keep Sacramento N St narrowed

Note: As is not unusual, I had forgotten that I’d written about N St before: N Street bike route to cycle track, 2015. Seven years have passed, the city has taken no action.

The construction for the Capitol annex project has narrowed N St to two lanes eastbound, from 10th St to 14th St, and parking has been removed from the south side to shift the lanes over. Now is the time for the City of Sacramento to implement its long-delayed (if not deep-sixed) plans for re-allocating space on N St. There have been ongoing utility projects over the last few years that have narrowed N St to two or even just one lane. At no time did that create significant congestion, during the pandemic or before the pandemic. I live two blocks from N St, and both travel along it and cross it frequently. I’ve never seen more than momentary congestion, in 11 years. What that means is that N St, in its three-lane configuration, has grossly excess capacity for motor vehicles.

While the street has been narrowed is the time to redesign the street so that it has no more than two general purpose lanes, and has a curb-protected or parking-protected bikeway. Probably on the left. This is in fact the perfect setting for a separated bikeway, five blocks from 10th St to 15th St with no intersecting streets from the north side, which is Capitol Park.

It is true that the sidewalk on the north side of N St is a designated bikeway, so bicyclists may use the sidewalk to avoid riding in the street. But bicyclists on the sidewalk are often in conflict with people walking on the sidewalk. The sidewalk has pretty continuous use by walkers, particularly during the lunch time – walk time for state workers, but a lot of people also include a circuit of the Capitol Park on their runs and walks. This conflict is easy to solve: create a safe, welcoming, protected (separated) bikeway on the street. And do it now!

On N St eastbound, the leftmost lane is a designated left turn lane at 10th St, which is what makes possible the two-lane configuration beyond 10th St. As a temporary measure, this works well, and forcing turns off three lane streets is a good solution for so many overbuilt arterials roads in Sacramento, but here it is only temporary, and would be obviated by the conversion of all of N St from 3rd St to 15th St. N St becomes a two-lane street at 15th St, and then becomes a two-way street at 21st St. N St from 15th St to 21 St would probably be a good candidate for a separated bikeway as well, but with paint bike lanes existing, would be a lower priority.

Below is a StreetMix sketch of what N St might look like. Note that the width of the street and the elements are estimated, not measured. I don’t believe parking is needed on both sides, but the diagram shows it for people who think it is necessary. Left side is north, Capitol Park in this case, and right side is south, mostly state buildings.

N St Sacramento between 3rd St and 15th St

As a reminder, I feel strongly, and it is backed up by evidence:

  1. Three-lane streets are significantly less safe than two-lane streets, primarily for the muli-lane threat (one vehicle stops for walkers and the others do not). They are also a clear sign of poor land use planning, which puts residents and the things they need to reach (jobs, stores, recreation and entertainment, medical, etc.) far away. Narrowing all such roadways in the city from three to two, or less, would increase safety, increase livability, and encourage people to make different choices about where they live and visit. Maps of collisions (vehicle vs. vehicle, vehicle vs. walker, vehicle vs. bicyclist) align almost perfectly with overbuilt arterials.
  2. One-way streets are significantly less safe than two-way streets, for the same multi-lane threat, and because there isn’t any friction to slow drivers. However, I think that the only valid argument for one-way streets is to accommodate separated bikeways, bus lanes, or rail transit. That may be true of N St.

And, sorry, can’t resist, get rid of the worthless palm trees while they are at it. We need shade trees, not poles.

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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