walking the streetcar route

K Street pedestrian plaza between 11th and 12th
K Street pedestrian plaza between 11th and 12th

Today I walked the route of the proposed Sacramento Riverfront Streetcar. No, this is not part of the argument about whether pedestrians or streetcars are faster, going around the Internet recently, but I just wanted to see it all from a walking viewpoint, not on my bicycle. There is a map of the probable route on the website above, though oddly it leaves out some streets.

I picked up the route at L and 16th, just two blocks from my home, and headed west between Capitol Park and the brutalist Community Center Theater. The route turns north on 13th Street and apparently goes through the pedestrian plaza over to 12th where is would then use the SacRT light rail tracks (light rail would be routed to the north along H Street). The further west on K Street, the more depressing things are, with most buildings not only empty but abandoned. But, this is part of the reason for the streetcar, to support the economic redevelopment of this area. At 6th it heads north along the existing light rail tracks to H, and then west to Sacramento Valley Station (Amtrak).

The current light rail tracks end here, and it is not clear to me how the streetcar will get to 3rd Street. The onramps for I-5 northbound, I Street Bridge, and I-5 southbound all cross the route here. The northbound onramp is a monolith of concrete and girders, and while there is room for the streetcar, I’m not so sure there is room for the overhead catenary wires. Cars are accelerating to freeway speeds on the I Street and I-5 southbound ramps (though for I-5 southbound they have to slow suddenly again for a 20mph posted turn). Something would need to change here for the streetcar to have a safe and reasonable crossing. When the new Sacramento River Bridge is completed from C Street in West Sacramento to Richards Blvd in the rail yards, some or all of these ramps will disappear, but that bridge is years away. The route then head south on 3rd, which is as unwalkable as any place in Sacramento. It is too bad that the streetcar must traverse this useless street, but there isn’t any other clear route from the north side of Sacramento Valley Station to the Tower Bridge unless it were through Old Sacramento.

The tracks will run across the Tower Bridge and into West Sacramento. Of course Raley Field is a significant destination, and the streetcar would would appeal to many Rivercats fans. On the north side is the new Capitol Yards apartment complex which has just opened its first residences. The route heads under the railroad tracks and on to West Capitol Avenue. The north side is old highways motels and the south is the mysterious old El Rancho style motel complex, now a the Dharma Realm Buddhist Assocation. The Yolobus transit center is next, though I’m not sure if the route ends here at the Community Center or in front of City Hall.

I walked back over the I Street Bridge, just because I hadn’t done so in a while. It is a toss up whether the walk from the bridge back into Sacramento is more or less unpleasant than 3rd Street, but since they are right next to each other and they were created by the freeway travesty, it makes little difference. I’ve said before that the I-5 freeway that slices Sacramento apart needs to be gone, taken back to two lanes each way and buried. Freeways are some of the most unpleasant environments that engineers ever create, no necessarily for the car drivers, but for everyone else and for the life of the city.

Heading south past Sacramento Valley Station, the streetcar would go on 7th Street to K Street, and here is the biggest ride generator of all, at least during events, the new arena. Though I hope that people attending games and other events will leave their cars at home and ride light rail, what is more likely is that they will park further away and use the streetcar to get to and from the arena.

At 11th and K, the streetcar heads north to J Street, and then east to 19th, past the convention center and Memorial Auditorium. This is not the vibrant part of J Street, which lies further east, but the streetcar may bring it back to life. At 19th the route heads south to L, and then west, completing the loop.

Though the streetcar supporters and planners hope that the streetcar serves both economic development and transportation ends. The phrase that has been used is “pedestrian extender,” allowing people to take medium trips of a length that they would not normally walk. But economic development is really the prime driver. I suspect that it will be pretty successful in that, though it may take a while. The Seattle Streetcar South Lake Union line, which opened in 2007, was little used and seemed unsuccessful initially, but now the line is heavily used and the area along the line is booming with construction and reconstruction. The Sacramento streetcar may similarly take a while to gain riders and change the area around it, but I think it will. The Portland Streetcar, which opened in 2001, has been credited in part with the revival of the Pearl District, a rundown warehouse district. The system has been extended several times, and is close to opening the Tilikum Crossing over the Willamette River that will create a closed loop system. I have less experience with the Portland system, but again I think it took a while to gain traction and really start making a difference. It certainly does now!

I hope to post in a few days about the financing of the Sacramento Riverfront Streetcar.

Photos from my walk are on Flickr at Sacramento Ramblings 2015 and West Sacramento, though both of these are general albums that will end up with a lot of other photos over time.

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