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June 2006
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November 2005 Recap

Ten Mile Bridge
Good and not-so-good news
June 10, 2006, Santa Rosa. The Coastal Commission approved without discussion a revised Caltrans proposal for the Ten Mile Bridge. The revised design has a single five-foot sidewalk on the west side, six-feet shoulders on both sides, and a combination auto-bicycle railing on the east side.

The revised design was Caltrans' response to the Commission's November, 2005, specification of four-foot shoulders and sidewalks on each side of the bridge. From the standpoint of preserving the scenic values of Ten Mile River, the revised design is mixed. On the positive side, the single five-foot sidewalk reduces the scale of the bridge as compared to two four-foot sidewalks. The six foot shoulders are unnecessarily wide from an automobile safety standpoint, but five-foot shoulders are recommended for bicycle safety; thus the arguably unjustified width of the bridge is only two feet.

In a welcome move, Caltrans and the Commission agreed to defer for a year choosing a design for the railings on the bridge. The design of the railing for the east side of the bridge is challenging, because it will need to protect bicyclists as well as cars. The initial design proposed by Caltrans was a visual catastrophe suitable for a cattle gate, but not a scenic bridge.

Since November, Caltrans and a subcommittee of the Commission have been working on developing alternative designs. I was invited to assist the subcommittee and have been doing so. To date, no really attractive designs have been developed, but Caltrans seems open to meeting the concerns of the Commission and the public.

Just today, I received extremely good news that creates a much greater probability of making a visually attractive and transparent design for the east railing: the national highway standards organization followed by Caltrans has just lowered the bicycle railing height from 54" to 42" (the same as pedestrian railings). This will improve enormously the aesthetic possibilities for railing designs.

The most discouraging aspect of the Ten Mile decision was the Commission's acceptance of bogus "safety data" from Caltrans. The Commission staff and ultimately the Commission accepted the wider shoulders because Caltrans asserted that moving from four to six foot shoulders would reduce accidents by 44 percent.

I was not provided the source of the Caltrans safety estimate until after the Commission staff had published its staff report, too late to provide correct information to the staff and too late even to get written comments to the Commissioners until the night before the hearing. It is doubtful that any Commissioners even reviewed my written testimony. Although at the hearing, I showed that there was no empirical basis for Caltrans' safety assertion and that there was no significant vehicle safety benefit from the wider shoulders, it was too little too late.

On the positive side, Caltrans has invited me to work with me on future bridge designs prior to submitting permit applications to Caltrans. I've accepted the invitation and hope to  resolve our differences around safety arguments. The evidence on shoulder width and safety is very clear. I am optimistic, therefore, that future coastal bridges will be built with the five-foot shoulders that are needed for cyclist safety and no wider.

All in all, progress is being made, largely because of the outpouring of public support for bridge designs that protect the scenic values of our beautiful North Coast.

Thank you for your help and support.

Vince Taylor