Design Flexibility

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“A ‘one-size-fits-all’ design philosophy is not Departmental policy...”

“This guidance allows for flexibility in applying design standards and approving design exceptions that take the context of the project location into consideration; which enables the designer to tailor the design, as appropriate, for the specific circumstances while maintaining safety.”

- from Caltrans Highway Design Manual (HDM), Chapter 80

Commitment to Change

To reaffirm the Caltrans commitment to providing flexibility while maintaining the safety and integrity of the state highway system, and local streets and roads under the jurisdiction of cities and counties, the Department released a memorandum titled "Design Flexibility in Multimodal Design" dated April 10, 2014. The memorandum highlights the flexibility provided in existing Caltrans guidance, positive steps already taken in underscoring the importance of multimodal design, and recognizes the value of other guidance in supporting planning and design decisions made by state and local decision makers statewide.

Design Flexibility Frequently Asked Questions

The Highway Design Manual (HDM) establishes uniform policies and procedures to carry out the State highway design functions of the Department. For the most up to date and current version, HDM users are encouraged to use the online versions and can even sign up to be notified automatically ( of any changes and updates. 

Main Street, California - A Guide for Improving Community and Transportation Vitality - California State Highways that also function as 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.

In the News

Caltrans Releases Draft State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan news release 2-9-17

Innovative New Safety Measures for Cyclists on State Highways Caltrans news release 1-23-17

Caltrans News Flash Video #114 – The Flying Wedge 1-18-17

New Paths for Active Transportation $10 Million Comes from Cap-and-Trade Program Caltrans Mile Marker, p35, 2016 Fourth Quarter issue

Project Delivery Process Tested Construction Manager/General Manager Pilot Shows Progress Caltrans Mile Marker, p37, 2016 Fourth Quarter issue

CalBike Reminds Local Leaders: It’s Okay to Build Protected Bike Lanes Streetsblog California 9-9-16

Highway Art Provides Community Canvas Caltrans Mile Marker, p16, 2016 Third Quarter issue

City dedicates new playground at Oval Park Visalia Times-Delta 7-19-16

5 Rules For Designing Great Cities, From Denmark's Star Urbanist Fast Company “Spaces” 7-11-16

Los Angeles Street Protected Bike Lanes Ribbon-Cutting This Thursday Streetsblog LA 6-14-16

FHWA Publishes Policy Revision to Allow More Flexibility in Roadway Project Design AASHTO Journal 6-13-16

Caltrans Update Innovation Becoming the Norm Design Flexibility 6-8-16

Director's Bike Ride Video Highlights Bicycling's Renewed Role Caltrans news release 6-1-16

State DOTs Move Toward Increased Roadway Design Flexibility AASHTO news release 5-26-16

Caltrans Director Leads Bicycle Tour Through Downtown Sacramento to Promote Active Transportation During Bike Month news release 5-16-16

All Roads Lead to Complete Streets Caltrans Mile Marker, p12, 3-2016 issue

Design Flexibility for Stronger Communities USDOT 10-9-15

FHWA Move to Encourage Highway Design Flexibilities Kicks Off with Changes for Lower Speed Roads USDOT news release 10-7-15

Road Diet Feeds Bike and Ped Caltrans Mile Marker, p18, June 2015 issue

FHWA Officially Supports City-Friendly Street Designs NACTO news release 7-25-14


Active Transportation Program - Caltrans

American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials - (AASHTO) home page

Bicycle Advisory Committee – Caltrans District 4 (San Francisco, Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Solano, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties)

Bicycle and Complete Streets Program - Caltrans District 6 (Central Valley: Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties)

Bike and Pedestrian Information - Caltrans District 1 (Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake and Mendocino Counties)

Bicycle and Pedestrian Program (includes links to Key Resources, Recent Publications & Guidance such as the “Bicycle and Pedestrian Provisions of Federal Transportation Legislation”) - FHWA

Bicycle Pages - Caltrans District 11 Planning Division (San Diego and Imperial counties)

Bicycle Tourism – Caltrans District 1 (Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Lake counties)

California Department of Transportation home page - see “Caltrans home page”

California State Bike and Ped Plan – Caltrans

California Transportation Plan 2040 - Caltrans June 2016

Caltrans Awards

Complete Streets District 1 Brochure

Complete Streets Program - Caltrans

Design Standards – FHWA

Division of Design home page - Caltrans

Federal Highway Administration - (FHWA) home page

National Association of City Transportation Officials - (NACTO) home page

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety - Caltrans

Standards, Guidelines, Manuals & Memos


Class IV Bikeway Guidance (Separated Bikeways/Cycle Tracks) – Caltrans Design Information Bulletin No. 89, 12-30-15

Class IV Separated Bikeways: Approved for Use in California An easy guide for implementation by the California Bicycle Coalition August 2016

Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, 4th Edition - AASHTO 2012 (order for purchase)

Urban Bikeway Design Guide – NACTO March 2014

Bicycle and Pedestrian

Bicycle and Pedestrian Facility Design Flexibility Memo (includes examples and resources) - US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration 8-20-13

Best Practices D11 Complete Streets Design Flex

California State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan – Caltrans

Yes We Can – Bicycle and Pedestrian brochure – Caltrans


Achieving Multimodal Networks: Applying Design Flexibility and Reducing Conflicts – FHWA August 2016

Assembly Bill No. 93

California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CA MUTCD) Revision 1 – Caltrans 12-9-15

California Traffic Control Devices Committee

Deputy Directive 64-R2 Complete Streets - Integrating the Transportation System – Caltrans 10-17-14

Design Flexibility in Multimodal Design Memo - Caltrans 4-10-14

Design Information Bulletins - Caltrans

Design Standards - FHWA

Design Stewardship Delegation - Caltrans

Direction on Flexibility in Design Standards Administrative Resolution - Standing Committee on Highways (SCOH) 5-25-16

Director’s Policy DP-23-R1 Energy Efficiency, Conservation, and Climate Change – Caltrans 6-6-07

FAST ACT Design Standards – FHWA April 2016

Green Book – AASHTO 2011

Highway Design Manual - Caltrans

Highway Safety Manual – AASHTO March 2016

Livability in Transportation Guidebook - FHWA

Main Street, California – Caltrans Nov 2013

Mitigation Strategies for Design Exceptions – FHWA 5-1-14

Performance Based Practical Design – FHWA

Road Diet Informational Guide – FHWA Nov 2014

Urban Street Design Guide – NACTO Oct 2013


“Designing Urban Walkable Thoroughfares“ - Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)

Statewide Alerts and Other Information

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