Sacramento has stalled

Jim Brown wrote recently in the Sacramento Bee about underfunding for the city’s contractor to develop a new bike plan, and the plateauing of progress on bike mode share in the city. Please read! However, the issues go well beyond bicycling. Sacramento has stalled, period. We are no longer making forward progress towards livability.

There are three additional major issues, as I see them:

  1. Our public transportation system (SacRT) is woefully underfunded, and despite a lot of discussions recently about how to improve the system, not one of our political leaders seems to have the courage to state the obvious, that we cannot have a successful and efficient system unless we devote more tax revenue to it. Putting bandaids on the system will not make a significant difference. Sacramento needs to fund SacRT at a level comparable to other cities of our size, which means tripling our tax base.
  2. Sacramento is not becoming more pedestrian friendly, in fact it seems to me to be becoming less so. There is an almost universal failure among drivers to recognize the rights of pedestrians to cross the roadway (CVC 21950). I find that almost no drivers yield to me when I am walking. Apparently the Sacramento Police Department accepts this situation, because so far as I know they make no effort to enforce the law. I have never seen someone pulled over for failing to yield to a pedestrian, and in fact I’ve had several SacPD officers fail to yield to me. Pedestrians, not bicyclists, are the indicator species for our city, and until we treat people walking as the highest form of transportation, we will never be anything but a sad city. [As an addendum to this, Chris Morfas reminded me that the conversion of one-ways streets to two-way streets has also stalled. The city made a decision to start these conversions years ago, and then lost courage. Nothing has happened on this critical change in years.]
  3. The city is going to focus much of its attention on Natomas, now that the building moratorium has been removed. I think that no effort and no money should be spent there until the city develops a new vision for Natomas. The sprawl suburbs are a dead end, and we should not be spending any money on them until we have a plan for how to make them financial viable and livable. Meanwhile, the two truly needy parts of the city, South Sacramento and North Sacramento/South Natomas, are neglected. These are the areas where the most people are walking, bicycling, and using public transit, but yet the city continues to throw money at the “rich” areas that it hopes will provide sales tax and property tax revenue to save the city from its debt problem. The fact is, however, that it always costs more in infrastructure to support new developments than they ever generate in sales and property taxes. It is the small businesses in South and North Sacramento that actually support this city.

There is also much to celebrate in Sacramento. I live in midtown, and I am so impressed with the new development happening, with the richness of opportunity here, and even impressed with the improvements to bicycle facilities that have happened. But most of this is driven by economics, and will happen with or without the help of the city. What won’t happen without the help of the city is livability in South and North Sacramento. Indeed, to say something controversial, I think the city needs to pay way less attention to downtown/midtown, and much more to the neglected areas north and south. I am not saying that every area of the city can be saved – we will have to prioritize and triage – but to keep acting as though downtown/midtown are the whole of Sacramento indicates a complete lack of leadership on the part of the city council.

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