J St bikeway

The J Street separated bikeway has problems, as has been highlighted by Streets are Better and many others. Separated bikeways are also called protected bike lanes and cycle-tracks, but in California the official term is separate bikeways.

The City of Sacramento placed a separated bikeway on J Street from 19th Street to 29th Street as part of a repaving and roadway reallocation project called the J Street Safety Project in 2018. This was the second such project in Sacramento, the first being portions of P and Q Street downtown, but it was the first in the heavy retail, parking, and traffic environment of J Street.

The theory of these parking-protected bikeways is that the row of parked cars protects bicyclists from moving cars, and this is true in the length of the block (but not at intersections, which are a separate issue), when there are parked cars. But some times of day there are not parked cars, and throughout the day as cars come and go (particularly on a retail corridor), protection is lacking.

It is true that bikeways don’t need strong protection from PARKed cars, but they do need protection from PARKing cars and delivery vehicles, and bikeway intrusion.

Vertical delineators and pavement markings were used to set off the bikeway, with a sign at the beginning of each block segment showing the new allocation. These vertical delineators are also called bollards and soft-hit posts, with soft-hit meaning that they won’t damage cars when drivers hit them. The first photo below shows the 27th to 28th section. It initially had 14 delineators place, but only three are remaining. The other blocks have fared a little bit better, but overall about half the delineators are gone. The second photo shows the 25th to 26th section sign that has been run over by a driver.

J Street bikeway, 27th to 28th section, missing delineators
J Street bikeway, damaged sign

Some of the vertical delineators are being run over by people parking, some by delivery vehicles parking on top of them, and some by drivers going down the bikeway itself. And probably some just for sport. I don’t know which of these causes are most common.

There are several solutions:

One: Put the delineators closer together so as to make it more obvious that vehicles are not supposed to cross them.

Two: Add bollards which either are, or at least look to be, more substantial. The photo below is from a somewhat different setting in Oakland, with more substantial bollards. Reading blogs and Twitter, these seem to be successful in some cities and some settings, but not in others.

bollards in Oakland

Three: More substantial separators such as planter boxes.

planter separated diagram from C40

Four: Partial hard curbs or medians. The photo shows a median at the start of a bikeway section. It reduces the number of signs flattened by drivers and signals to drivers that there is something different about this block.

bikeway with hard median start, FresnoCOG

Five: Continuous hard physical curb or median. It is hard to find good photos of these, probably because in the past they haven’t been seen as necessary. There are a lot of photos of hard medians adjacent to moving traffic, and adjacent to two-way cycle-tracks, and alongside raised bike lanes that are at or close to sidewalk level. But the graphic below gives the general idea.

Of course hard curbs or medians are more expensive, but last 20-30 years whereas delineators or bollards may need to be replaced every year, so I think they are a good investment.

A major issue with all separate bikeways is the presence of driveways. In fact streets with a high density of driveways should not have this design. Below at the blocks of the bikeway, with information about driveways.

19th3 drivewayspartially separated; driveways not changeable
20th3 driveways2 changeable driveways
21st1 drivewaydriveway not changeable
22nd2 driveways2 changeable driveways
23rdno driveways
24th2 driveways1 maybe changeable
25thno driveways
26thno driveways
27thno driveways
28th2 drivewayspartially separated; 1 driveway changeable

The changeable driveways will be the topic of a separate post, but the basic idea is that parking lots that have access to the alleyway do not need access to the main street, so in this case, parking lots with access to Jazz Alley do not need access to J Street.

My recommendations

  1. Place hard medians at the beginning of each block, to protect the signs, and better signify to drivers this is a different place. For the locations where there are bus stops (19th, 22nd, 25th, 27th, 28th), the median would be moved down the block a bit. Note that this is too high a frequency of bus stops, but that is an issue for another post.
  2. Place more substantial bollards, and at a closer spacing.
  3. Place a continuous hard median on one of the four blocks without driveways, the same width at the painted buffers present now. This would be a pilot to test the installation, determine costs, and document benefits. If the pilot is successful, the other three blocks with no driveways should receive the same treatment.
  4. Start negotiation between the city and the owners of parcels that are used solely as parking lots, to close J Street driveways and use Jazz Alley access. Some of these parcels will be redeveloped into more productive uses anyway, but that may take longer than desired.

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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