The I Street mess

Thank you, Elle, for reminding me in your “transportation ‘planning’ downtown” that I wanted to write about I Street. Note: If you are looking at Google Maps, it does not show the current lane configuration on I Street since the repaving and re-striping project of last fall, nor the realignment of tracks and work on extending 5th and 6th streets over the tracks.

I Street from the 4th Street crosswalk
I Street from the 4th Street crosswalk; I have the walk signal but this is still scary

I Street in Sacramento approaching the train station is a mess. Starting with the confusing floating bike lane between 7th and 6th streets (subject of a future post), the street becomes worse and worse: five lanes wide, high speed, and completely unfriendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. For pedestrians, the crossing on the east side of the I/5th intersection is uncomfortable because westbound traffic is already moving at high speed and often runs the red light, and right turning cars from I to 5th often do not yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. The west side is so unsafe due to traffic turning left off 5th Street, it is signed against pedestrian crossing, even though this is a logical walking route from downtown to the train station. A crosswalk has been added on the east side of the I/4th intersection, but it has the same challenges that drivers are moving too fast and often run the run light. When I used this new crosswalk, I was very concerned, and I have a much higher tolerance for danger than most people do.

The right-most two travel lanes lead to the high-speed northbound I-5 freeway onramp, so drivers passing 6th Street are already accelerating to freeway speeds, many times going 55 mph as they cross through the I/5th intersection. The next two lanes lead to a medium speed onramp to the I Street bridge over the Sacramento river, and to the southbound I-5 onramp. For pedestrians, the only way to go westbound towards Old Sacramento is to go through the parking lot for the train station and under the onramps along an ugly, dark, poorly marked pedestrian way.

onramp I Street
onramp I Street

For bicyclists, things are just as bad. If you are going to the train station, there is a bike lane fragment on the north side of I Street approaching 5th Street, but if you use it, you risk getting pinched against the curb by right-turning traffic, and it is an uncomfortable place to be in any case with drivers accelerating to freeway speeds in the adjacent lane. If you are trying to get to Old Sacramento, there are five lanes of traffic to cross to get into the left hand bike lane. But that isn’t where you want to be, you have to move back one lane to the right to continue to Old Sac in the lane that leads under the freeway and onto 2nd Street. If it is your first time, there is really no way to know which lane to be in, as the signing doesn’t make clear which lane leads to Old Sac, but even if you know which lane, it is a very uncomfortable place to be, with high speed traffic in the right two lanes, medium speed traffic in the middle two lanes, and confused people in all of the lanes. Most bicyclists would choose the poor pedestrian route mentioned previously.

reconnected the grid
reconnecting the grid

The city recognizes there is a problem here, but has not decided on a solution. The Urban Land Institute’s “Connecting the Depot District” report for Sacramento recommends several things:

  • Removing the northbound onramp to I-5. This is probably the most important recommendation of all, but is also the one that will take the longest to accomplish because it requires the cooperation of Caltrans, which usually drags its feet on anything which reduces the free flow of high speed traffic.
  • Placing a crosswalk on the west side of the I/5th Street intersection.
  • Building a new bridge across the Sacramento River to the north of the I Street bridge, thereby removing traffic from the upper level of the bridge, and thereby removing the need for the elevated viaducts, which could then be removed. Access to Jibboom Street would then probably be from the northern part of the railyards.
  • Improving the pedestrian route past the train station to 2nd Street in Old Sac.
  • Returning H Street, F Street (allowed by the new pedestrian tunnel), 3rd Street to the grid by extending them through the railyards. Returning 4th Street to the grid by re-opening it through or beneath the mall (not sure how this would be affected by the current arena proposal) and between J and I.
  • A number of other proposals, well worth reading. The report was written and presented at the time when the current arena location was the railyards, which is no longer true, but the recommendations make sense regardless of how the railyards are developed.

At the Connecting the Depot District presentation, city council seemed receptive to these ideas, however, it will likely take a great deal of political pressure on the city to decide to make these changes, prioritize them, and seek funding to carry them out.

Once I Street is no longer a freeway onramp, it can be returned to its logical purpose as a living street, with access to the the train station, to Old Sac, to the rail yards, and to downtown. The street can be narrowed back down to a maximum of three lanes (note that I’ve recently suggested changing all three-lane, one-way streets into two-lane, two-way streets). The one-way section of 5th Street between J and I Streets can be turned back into a two-way street, to match the sections north and south. I’m assuming this is already in mind, though I haven’t heard it mentioned. Pedestrians and bicyclists can then feel reasonably safe traveling on any of the grid of streets in the train station area of town. 5th and 6th streets to the north will be part of the grid, connecting the railyards and areas north into downtown.

2 thoughts on “The I Street mess

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