re-gridding Sacramento

J Street, from Old Sac - you can't get there from here!
J Street – you can’t get there from here! *

Traffic circulation, for everyone, is handicapped or prevented by an incomplete grid system in downtown and midtown Sacramento. Three recent posts have addressed this issue, I’m thinking about several more, and several posts over the last year were also on the same topic. So I created a new category for the Getting Around Sacramento blog, re-gridding Sacramento.

Re-gridding is an awkward phrase, but I haven’t come up with a better one yet, so I’ll use it for now.

What do I mean by re-gridding? Reconnecting all of the streets that have been severed over the years by freeways (Interstate 5, Interstate 80, Highway 50, and Business 80), and by developments such as the Downtown Plaza mall. Sometimes these interruptions are historical, such as Capitol Park, and sometimes they create a social good that outweighs the loss of circulation, but often it is otherwise. I could provide a long list of examples, but I’ll let it go at two for now so you get the idea: the Sacramento Convention Center broke K Street, once the main street of Sacramento, into two sections, and it is made hard for cars to get from one section to the other by the welter of one-way streets (fortunately, not so hard for bicyclists and pedestrians); Interstate 5 severed J, K, L and N streets, and therefore most of the connections between downtown and Old Sacramento. There are also parts of downtown/midtown that were never part of the grid, so far as I know, such as the rail yards. The city is creating a partial grid through the rail yards with the 5th and 6th street bridges north-south, and Railyards Blvd east-west.

If any street does not go through, there ought to be a compelling reason, and that reason should be compelling for everyone, not just for the convenience of some government agency or developer. In the suburbs of Sacramento, the defining characteristic of the street or “stroad” system is “it doesn’t go through” except for high-speed arterials spaced at a mile or half-mile intervals. That in my opinion is one the the biggest reasons the suburbs don’t work from a transportation perspective, and that is what I want to prevent and/or correct in downtown and midtown.

Not every “through” street needs to be through for every form of transportation. Some streets could have low-speed motor vehicle traffic. K Street would be a good example, if it were lower speed. A few streets could have transit but not private motor vehicles, a few could have just pedestrian and bicyclist access, and a few could have just pedestrian access. But the number of such streets would be small. I don’t say that because I’m in favor of cars, I think you all know that is not true, but because a rational and functional transportation system allows multi-modal access everywhere unless there is a good reason for restricting it.

So, re-gridding means recreating or creating a grid street system. Of course I’m not envisioning simply streets that go through, but streets that also:

  1. are two-way rather than one-way, always
  2. have only one lane of motor vehicle traffic in each direction, in most cases
  3. are constructed so as to enforce low speed limits, 25 mph maximum in downtown/midtown and 15 or 20 mph maximum in predominantly residential areas; in the interim before streets are reconstructed, traffic calming measures such as red light cameras, speed humps, curb extensions, and diversions can be used though they are not ultimate solutions
  4. have signals set for bicyclist speed (about 12-15 mph) rather than motor vehicle speed
  5. have the minimum number of stop signs and traffic signals necessary to function safely, which would mean removal of a significant portion of the ones existing
  6. have safe pedestrian crossings on all legs of every intersection, without exception

Streets should be designed and designated as bicycle boulevards / neighborhood greenways at an interval of one-quarter mile or better. Some streets may have facilities such as bike lanes and protected bikeways.

* More about the lead-in photo. This is taken from the end of J Street in Old Sacramento, looking east toward J Street in downtown. It is only one block away, but motor vehicles can’t get there, bicyclists can’t get there, and pedestrians can get there only by walking through the parking lot, along a narrow and unappealing walkway, and then crossing the dark, scary off-ramps from Interstate 5 north or south. The freeway support columns are classic ugly. They could have been placed north or south, but I suspect the design engineer was thumbing his nose at bicyclists and pedestrians, and ensuring that no one would question whether J Street ought to be a through street.

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