Who is out there driving?

There has been a lot of discussion Twitter the last week about drivers speeding on roads, just because they can, with the streets mostly empty. Agreement has come in from a wide variety of places, but there are also doubters, who say this is not happening. So, I decided to pay more attention to what is going on. These observations are from Sacramento central city, east Sacramento, and south of Broadway to Fruitridge Road, but mostly central city.

On three lane one-way streets, egregiously poor driver behavior is rampant. It is less common on two lane one-way streets, but still noticeable. It is pretty much absent on two-way streets.

I took some time to observe drivers on two three lane one-way streets in the central city, J Street, and 12th Street, both of which I know to have speeding problems when they are not congested. Both locations had signals every block. I suspect driver behavior would be much worse on sections without signals every block, but have not done observations yet.

On J Street, 38% of the drivers were doing something significantly unsafe or obnoxious. On 12th Street, it was 45%. This was Sunday afternoon. What, specifically, was I seeing?

  • drivers going more than 10 mph over the speed limit (limit is 25 mph on these two streets), sometimes well over
  • muscle cars revving up to high speed between signals and then braking hard for the signal (usually, sometimes they just blew the red light); what I mean by muscle cars is vehicles with a horsepower rating far more that would ever be needed in a city
  • vehicles with exhaust systems modified to be very loud, and which were being driven in a way so as to generate that noise
  • drivers making right or left hand turns, against red signals, without really slowing down

I do not have a radar gun, though it would probably be a good investment. But I have spent many hours at speed display signs calibrating my perceptions of vehicle speed to the what the sign says. There is a speed display sign on 12th Street between H Street and I Street. Though most drivers (the ones not mentioned above) were going no more than 25 mph, some were going up to 35 mph, accelerating in just that one block, and several drivers pegged the display, which means it blanks out the speed and displays a message such as ‘too fast’, which on this sign I think means over 35 mph. How fast would they have been going if the signals were not here?

You might have some hope that the police would enforce against this. Sorry to dash your hopes, but every single Sacramento Police Department vehicle I saw today was going well over the speed limit. Not just a little, and not responding to calls (no siren, no lights), but well over.

Of course the long-term solution to this is not enforcement, but reconfiguring roadways to eliminate ALL three lane (or more roads), and to convert most one-way roads to two-way. The city is working on some of that, but at a snail’s pace, as streets are being resurfaced. We need to accelerate this change, to keep all of us safe, today, during the pandemic, and beyond. Yes, I am even including drivers and their passengers in the ‘us’, as they are as much in danger from this behavior as walkers and bicyclists.

I know that there are also people out there driving for valid reasons, going to essential jobs, to medical care, to buy groceries (though a lot of them could be bicycling). The best thing we can do for those people is to remove the others.

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