Note: I’ve updated this post to add some detail to the descriptions and photos to illustrate the treatments. I will be adding separate detailed posts on some of these treatments.
Following on my earlier posts about changing streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento, here are additional street changes that might be used in some places:
- Reduce speed limit: Reduce speed limits throughout downtown/midtown to 20 mph. Of course simply reducing speed limits does not ensure that actual speeds go down, unless other measures are taken. The removal of three-lane and one-way streets will help a great deal, since these are the streets that most encourage speeding. Other changes suggested below will also slow traffic. I think, however, that the primary change will be a change in attitude, in cultural values. Once a place becomes more livable, people will focus more on being there instead of going through there to somewhere else. I see the whole pace of life in downtown/midtown as being slower, living at the pace of a walker, or even the pace of a casual conversation, rather than at the unnatural pace of a motor vehicle.
- Speed humps: Consider speed humps or speed tables. In general, I feel that the presence of speed humps and tables is an admission that other calming measures have either not worked or not been tried. However, they may be necessary on some streets as some commuters try to game the system by using other streets on which they can speed. The photo shows a speed pillow on M Street in east Sacramento. These humps have cuts at a spacing which allows emergency vehicles (which have a wider wheel base than most motor vehicles) to pass through the hump rather than over it, and therefore are much preferred by the EMS system over traditional humps. Speed bumps are the sharp structures seen in parking lots, but are no longer legal on streets. Speed tables are longer structures with a flat surface in the middle, and sometimes have crosswalks on top.
- Bike boulevards: Designate a number of north-south and east-west streets as bike boulevards or neighborhood greenways. There should be a such a street every four to eight blocks. These streets should have a reduced number of stop signs and signals so as to provide a more continuous ride for bicyclists. However, their purpose is not solely to serve bicyclists but to provide streets on which everyone feels comfortable getting around at a slow, human-scale speed. These streets would have a 15 mph speed limit. In Sacramento, the closest street we have to a bike boulevard is M St in east Sacramento. Though no special treatments have been implemented, it is a low-volume street that is marked clearly with either “bike route” or sharrows in the proper locations.
- Diagonal parking: Change overly wide streets to narrower streets by converting parallel parking on one side to diagonal parking. This takes up more of the street width, creating friction and calming traffic. It also provides somewhat more parking, which may or may not be a good idea, depending on the nature of the particular street, but the narrowing is generally worthwhile even apart from the parking question. Of course the new parking should be reverse diagonal, and all of the existing traditional diagonal should be converted to reverse diagonal. Reverse means that cars back in rather than pull in forward, which is much safer on pulling out, particularly for bicyclists riding by. (look for a future post on diagonal parking, with photos)
- Boulevards: As an alternative to diagonal parking, some streets could receive wide, planted center medians. These are sometimes called boulevards or parkways, though unfortunately both of those words have been corrupted by use on high speed roadways. 21st and 22nd Streets north of H Street in midtown are examples, and there are others outside of downtown/midtown. The classic for Sacramento is T Street east of 39th Street. They are quite nice! They give a feeling of being in a rich neighborhood, even when they are not. I suspect that the right of way for these two streets is wider than others in the same neighborhood, though I’ve not measured them. It is a treatment that might not work on every street, or might require that parking be removed from one side, but is certainly worth consideration.
- Traffic circles: Add traffic circles along some prominent streets. Traffic circles only have a slight impact on traffic speed, and they do cause some discomfort for bicyclists because they narrow the street width at the intersection just where the bicyclist wants to have the full width. They are probably not appropriate for streets with bicycle lanes, rather for streets without. However, they do add a feeling of calmness and connection to the street that makes the entire street safer for bicyclists. The signing at traffic circles should be reduced or eliminated. There should be no more than two stop signs, never four, and in most cases there should only be two yield signs. True roundabouts, which never have stop signs and at which all entering streets yield to traffic already in the roundabout, must be quite a bit larger than traffic circles to function properly, and so require more right of way. Still, they may be appropriate in some places.
- Curb extensions: Add curb extensions/bulb-outs at all heavily used crosswalks. These both calm traffic and provide better inter-visibility between vehicles and pedestrians. This solution may not be as important once other changes calm traffic, but is still useful in some settings. An alternative to curb extensions is refuge medians, a median in the middle of the street that pedestrians can wait at while crossing the street. These are not my preferred solution, because they deflect traffic at intersections for the same bicyclist challenge as traffic circles, and they also imply that we have created a traffic situation in which a pedestrian would need to take refuge. Nevertheless, there are a number of these in midtown, and they work well there, and more could be considered.
- Crosswalk offsets: Paint red-curb offsets at all marked and unmarked crosswalks. The offset is about 20 feet in the direction of approaching traffic, and about 10 feet in the other. These offsets prevent parked cars from blocking inter-visibility between pedestrians and vehicle drivers, offering some of the same benefit as curb extensions/bulb-outs at a much lower cost. They do, of course, reduce parking spaces, by 4 to 12 spaces per intersection. Some of this can be made up through expanded diagonal parking, but as downtown/midtown becomes more walkable and bikeable, more people will choose not to own cars and will chose to get to their destinations in other ways, so less parking will be needed, even in the retail and entertainment centers.
- Mark crosswalks: Mark all moderately and heavily used crosswalks. At an intersection, if any crosswalks are marked (painted), all of them should be. While it may someday not be necessary to mark crosswalks at all, as pedestrians regain their rights to the roadway, in the meanwhile, marked crosswalks do seem to make drivers pay more attention. Crosswalks should be a high-visibility pattern with bars rather than lines, what are often called continental or zebra patterns.
- Diversion: Diversions are used in a number of places to change between one-way and two-way streets, however, they can also be used effectively to divert traffic off of a two-way street. The circumstance when this would be useful is when there is still too much traffic on a residential street despite implementation of other traffic-calming solutions.
- Enforce: Strictly enforce California Vehicle Code 21950, which defines the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians and vehicle drivers at crosswalks. In particular, this law should be enforced against right turning motor vehicles who do not yield to pedestrians. And yes, it should be enforced against bicyclists as well as motor vehicle drivers. I see crosswalks, whether painted or not, as sacred space that should never be encroached upon by a vehicle when in use.
- NOT Center Turn Lanes: One solution I’m not recommending is center turn lanes. Center turn lanes created when streets are converted from three lanes, or two very wide lanes, to two travel lanes do indeed calm traffic somewhat, and they do provide an easy way for motor vehicles to pass bicyclists on streets which do not have bicycle lanes. However, I think they are a inefficient use of street space for almost all streets. An exception would be a street that has a larger than normal number of driveways, and which actually has a large number of turning movements. The photo shows a center turn lane on S Street, but there are few driveways and almost no turning movements except at the intersections.
My purpose in suggesting all these changes is not to make the grid completely uniform. What I’m proposing merely trims off the excesses of a car-centered city design, and moves back towards the vibrant city that Sacramento was before the far suburbs sucked the life out. Streets should look and feel different. Different solutions will be used in a mix on different streets, and that is a good thing. Though these changes and others will encourage much more mixed use (retail, housing, employment and maybe education in the same building), variety is still the spice of life. Sameness is never a friend of livability.