bike left turn Carlson Dr to H St

I was at a meeting last evening with transportation advocates when the subject of the turn left from Carlson Drive to H Street came up. Most people expressed discomfort about this turn, and most of the people were also experienced and skilled bicyclists. They felt that left turning motor vehicles, which go at the same time as left turning bicyclists, would encroach on the dashed green lane and hit bicyclists. They were also uncomfortable turning across the straight through lane, as they had seen people run this red light. This is a critical intersection and area for bicyclists, as it is one of four main routes onto and off the Sacramento State campus for bicyclists.

So today I went to take a look. I have not written about this intersection before, but two articles are of interest: SABA and City of Sacramento

So far as I know, this was the first use of green paint, and the first use of a bicycle signal head in the city. The installation was intended to be innovative, and it was, for its time, in Sacramento, but it hasn’t stood up to the test of time.

Here is what it looks like from above. As you can see, it is a complicated intersection with several features intended to ease and speed motor vehicles. The city attempted to make the intersection safer without really changing it at all, beyond the green paint. Green paint helps communicate, but it does not protect in any way, and it has no legal meaning under California Vehicle Code or city code.

Carlson Dr - H St intersection aerial
Carlson Dr – H St intersection aerial

The two photos below show the setting of the left turn. The bicycle lane on the right side of the street leads to a dashed (skip) green lane turning through the intersection. The bike lane stop line is somewhat in front of the motor vehicle stop line, and there is a button to trigger the bicycle signal. The bicycle signal face is mounted to the right of the motor vehicle signal face, and there are two, before the intersection and on the far side.

bicyclist pressing the button to trigger the bicycle signal
bicyclist pressing the button to trigger the bicycle signal
bicyclist turning left from Carlson to H St; bicycle signal face green
bicyclist turning left from Carlson to H St; bicycle signal face green

I was there at a low traffic (motor vehicles and bicyclists) time of day and was unable to capture a bicyclist and motor vehicle adjacent to each other on the turn.

I have to say that I was not uncomfortable with the left hand turn. I’m a strong bicyclist and good at anticipating and mitigating for driver misbehavior. But I’m not the person bicycle facilities should be designed and built for. They need to be comfortable and legible (understandable) for any bicyclist, of any age and skill level, including Sac State students who seem to be the majority of the bicyclists here. This left turn is not.

There has been only one reported bicyclist injury crashes at this intersection since the green paint was put in (as of December 2020), and one in the 6-1/2 years before, so it is not a high injury intersection. But intersections like this discourage bicyclists, and so fewer people are willing to bicycle here. The poor quality of most of the access points to the Sac State campus probably in large part explains why the school has a much lower bicycling rate than most universities.

I don’t have a ready solution for fixing this intersection so that it is safe and comfortable (low stress) for bicyclists. But I do believe it is the city’s responsibility to study it, design a safe and welcoming intersection, and install it.

Author: Dan Allison

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: