Walkable City

Sacramento Press is sponsoring a live chat with Jeff Speck, the author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step At A Time. The live chat is tomorrow, January 3, at 12:30PM. The offline chat is already going on, if you want to check it out. I am currently reading the book, in the Kindle version, but am only part way through.

Many of the online comments so far have focused on creating a livable city, and it is wonderful to see so many positive ideas and accurate identification of challenges. Intelligent conversation like this is rare in the Sacramento news blogs. I’ll make some comments specifically on the walkability safety aspects. I’ve written about this before, but it is worth writing about again and again, because the problems still exist.

Traffic sewers: Multiple lane and one way streets are traffic sewers. This epithet is used to describe streets designed to flush traffic in and out of employment centers (and to homes in the suburbs) twice a day. They serve no other reasonable purpose, and they make a place very much less walkable. Three (or more) lane roadways are incompatible with walkability. They encourage high speed traffic, and provide too long a crossing distance to pedestrians to be comfortable with. They don’t meet the “8-80” criteria, of being safe and comfortable for people of all ages.Solutions:

  1. Therefore, I think that all three-lane roadways in Sacramento must be narrowed to two lanes. If a true refuge median is provided between two directions of travel, at least three feet wide, so that a person can cross each direction of traffic separately, then roadways with a total of four lanes are acceptable. If not, then only a total of two lanes. Six lane or more roadways, common in the northern and southern suburbs of the City of Sacramento, are not acceptable.
  2. One way streets also encourage high speed travel. I think that all of our one way streets should be converted to two way streets. This can be done over time as streets are repaved, it is not as high a priority as the narrowing of streets, above.

If these two ideas were implemented, it would be inconvenient for the state and other workers to get to and from downtown every day. That is exactly my purpose. I want it to be expensive and inconvenient to lead the lifestyle that lives in the suburbs and works downtown. If it is expensive and inconvenient, they will consider two ideas that they currently needn’t consider: living closer to where they work, and using public transportation. They will no doubt complain that they are being treated unfairly, and that this is social engineering, but remember that the very existence of the suburbs is a huge act of social engineering, and was made possible by the (continuing) diversion of tax revenues from urban areas to suburban areas.

Speed: Speed kills. Simple as that. The graph below shows why. Solution:

1. Lower speed limits to 20 mph in residential and business districts. Lower speed limits to to 30 mph in other urban and suburban areas. Again, there will be complaints that this is unfair to people who work downtown, and to people who live in the suburbs. What I find unfair is that pedestrians (and bicyclists) have to risk their lives simply to live in the place where they live.


Crosswalk safety: It is not safe to cross roadways in Sacramento. It varies from somewhat unsafe in the central city (downtown, midtown, and some of east Sacramento) to “taking your life in your hands” unsafe in the remainder of Sacramento. If it isn’t safe, or doesn’t feel safe, people won’t walk. Part of the reason is high speed traffic, which is addressed in the two sections above.

The main reason is failure to yield. The law states (CVC 21950): The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter. But this rarely happens. During my brief time in Sacramento, this has actually gotten worse rather than better. When I first came, many motor vehicle drivers yielded, but now very few do. More do in the central city, almost none in the suburbs. Solutions:

  • 1. Enforce the crosswalk law, and keep enforcing it until community behavior changes. It will be argued that law enforcement is understaffed and this would cost too much. I would counter that we invest in what we think is important, and there are a large number of less important things we spend money on. Isn’t fighting violent crime more important? No, because failure to yield is a violent crime. It will, as it has, result in the violent injury and death of pedestrians. Society seems to think that killing someone with a gun is bad (well, at least part of our society does), but killing them with a motor vehicle, is an “accident”, acceptable collateral damage to the important goal of getting somewhere a few seconds sooner. I don’t think so.
  • 2. Correct law enforcement attitude and behavior behind the “jaywalking” concept. Many law enforcement people seem to think that pedestrians are an inconvenience and hazard on the roadway. Any time the subject of pedestrian safety comes up, they immediately jump to complaints about jaywalking pedestrians, implying that most if not all collisions involving pedestrians are the fault of the pedestrian.
  • The word “jaywalking” does not exist in the California vehicle code. It was a word invented by motor vehicles promotion groups including auto manufacturers and the automobile clubs, and it is perpetuated by law enforcement.
  • It is completely legal to cross any roadway (except freeways or when specifically signed) at any location, except between two intersections that are controlled by traffic signals, and in a way which impedes traffic. Streets once belonged to people and not motor vehicles, and we can make it that way again.
  • Even when pedestrians are crossing a street “illegally”, the result should not be a death sentence imposed by motor vehicle drivers. We need to build a transportation system that is forgiving enough that it doesn’t kill people who make mistakes.

If all of the ideas above were implemented, we could nearly eliminate pedestrian (and bicyclist) fatalities, and greatly reduce injuries. That would be a great contribution to a walkable city.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. One of the commenters on Sacramento Press had a link to http://www.caactivecommunities.org/htn-safety-info/safer-streets-sidewalks-trails/success-stories-sacramentos-pedestrian-friendly-street-standards/. I haven’t lived here long enough to comment on whether there has been an on-the-ground improvement since the policy. And of course this is the City of… and not the county and other cities in the county.

  2. […] Can Save America, One Step at a Time, William Burg, and host Jared Goyette, which I advertised yesterday. I enjoyed hearing from both Speck and Burg. Burg is sort of the historian laureate of Sacramento, […]

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About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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