analysis and recommends transportation improvements, evaluates potential impacts of proposed developments on the transportation system, builds and maintains partnerships with regional/local agencies and the private sector to coordinate development and transportation decisions, and researches and deploys information technology to support mobility.

Q: What is our planning program's role in congestion/sprawl?

A: Unplanned sprawl can result in increased freeway congestion, a reduction in open space, a separation of uses (houses, retail, jobs...), and the decline of our inner cities. Realizing that these problems should be addressed, DOTP is working in partnership with various interest groups including cities, counties, local, regional and state agencies to promote the connection between transportation and land use decisions. We are currently conducting a transit oriented development study to look at locating mixed uses around transit stations, we encourage regular general plan updates, and we are reviewing our design policies to find ways to promote bike and pedestrian friendly environments. Our Planning Division was instrumental in the development of the Governor's congestion relief program.

Q: What is our planning program's role in bike/pedestrian advocacy?

A: Caltrans advocates and works to implement a safe, user friendly and efficient pedestrian/bicycle system. Planners encourage the use of non-motorized travel by providing information on bicycling (including bike maps) and pedestrian access routes. Furthermore, the Department awards grant money for "Safe Routes to Schools" (SR2S) projects and "Transportation Enhancement Activities" (TEA). SR2S projects help improve bicycle and pedestrian access in and around schools. Additionally, we continue to work in partnership with local agencies, and various committees and task forces to promote the creation and maintenance of bicycle and pedestrian amenities (benches, bike lanes, landscaping...) and improve bicycle/pedestrian safety.

Q: What is our planning division's role in smart growth/community planning/livable communities?

A: DOTP established the Office of Community Planning (OCP) to address the need for community-sensitive approaches to transportation decision-making. We are working to develop partnerships, policies and practices that coordinate land use and transportation planning to create more livable communities. At the local regional and statewide levels we are forming partnerships to aid in the decision-making process and are working to encourage earlier and more frequent community involvement which will allow for the development of projects that enjoy public support because of consistency with community values. We are also working to develop expertise in community planning and public participation techniques and will integrate this knowledge into the department's planning activities.

In addition to the creation of OCP, there are a number of efforts underway in Caltrans that make progress toward more livable communities. Caltrans is conducting a study to identify options for possible new or modified Caltrans policies, programs, projects, practices and funding criteria that could contribute to creating more livable communities. Planning staff participates in numerous collaborative efforts with other state and local agencies to promote livable communities, including the State Department of Housing and Community Development, the California Energy Commission and the Governor's Office of Planning and Research. We have also established a grant program to seed planning activities that encourage livable communities, integrate land use and transportation planning activities, and incorporate a collaborative planning process.

Q: What is a transit Oriented Development (TOD)?

A: Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a moderate to higher density development located within an easy walk of a major transit stop. It generally includes a mix of residential housing types, employment, and shopping opportunities designed for pedestrians. TOD can involve a single building, several buildings, or the redevelopment of existing buildings. These developments facilitate transit use and reduce automobile dependent land uses without excluding the auto.

Q: What are sustainable communities?

A: Sustainable communities programs generally include everything in most livable communities or smart growth programs. They are distinct in that they often include an explicitly global ("think globally, act locally") and long-term dimension ("..without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"). They tend to involve a more explicit view of the community as an important part of the larger world within which it functions, and they generally see the community as both having responsibility as a "global citizen" and as being significantly impacted by what happens on a global long-term basis.

TOD initiatives benefit the livability of a community through: Increase in transit ridership; reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT); improved air quality; reduced need for a second auto; improved availability of affordable housing; improved jobs/housing balance; increase in walking; enhanced quality of life and economic development; reduction in infrastructure costs; and, preservation of farmland and open space.

Specifically, sustainable communities programs are more likely than livable communities or smart growth programs to include or emphasize issues like global warming, endangered species protection, renewable energy development, or green design and building.

While elements such as schools, crime, taxes, parks, libraries, and other urban services may not receive the same emphasis, it is often recognized that long-term sustainability objectives cannot be achieved unless the urban core and older suburbs are restored as places where families feel safe and the schools deliver a quality education.

Q: How are transportation projects funded?

A: Transportation projects are funded from a variety of federal, state and local taxes and fees. As a rule, state highways and local roads are funded from the state and federal motor vehicle fuels taxes and truck fees. Transit projects are generally funded from fare revenues, state and local sales and use taxes on goods and services, and federal fuels taxes in addition to general revenue. The state constitution prohibits the use of fuels tax revenue for transit purposes, except for the construction of fixed guideways. Bridge tolls pay for such bridges, and for some local transit services.

The Economic Analysis Branch has prepared a booklet entitled "Transportation Funding in California in California 2011". This booklet, through a series of easy to understand charts, depicts sources and uses of all transportation funds in California, both at the state and local levels. For additional information on funding issues, please contact Barry Padilla at (916) 653-9248 or email Barry.Padilla@dot.ca.gov