improving 15th & Q

I live in downtown Sacramento, and walk through the 15th Street & Q Street intersection almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day. On the southeast corner is my favorite coffee shop, Naked Lounge (I drink tea, not coffee, but they have a good selection). I often sit outside watching people and traffic, so I am very familiar with this intersection. Fremont Park is on the northeast corner, and again, I walk through the park pretty much every day. Let me say up front that this is not a high injury intersection that must be fixed soon. There are so many more dangerous intersections in the city to address first, and so many locations where poor engineering and disinvestment and discrimination has left walkers and bicyclists at great risk. But I can start here because I think about it so much.

A photo of the intersection. The trees on the northwest corner obscure the corner and part of what I’m going to talk about. The sidewalk, curb, ramps, and parking on the southwest corner are all new, as this was reconstructed along with the 1430Q apartments and ground floor retail. The other corners have not changed recently. 15th Street is a three-lane one-way street (it should be reduced to two lanes and bike facilities added), and Q Street is a two-lane one-way street with bike lane on the left side. The northwest, northeast, and southeast corners have small radii, meaning tight corners. The southwest has a high radii corner, meaning loose corners. This is new.

15th Street & Q Street, Sacramento

The wide radius corner on the southwest must have been someone’s idea of necessary for trucks turning from Q Street eastbound onto 15th Street southbound. But notice the northeast corner, which is just as likely to have such turning movements, has a small radius corner, and I’ve never seen a problem with trucks turning there.

Three of the corners do not have curb extensions. On the southwest corner, there is a curb and sidewalk extension along 15th Street, running about half way to the alley. Curb extensions (also called bulbouts) extend the curb and sidewalk out over the parking lane, slow drivers due to perceived friction, and shorten crossing distances for people walking. They are a known and frequently implemented safety solution. You can see curb extensions at a number of locations in the central city, though strangely, only about half the reconstructions install them. The extensions also create more sidewalk waiting or queueing space for walkers, important on busy pedestrians intersections such as this.

The southwest corner gets a lot of deliveries, both for the businesses below and the apartments above. The southeast corner has fewer deliveries. Delivery use should be considered in any change that is made at and near this intersection. On 15th Street, there are green 15 minute parking spots, one on the east, primarily for the coffee shop, and two on the west. On Q Street, there is one green spot on the south, along with about two white curb spots. There are no delivery (white curb) zones on the southeast corner. Green limited time parking and white commercial loading zone markings are relatively rare in Sacramento.

While having tea this afternoon, I saw a driver on 15th Street run a red light and almost collide with a Sacramento Fire Department truck turning from Q Street onto 15th Street. Lights, siren, loud horn, makes no difference to some drivers. I see a lot of close calls at this intersection, but have never witnessed a collision. A person sitting nearby mentioned that she works at another coffee shop on J Street, and sees collisons fairly regularly. Those who claim the solution to street safety is solely redesigning streets to slow traffic ignore that there are also drivers who won’t drive safely no matter what. There is nothing about street design that can prevent someone from running a red light, except of course not having a traffic signal there at all (too many traffic signals?).

To make this intersection safer for everyone (walkers, bicyclists, motorists), these changes could be implemented:

  • Paint high visibility crosswalks on the north and south legs of the intersection, similar to what the west and east legs already have. Sacramento is nearly unique in using these split crosswalk patterns, but they are probably as safe as any other high visibility pattern, which are often called Zebra crosswalks.
  • Create red curb offsets for each of the four corners, in the upstream direction. For 15th Street southbound, that means removing the last parking spot before the intersection on the west and east sides. For Q Street eastbound, that means removing the last parking spot before the intersection on the north and south sides. There is already an offset on the north side, and a small offset on the south, but it should be longer. You will notice in the photo above that there is a car stopped illegally in this area on the south side.
  • Immediately install temporary curb extensions on all corners. These extensions would fill the parking lane. Vertical delineators (posts or bollards) and paint (tan or purple is often used) set off this area. Why temporary? Temporary is low cost, and allows observation of how the installations are used by walkers, bicyclists, and drivers. The corner radius actually needed can be determined before any permanent installation.
  • Observe the temporary extensions, and then design permanent extensions with hard curbs and sidewalks. The permanent extensions must consider bike facilities on both Q Street and 15th Street. Q Street up through 14th St has a parking protected separated bikeway on the left side, and it is assumed that this will be continued to the east. 15th Street should have a parking protected separated bikeway on one side or the other, and the city will have to determine which side before installing permanent extensions. The curb and sidewalk extension on the west side of 15th Street south of Q Street may indicate the city has already made that decision, or it may be an oversight.

The photos below show crosswalks and offset locations for the intersection.

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