streets are for people!

Part of an ongoing series of posts to support better streets in the City of Sacramento during their 2023 update of Street Design Standards. New standards must be innovative, safe, and equitable, and it will take strong citizen involvement and advocacy to make them so.

The streets we have are largely for cars and car parking. In this, I include trucks and delivery vehicles. Streets are only incidentally for walkers, bicyclists, economic vitality, and urban life. We know that our urban environment must change, to meet the challenge of climate change, but also to create a place where people thrive.

SPUR, a San Francisco Bay Area education and advocacy organization, has done as good a job as I’ve found so far with the words to describe where we are going and how to get there. Their Transportation page includes:

Our Goal: Make walking, biking, taking transit and carpooling the default options for getting around

SPUR’s Five-Year Priorities:

  • Improve the region’s transit network, and the institutions that run it, so that all people have fast, reliable access to their city and region.
  • Make it faster, easier, more dignified and less expensive to get around without a car.
  • Leverage transportation investments to build great neighborhoods and connect people to opportunity.

As a point of comparison, the City of Sacramento, Department of Public Works, Transportation Division says:

The Transportation Division’s primary focus is maintaining and enhancing traffic operations, traffic safety and multimodal mobility for our citizens and customers.

Wake me up from my nap!

I have started working on transportation principles for Sacramento. I admit that the points and wording below are not yet succinct and powerful, but I’m offering them now so that you have an idea where I’m going. I will work on improving them, and post the improvements again at the end of the series.

Street Design Principles

  • Street design will ensure the safety of all street users; Vision Zero rejects any street design that allows fatalities or severe injuries for any street user
  • Street design will encourage walking, bicycling, and transit use, and will discourage unnecessary motor vehicle use
  • Street design will rank safety, livability and economic vitality above vehicle throughput or speed; congestion relief will not be a goal in street design
  • Street design will actively support the city’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) through reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT)
  • Streets can and will be redesigned to better serve current and future need; past design which may have met past need need not be retained
  • Interim solutions to safety or capacity issues will be identified for immediate implementation whenever permanent solutions are not yet budgeted; design diagrams for these interim solutions will be provided along with the permanent solution diagrams

My posts and city design standards should use these definitions:

  • ‘Walking’ and ‘walkers’ includes mobility devices; the term pedestrian will not be used except in reference to laws or designs which use that term
  • ‘Bicycling’ or ‘bicyclists’ includes any devices permitted by state law or city code to use bike facilities
  • ‘Street’ includes all roadways which are not freeways or expressways, even if they do not currently meet standards for safe, equitable, or effective streets

Your suggestions on words and ideas are welcome! Comment below, or email me.

5 thoughts on “streets are for people!

  1. This looks like a really good framework so far. I think the 3rd point is the strongest and potentially encompasses most of the other points. It might provide an effective “goal”, with the other items providing detail. To crib a bit, something more like:

    “The Transportation Division’s primary focus is to promote the safety, livability and economic vitality of Sacramento’s neighborhoods, by [doing/not doing the following]”

    Such an aspirational goal stands in contrast to the SPUR goal statement, which leaves me a bit cold–I don’t actually care about what transportation mode is “default”. But I do care that the city streets are designed to develop neighborhoods that are safe, sociable, livable, financially sustainable, and more affordable. I admit it is likely that those streets will have fewer, slower cars on them though, so everyone wins.

    Finally, I noticed that your final point differs from the others in that it is a tactical or implementation guideline, as opposed to a strategic or design goal. As a engineer working on complex machines myself, it is very clear that implementing a “minimum viable” solution to a problem, quickly and cheaply (but also fully!), and then iterating and improving it, is the best way to ultimately get a high-quality product that best meets users needs. So I wholeheartedly agree that such a principle is valuable, if this is the right place for it.


    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Good idea for framing. Yes, the interim design bullet is different from the rest, and I’m not sure where it belongs, but it is a key idea. The city’s existing policy is. more or less, that we don’t make any temporary or low cost fixes, we only go for the big grants for big projects. I think getting motor vehicles off the road will lead to the other desirable changes to public space, but it could be those changes will get motor vehicles off the road.


  2. Would it be out of place to include an item along the lines of “review development projects to ensure that they improve the connectivity of the transportation network”? Is that outside the scope of street design? One of the banes of walkability outside the central city are the large developments with no way to get through.

    There are a bunch of words in the General Plan about connectivity being desirable, but maybe the street design principles are the wrong place. At the same time, I’m sure the (car) street layout is approved by the Transportation Division when new developments are approved, so maybe this would be an applicable principle after all.


    • The 2009 standards say: “The purpose of this section is to provide design engineers with the City’s street standards that are to be used in the preparation of plans, specifications and estimates for projects within the City right of way. The primary objective of these standards is to ensure the safe and efficient movement of motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians; and to be considerate of future maintenance costs to sustain desired levels of service.” Level of service is of course no longer acceptable as a primary criteria. The standards contain some criteria, but nothing I would call policy. Perhaps there is in the General Plan, I’ll check that. Engineers don’t usually like policy because it may prevent them from doing what they want, based on their own values and perspectives.


      • The language I remembered is in the General Plan, M 1.3:

        “To promote efficient travel for all modes,
        the City shall require all new residential, commercial, or
        mixed-use development that proposes or is required to
        construct or extend streets to develop a transportation
        network that is well-connected, both internally and to
        off-site networks preferably with a grid or modified grid-
        form. (RDR)”

        Still, until the developers and planning department decide if there will be roads, the engineers don’t have anything to do.


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