Seth Cutter – Caltrans District 11 Bike Coordinator

I recently had the opportunity to talk to the Bike Coordinator at District 11, Seth Cutter. Cutter was gracious to spend a few hours talking to me about what he does and how his role as the District Bike Coordinator helps cyclists in both San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Caltrans’ mission is to improve mobility in California. The organization’s strategic goals include the following:

Providing the safest transportation system in the nation for users and workers.
Maximize transportation system performance and accessibility
Efficiently delivering quality transportation projects and services.
Preserve and enhance California’s resource and assets
Promote quality service through an excellent workforce.

Cutter’s educational background from UCSD is in Urban Studies and Planning. While his educational background was more on the community planning side, an internship with a traffic engineering company transformed him and propelled him into the transportation sector of planning. Five years ago, Cutter began working at Caltrans by assisting the Bicycle Coordinator and eventually got promoted to that position. Over time he learned that his educational background in community planning was a tremendous asset when it came to working with the wide variety of stakeholders and being sensitive to all their needs. Cutter noted that over the last few decades, community involvement has gotten very important especially with regard to land use planning issues.

Seth Cutter - Caltrans District 11 Bike Coordinator

While Cutter’s desire to pursue Urban Studies and Planning at UCSD arose from his interest in smart growth and sustainable communities, he knew that alternative transportation fit into that interest and learned that by being Caltrans’ Bike Coordinator, he could influence how communities would get built or redesigned. It was at Caltrans he soon found himself changing how he viewed the bicycle as a mode of transportation. Where he was primarily a recreational cyclist prior to his position at Caltrans, he soon became a bicycle commuter combining the Coaster train with his bicycle to make his 26 mile commute feasible and enjoyable.

During the past five years at Caltrans, Cutter put a lot of mileage into his old recreational bike and eventually upgraded to a commuter bike. Cutter said that this transformed him into a cyclist. As someone who is the point of contact for the cycling community and all the different facets of cycling, he wanted to be able to understand the different mindsets and different thought processes and different user types and philosophies in order to do his job more effectively.

We then began talking about the Bike Coordinator position at Caltrans. Cutter explained that in the San Diego/Imperial County region the Bike Coordinator position has been in existence for nearly forty years. The position arose after the Coronado Bay Bridge was built and opened to the public in 1969. This spurred the need to get bicycles back and forth between Coronado and San Diego . Back then there wasn’t a ferry running consistently, and there was a demand to get bicycle access across the San Diego Bay. This spurred one of the nation’s first bike racks on buses program. This program created the Bike Coordinator position at District 11.

Since that small step in accommodating bicycles several decades ago, Caltrans has since transformed itself in a rather remarkable manner. Despite the popular belief (that even I held) that Caltrans is all about freeways and the automobile, Cutter bristled at that assertion and was quick to correct me that Caltrans was on well on its way to implementing a Complete Streets program – a rather remarkable paradigm shift in the state agency’s transportation outlook.

Deputy Directive 64, which was signed by the then Caltrans Deputy Director, Randell H. Iwasaki, was a significant decision paper to implement state and federal laws to promote and facilitate increased bicycling and walking. The intent of the paper directed all Caltrans employees to “ensure that travelers of all ages and abilities [could] move safely and efficiently along and across a network of ‘complete streets’.”

Cutter then went on to describe that the directive didn’t spell out what a complete street was, but rather it spelled out the departmental paradigm shift from the automobile to all road users. To quote, Cutter, “we are valuing not just vehicles, we are valuing all users in the transportation system”.

Deputy Directive 64 spelled out the responsibilities of departmental employees in order to treat all users in the transportation network on an equal footing. This directive also called for the Complete Streets Implementation Action Plan.

This Implementation Action Plan has a matrix of different tasks that specify what people from headquarters all the way down to the district level are supposed to be doing. This includes an update to the Highway Design Manual, the policy document that is used as a guide by roadway engineers on everything from striping bike lanes to determining the
optimal width of a road. The goal is to include design guidelines so that they are defensible and that engineers can implement the guidelines without fear of lawsuits.

I then asked Cutter what he enjoyed most about cycling and what makes him ride more now than he did in the past. His response revealed his love for moving on two wheels. Cutter described that the healthy and self-powered components were the biggest draw. He went on to state,

“Just being out in the elements and being able to look around and feel the wind…that’s just really gratifying.”

He described that his environmental conscience makes him aware that he doesn’t need to drive to commute. He has learned that bicycling makes his commute a lot more stress-free. He has grown to learn that bicyclists as a whole are very friendly and often greet him and start conversations while riding alongside. Besides riding, Cutter also surfs and he said,

“I integrated my bike into my surf commute now, so after I get out of the water and [while] riding back from my surf…I have this feeling just like euphoria. And that’s pretty cool”

I thank Seth Cutter for taking the time from his busy schedule to talk to me about all things bike and Caltrans related. We spoke at length about the SR-15 bike path, but that discussion warrants its own post and I will post the details of that conversation at a later date.

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