Main Street, California

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Photo of downtown Auburn Main Street improvement project
Main Street Improvement

A main street improvement project on State Route 49/143 (High Street) in Auburn improved traffic flow, increased the visual appeal of the street, and included sustainable design features such as a storm water treatment planter area with street trees and landscaping.

Partnering With Local Communities

From CT News (November 2013)

The Division of Design, in partnership with Caltrans Maintenance and Operations and Planning and Modal Programs, recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of main street concepts to assist Caltrans, agency partners and local stakeholders to improve the vitality of State highway main streets. Six hundred internal and external stakeholders helped shape the update of the document Main Street, California (Main Street).

California State Highways that are also main streets through communities are challenged with balancing the public’s need for roadways that provide local, regional and statewide connections, with local needs for a vibrant community street. Just as mobility is essential to California’s economic and civic vitality, the planning, design and operation of main streets is tied to the prosperity and quality of life for local communities.

Incorporating principles of livability and sustainability into main street projects can help balance the need for an efficient multi-modal transportation facility with local needs for a main street that functions as the heart of the community.

Some design solutions highlighted in Main Street will be familiar or slight variations of traditional strategies, while others will entail a new and broader vision of how main streets can benefit travelers and the local community.

California state highways that are also main streets through communities are challenged with balancing the public’s need for roadways that provide local, regional and statewide connections, with local needs for a vibrant community street. Just as mobility is essential to California’s economic and civic vitality, the planning, design, and operation of main streets are tied to the prosperity and quality of life for local communities.

Incorporating principles of livability and sustainability into main street projects can help balance the need for an efficient multi-modal transportation facility with local needs for a main street that functions as the heart of the community.

Some design solutions highlighted in Main Street will be familiar or slight variations of traditional strategies, while others will entail a new and broader vision of how main streets can benefit travelers and the local community.

Making Main Street a Complete Street

Photos of bicyclists and pedestrians in a Main Street environment
Main Streets are Complete Streets

Main streets are dedicated to providing access to all travelers.

State highway main streets are ideal locations for Caltrans to showcase its dedication to providing access to all travelers. In keeping with Deputy Directive 64-R1, and the recently updated Highway Design Manual, incorporating complete streets concepts into main street projects is essential to provide comfortable access for all.

Livable Main Streets

Livable neighborhoods require that streets function as transportation facilities as well as vibrant public places. Main street improvements can significantly bolster community efforts to create and preserve livable neighborhood centers. Communities may have goals of preserving historic or unique elements along main streets; inviting suitable new businesses and development; and energizing public spaces for civic activities and community celebrations such as parades and special events. Main Street describes specific roadway and roadside features that can improve main street livability such as the addition of bicycle lanes, wide sidewalks and attractive street trees and landscaping. Just as an efficient transportation system is the backbone of a vibrant economy, a livable main street can connect communities to the larger state, national and even global economy.

Sustainable Main Streets

Physical main street improvements that provide comfortable travel options for all transportation modes can support local and statewide plans to meet sustainability goals, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing single-occupant driving trips with walking, cycling, or taking public transit significantly improves environmental quality and public health.

Streets themselves can also be designed and operated to include techniques or materials that support sustainability. Main Street describes specific roadway and roadside features that can improve main street sustainability such as the use of recycled materials, innovative storm water treatment facilities, and regionally appropriate street trees to reduce heat islands and support local ecosystems.

Fiscal sustainability entails consideration of lifecycle costs of transportation facilities. Caltrans must ensure that transportation investments, including those along California’s main streets, are cost-effective and efficient from the initial capital expenditure through maintenance and operations.

Main streets that are planned to support multi-modal networks and designed to include features or materials that contribute to ecological health, will have the greatest number of sustainability benefits for the state and local communities.

Main Street Partners

Arriving at a shared vision for how to incorporate livability and sustainability principles into main street projects requires a collaborative approach during planning and design, construction, operation and maintenance. Since transportation solutions will vary from place to place depending upon local context, transportation needs, and the vision of the local community, it is important that early planning efforts include discussion of each partner’s goals, needs, abilities and limitations.

To best serve community needs, some main street elements may need to be funded, designed, constructed, maintained and/or owned by communities or their local agencies. Caltrans and stakeholders must determine financial and maintenance activity commitments for proposed design elements during early planning and project development. Collaborative negotiation that identifies constraints and assigns roles and responsibilities (for various operational activities and roadway features, and their associated funding) enables appropriate transportation decisions for the design of main streets.

Caltrans multidisciplinary teams, including engineers, planners, landscape architects and environmental and historic preservation professionals are essential to identify and address the full range of main street project needs. Multidisciplinary teams with input from stakeholders and partners can collectively identify the best strategies for addressing traveler and worker safety, multi-modal access, transportation system efficiency, livability, sustainability and prudent initial and life-cycle fiscal investments. Main Street is a tool to assist these professional teams in developing main street projects that improve the vitality of the transportation system and local communities.

Main Streets California Guide

Click here to download the updated Main Streets California Guide.