Several Sacramento area people have referenced the article “12 Strategies That Will Transform Your City’s Downtown” on the UrbanScale blog by John Karras. I’d like to look a little more closely at some of the strategies. If you have information or thoughts about any of these, please contribute.
#1 Turn one-way streets into two-way streets. Sacramento, and specifically downtown/midtown, has most of the one-way streets in the region. The city does have a policy to convert some of these streets, but the effort stalled, and no one seems to know why or be willing to admit why. Several streets have been resurfaced recently without being converted, though this would be the perfect time to do it. These include H, I, 9th, and 10th. There are some costs to conversion, turning signals around or installing new signals in some cases, the the reward in walkability and retail success is worth it. The post says “One-way streets are great if your only goal is to channel traffic through your downtown, but they are bad for pedestrian activity and retail opportunities. Two-way streets create a more comfortable pedestrian environment and have been shown to increase property values.” J Street in Sacramento is a classic example of how one-way streets reduce retail business. All those thousands of cars streaming by the most dense retail street in the region, and only small bubbles of successful retail to show for it. I’m glad Karras has this one on the top, because it is one of my strongest desires, with many blog posts: Two-waying streets in SF, New bike lanes, diets and sharrows downtown, street changes, more on conversion to two-way streets, and Choosing streets to walk.
#3 Create more land for development. Freeway removal and decking are specifically mentioned as ways of regaining developable land in downtown areas. I’ve written several times about shrinking and decking Interstate 5 through Sacramento, which would gain a huge area of land in a critical part of town (and well as immensely improving connectivity and livability), in Sacramento Riverfront Reconnection, Phase 1, I Street into Old Sacramento, re-gridding Sacramento, and and the freeways. Other freeways are candidates as well, including Highway 160, Business 80, and Highway 50.
#4 Make under-utilized public land available for private sector development. There empty or underutilized buildings throughout downtown that belong to the state and city. It is hard to get ownership information, so I can’t quantify how much, but certainly it is significant. I wrote a post on this issue, property taxes and blight.
#6 Create a permanent public market. There is a group working on this very issue in Sacramento, with information at http://sacramentopublicmarket.com and https://www.facebook.com/SacramentoPublicMarket. I don’t believe a location has been identified yet, though the rail yards have been talked about.
#7 Open a downtown satellite campus of a local university. Several universities have small classroom facilities scattered around downtown, but the only real university campus, of sorts, is Drexel University, on Capitol Mall near the Tower Bridge. West Sacramento has a campus of Sacramento City College, which I understand is being enhanced.
#8 Build a streetcar line connecting your downtown to an adjacent urban neighborhood. This is probably the most active effort in Sacramento, a streetcar that would connect downtown (and the edge of midtown) to West Sacramento. The best information is on SACOG’s Riverfront Streetcar Project page. This project is just the first step – it extends only to the edge of the midtown urban neighborhood on the east end, and to the just developing urban neighborhood on the west end, and doesn’t reach the old streetcar inner-ring suburbs.
#9 Create an awesome downtown playground to make your downtown more kid-friendly and family-friendly. I’ve heard of nothing like this in Sacramento. Of the three kid-friendly play fountains that I’m aware of, at water plant on Jibboom Street, in Rose de Lima Park, and in Fremont Park, the first two have both been shut down. There are some small parks throughout downtown and midtown, but they are all seriously lacking in play equipment and structures, and none of them have anything innovative.
#10 Create a branded downtown entertainment district. The city has tried hard to create an entertainment district along K Street (“The Kay”), but it hasn’t worked yet. The real entertainment district in Sacramento, along 20th between J and L, developed organically without help from the city, but it is small and doesn’t really have a brand beyond “The Lavender District” which has little name recognition. Old Sacramento is sort of an entertainment district, but it lacks so many of the businesses that it would take to make a real one, and it largely shuts down at night except for special events.
#11 Establish maximum parking standards for new downtown developments, or at least remove minimum parking requirements for new buildings. Sacramento reformed its parking policies in 2012, removing minimum parking requirements for the central business district and making some improvements in other areas. The central business district covers only about 20% of the downtown/midtown area, so much of the area still has minimums, though they are lower than they were. No parking maximums were established. See Parking Regulations for more information.
#12 Set up a downtown bike share program. This is probably the second most active program in Sacramento. A lot of questions about locations, startup funding, and an ongoing business plan have not been pinned down yet, but it seems likely that Sacramento will have at least a small bike share within a few years. The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District has some info at http://www.airquality.org/bikeshare/MediaAdvisory20131014.shtml, and there have been a number of news articles in the media.