reallocate N St to a separated bikeway

Note: Added information on proposed streetcar alignment below.

N Street in downtown Sacramento, from 3rd Street to 15th Street, is a three lane street with parking on both sides. There are no bicycle facilities. For part of the stretch, from 8th Street to 15th St, the sidewalk on the north side is a designated bike route, and is signed as such. Currently, this route alongside Capitol Park is closed due to annex construction, and not alternative has been provided. The city has made the choice to offer nearly unlimited capacity for motor vehicle drivers, but to dump walkers and bicyclists onto the same sidewalk. Some of the time this sharing works, but not when it is at all busy with either walkers or bicyclists.

N Street does not need, and has never needed, three motor vehicle lanes. Since the pandemic, the street is empty most of the day, with very short periods of heavier traffic, but it is never congested. Even before the pandemic, there was only about 20 minutes a weekday when the street could have, perhaps, be considered congested. Frequent construction projects, both before and during the pandemic, have narrowed N Street from three lanes to two, and even to one for shorter periods of time. When there was one lane, traffic was slow (a good thing!) but never really backed up.

The gallery of photos below was taken today, admittedly mid-day when there is almost no traffic at all, but ‘rush hour’ would not look much different. Motor vehicle traffic has come back to pre-pandemic levels on some city streets, but has not on N Street, and it is very unlikely that it ever will.

How should N Street right-of-way be reallocated? By installation of a parking protected separated bikeway on the north (left) side of the street, from 3rd Street to 15th Street. Separated bikeway is the official term, though protected bike lane or cycletrack are common alternative terms. Though in general left side or right side each have advantages and disadvantages, in this case left side (north side) works best because the of long stretch free of driveways on the Capitol Park side, from 10th Street to 15th Street.

Sacramento already has parking protected separated bikeways on P Street, Q Street, 10th Street, and J Street, though J Street in particular is a weak implementation. The NACTO diagram shows a high quality parking protected separated bikeway with a concrete curb, which retains all the benefits and safety even when there are no parked cars. For sections with driveways, protection with vertical delineators may be appropriate.

NACTO diagram one-way cycletrack with curb

The number of driveways in each block between intersections is:

  • 3rd-4th: one, parking garage
  • 4th-5th: zero
  • 5th-7th: two, parking garage, gated driveway
  • 7th-8th: zero
  • 8th-9th: one
  • 9th-10th: two, rarely used
  • 10th-15th: none

The advantages of this reallocation:

  • greatly reduces conflict between walkers and bicyclists on the north sidewalk between 8th St and 15th St
  • provides a safe east-west bicycle route
  • reallocates unneeded roadway width from motor vehicles to bicyclists

The city’s Central City Mobility Project will add 62 blocks of separated bikeways to the downtown area. All of these projects are great. But N Street is not among them. The lane reduction on I St, shown in purple, is particularly great. N Street would benefit from the same. Lane reductions not only slow motor vehicle traffic, but can shorten crossing distances for people walking. Three (or more) lanes in a direction are never safe, and never appropriate in an urban area. All of the three lane roadways in the city should be reallocated to other uses, and reduced to two lanes.

These type of projects are often called road diets, but I don’t like that term. The road is not on a diet, it is just being reallocated from unnecessary or unwanted motor vehicle capacity to more useful purposes such as walking, bicycling, or dining.

Streetcar on N

I had forgotten about the latest proposed streetcar alignment, which would run as double-track on N Street between 3rd Street and 7th/8th Street, connecting with existing light rail tracks on 7th and 8th. This is not a final decision, and environmental documents based on the earlier alignment must be revised and submitted again. Nevertheless, this should be considered in designing N Street. If N Street does not become a major west to east bicyclist route, then J Street should be considered. The distance between Q Street and H Street is simply too great a distance without a major facility. H Street has major gaps and flaws as a major bikeway, anyway.

Proposed streetcar alignment

Sacramento Downtown Riverfront Streetcar Project:

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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