NACTO downtown streets

There are a few streets in Sacramento which are wide enough to host many activities and modes of travel, with reallocation of the roadway width to meet a new vision of a livable, walkable city. Two NACTO diagrams are below. The first, a downtown one-way street, is interesting to me because it shows a better use of space without having to change from one-way to two-way. I have always been opposed to one-way multiple lane streets because they present the multi-lane threat to people crossing the street, when one driver stops but others do not. This is one of the most common causes of fatalities for walkers, and why it must be eliminated. However, if the design is changed, the street becomes much safer, and the multi-lane threat is reduced or eliminated. Check the NACTO page for an alternate design.

diagram of NACTO downtown one-way street
NACTO downtown one-way street

I believe there should be high frequency bus service on J Street from 5th St to the university, and if J Street remains one-way, paired service on L St. This diagram would be a great model. Current service is 15-minute frequency on part of the route, but only 30-minute on part. Service should be at least 10-minute, maybe even more frequent. This would be a good design for that service and for those streets. Yes, L Street is not continuous, due to a broken street grid, so either H Street or Folsom Blvd could be used to connect.

Other streets that might remain one-way, but only with redesign, include the 9th-10th couplet, 15th-16th couplet, 19th-21st couplet, and P-Q couplet. The W-X couplet that bounds the Hwy 50 freeway would have to remain one-way due to freeway onramps and off ramps, but must be narrowed significantly. It is nothing but a traffic sewer as currently designed, and the motor vehicle capacity of the street is completely unneeded, even during rush hours.

Suburban Arterials?

Unlike the central city and streetcar suburbs of Sacramento, where streets had to be right-sized in recognition of the high value of land for business and housing, the suburban areas of the city were designed for a time when land was seen as cheap, high-speed travel was valued above other values, and low density development was heavily subsidized, not just by these roads, but in many other ways. All of the arterial roadways in the suburbs were either highways to destinations, like Stockton Blvd, that were later modified and widened to fit suburban needs, or were designed as high-volume, high-speed roadways. There is nothing wrong with high-volume, high-speed roadways if they connect places, but no sooner were these roads built than businesses and driveways and intersections popped up to create congestion and greatly increase danger. These are stroads. Strong Towns has this to say about stroads: ” ‘Stroad’ is a word we coined in 2013 to explain those dangerous, multi-laned thoroughfares you encounter in nearly every city, town, and suburb in America. They’re what happens when a street (a place where people interact with businesses and residences, and where wealth is produced) gets combined with a road (a high-speed route between productive places).”

It is much less clear to me what we should do with these roadways that don’t function well for anyone. Almost all of the high injury corridors in Sacramento are stroads. Their design must be changed. The most important change would be to reduce general purpose lanes from three to two each direction, which alone would make the roads significantly safer. The space can be reallocated to parking, where it is needed and not present, to separated bikeways, to planting strips, to wider sidewalks, and in some cases to private lands on which buildings could be added fronting the street rather than wide expanses of parking. Take a walk or bike ride along any of these roads, and you will see opportunities for making them better. But I haven’t so far seen a design that works great for these roads. I encourage you to browse through the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide Streets section and see what you think might work best.

4 thoughts on “NACTO downtown streets

  1. I too have been looking for a magic bullet for our stroads for awhile, and also have not found one. Some of the corridors no longer (need to) have their “road” function (Freeport, Folsom, and Stockton Blvds) and could be converted to lower speed streets in their more urbanized sections.

    But the road-ness of many others (Fruitridge, Florin, Power Inn, Truxel, etc…) seems inescapable. Many carry a lot of freight traffic. They are choked with traffic at rush hour, and empty (except for that guy going 90 mph!) at night. The intersections are not safely crossable on foot. They are like this one:

    Maybe the first step is admitting that there’s no good solution, and as the article says, try to strengthen the neighborhoods and their local walk/bike connections to schools, shopping, and transit. But it can become circular… how do you walk across the stroad to school?


    • You, and Chuck, may be right, that these stroads will die of their own accord, and should. But as you point out, what if you can’t cross the stroad to school, or to the grocery store? What about the people who live there now? Over time, many of these neighborhoods will empty out, as many are already doing, because really no one wants to live there, but in the meanwhile… I don’t know.


      • One thing I have been doing is looking at how other countries have addressed this problem in a suburban context. There are various methods, but they all separate cars from bikers and walkers (and often bikers from walkers). There are horrible malls in suburban France, but the through road bypasses the parking access (so can be narrower, safer, more crossable, and also more pleasant for drivers) and there are real “local streets” within the parking zone. This is a much more urbanizable pattern and it seems that most of our newer shopping centers are trending this way also. (Of course the street grid internal to the development varies in quality, is often a mere glorified parking aisle, but you can see a street if you squint hard.) Perhaps our error is to expect people to walk and bike on the edge of the main road, and cross at giant intersections.

        After writing that, I see that this is “just” the stroad->road conversion path, as opposed to the stroad->street route. That said, it seems feasible along a lot of these corridors to create at least a separated walking and bike facility, and begin removing access from the roads as properties redevelop.

        Access to the shopping center stores and parking should be provided from local access streets–perhaps a frontage street to start with, and the parking field could be divided into internal blocks which would initially contain just parking but could then be built up over time. This would require that someone enforce some kind of rules about the local access streets when the redevelopment is planned. Some walk/bike connectivity to the neighborhood “behind” the commercial strip should also be a priority.


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