New striping near Orland, north of The Sac. Photo: Jim O'Brien / Caltrans.
New striping near Orland, north of The Sac. Photo: Jim O'Brien / Caltrans.

Caltrans Road Striping Project: Motorcycles Not Considered

We kept seeing mentions in the news of Caltrans’ plans to restripe big chunks of California highways with wider, more reflective stripes, so we reached out to the agency directly for more information, concerned—as are many riders—that the needs of motorcyclists were not considered in these plans. Here’s what we found out.

Caltrans will be replacing existing four-inch wide road stripes with “new road demarcation lines, which consist of tape or thermal plastic embedded with glass beads.” Also, existing Botts Dots will be removed as the new striping is installed.

New striping near Orland, north of The Sac. Photo: Jim O'Brien / Caltrans.
New striping near Orland, north of The Sac. Photo: Jim O’Brien / Caltrans.

The agency expects to restripe all 50,000+ lane-miles of the state highway system in the next decade, focusing first on 27,000 lane-miles of freight corridors—Interstates 5, 10, 15 and 80—which will be completed in the “next few years.” The new striping will not be used on roadways above 3,000 feet.

Here’s where it gets a little sticky, or rather, we worry it might not be sticky enough. An article announcing the change in the September 2017 edition of the Caltrans publication MileMarker (included at the end of this article) discusses the composition of the stripes, and who was consulted with beforehand.

Both the thermoplastic material and tape used in striping contain tiny glass beads that enhance reflectivity, particularly when illuminated by vehicle headlamps or in rainy conditions. The materials have proven very durable, and is expected to retain a minimum level of reflectivity despite constant heavy wear.

The new striping, with its wider and brighter profile, is expected to enhance safety for older drivers and truckers, and in challenging conditions such as rain.

It also will be a better roadway guide for autonomous vehicles. Caltrans has consulted with auto manufacturer Tesla and Google, two major players in the autonomous vehicle industry, about the striping changeover.

It’s good that Caltrans checked with autonomous car makers, after all, the rise of those particular machines is undoubtedly coming, and presumably these stripes will help prevent them from killing more innocent people. But the number of autonomous vehicles in California is functionally zero compared to the 800,000+ motorcycles registered in the Golden State. It’s a king-sized fuck-up to not at least give the impression of having consulted with a state agency that has something to do with motorcycles, not in the least because we have lane splitting here, and our tiny little contact patches actually spend a fair amount of time on those stripes.

The California Motorcyclist Safety Program would arguably be a good place to start, but as it happens, this topic came up in the last CMSP Advisory Committee meeting earlier this year. The CMSP was not consulted, and seemed none too happy about it.

We asked Caltrans whether road striping, new or old, has any materials in it intended to increase traction. The short answer: nope. Sanford Nax, Caltrans External Affairs, told us:

“Typical traffic striping materials such as paint, thermoplastic, etc. do not contain material specifically to increase traction.  Glass beads are added to the striping material during application to increase stripe visibility at night (i.e. retroreflectivity).”

We also asked whether motorcycles had been considered in the planning for this new striping, and got this:

“Caltrans has not done any studies on motorcycle crash causes and mitigation strategies. Nor are we aware of any testing or studies that suggest wider striping causes slippage.”

Look, motorcyclists do sometimes go a little hard in the paint and get their onesies overly bunched about violations to our so-called rights that are actually privileges, like entitled knowledge workers disgruntled that San Francisco isn’t the utopian, app-managed Oasis they envision, what with all the—ugh—regular people on the streets. We don’t have any evidence that these new stripes are worse than the old ones, other than the fact that they’re 50% wider, which means if they’re at least equally as slippery as the old ones, Caltrans has just radically increased the amount of slippery shit on our roads. As if those cursed tar snakes weren’t enough!

We think Caltrans, an agency whose mission includes “providing a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system” ought to consider the needs of California’s hundred of thousands of motorcyclists along with those of four-wheeled road users, and certainly the corporations seeking to use our public roads as part of their revenue strategies.



Caltrans MileMarker September 2017: “Staying in Your Lane Just Got Easier”