Grids are Good

This post was inspired by one on Strong Towns: Grids are Good. I’ve written about grids before (re-gridding Sacramento, trenching and decking Interstate 5, Sacramento Riverfront Reconnection, Phase 1) but it is a topic worth repeating.

The Sacramento central city is a complete grid, and so are some areas to the east and south of the central city, but the grid is broken by Hwy 50 to the south and Business 80 (Capitol City Freeway) to the east. The further from the central city one gets, the less likely there is to be a grid. Often major arterials still are on a grid, but not always, even some of them are broken. All of the freeways limit crossings. Local streets that used to go through do not. In general, the lower the income of the neighborhood, the fewer streets are carried through by underpasses or overpasses. This was an intentional design by Caltrans, intended to break up lower income neighborhoods and to isolate them from higher income neighborhoods. The principles of redlining were not just about home loans.

In a region with two major rivers, the American and Sacramento, the grid will of course be limited. However, I will point out that the Sacramento region has three bridges across the Sacramento and nine bridges across the American. Portland, a city of similar population but a bit less sprawling, has 12 bridges over just one river, the Willamette.

I worked for several years in the City of Citrus Heights. The saying was ‘it doesn’t go through’. Very few streets are through streets, and there is really nothing resembling a grid at all. This is not an accident, it was an intentional design decision by the county and developers to create street system that didn’t connect, because it was thought to provide a feeling of ruralness, of a peaceful suburb. Of course to get anywhere, everyone has to drive everywhere, so every street has too much traffic, and the major roads are congested much of the time. Ironically, the one remaining historically rural/agricultural part of the county, Orangevale, has a better street grid that any other suburb in the county.

Railroads also break up the grid. In many cases, though, the railroad alignments predate most of the development.

The lack of a grid is why our transportation system does not work well, why our transit system does not work well. Though there are opportunities here and there to reconnect or create a grid, the lack of a grid is something we will have to live with, forever, or at least until the ungridded suburbs die of their own weight (meaning not enough tax income to sustain them).

This is a superficial analysis. I would like like to get more specific about locations where the roadways network was intentionally broken or designed to be broken, and where the grid could be healed.

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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