traffic calming in the central city

There are four types of traffic calming that have been used in Sacramento central city: median islands, traffic circles, traffic diverters, and speed humps. It was recently said by city staff that only speed humps are a current solution for traffic calming, but I’d really like the city to bring back diverters.

Median islands: These islands, placed at the approaches to intersections, provide some traffic calming effect, offer walkers a refuge in the middle of a crossing (though it does not meet current ADA standards for refuge). Below is a typical setting, this one at D Street & 23rd Street. Though the median does slow some drivers, other drivers use these as slalom courses. On streets with bike lanes, the bike lanes are generally dropped before the intersection in order to accommodate the median, but his is poor practice, leaving bicyclists either feeling vulnerable or actually vulnerable at just the wrong location.

median island, D St & 23rd St, Sacramento

Traffic circles: Traffic circles deflect drivers to the side, a somewhat more effective solution, but have the same problem for bicyclists as the median islands, with bike lanes dropped at the critical point. These traffic circles are NOT roundabouts. A correctly designed roundabout allow the bicyclist to choose between continuing in the general purpose travel lane, or using a sidewalk or sidewalk adjacent bypass. Roundabouts also have a continuous flow, only requiring a driver or bicyclists to yield to someone already in the roundabout, but traffic circles have stop signs on one of the cross streets. Roundabouts also have enough deflection that a driver must slow down to navigate, whereas most traffic circles have only a slight deflection and therefore limited slowing value.

The central city does not have any roundabouts, and they are rare in the region. They can be a reasonable solution at the intersection of two arterial roadways, again, IF correctly designed. The footprint of a real roundabout is bigger than an urban intersection. Below is a typical setting, this one at 13th Street & F Street.

traffic circle, 13th St & F St, Sacramento

Speed humps: Speed humps slow drivers crossing over them. Many people still call these speed bumps, but the sharp bumps are now illegal on streets and are only found in private parking lots. These can also be speed tables, longer than the humps, perhaps higher, and sometimes hosting a crosswalk on top. There are two problems with humps: 1) drivers with good suspensions can sail over these without slowing, and ironically the drivers of high value motor vehicles are the ones most likely to have good suspensions and to not slow for any reason; and 2) drivers accelerate back to speed immediately after the hump, so it only has a traffic calming effect at that particular point. Often speed humps have cut-throughs for emergency vehicles, so they don’t have to slow, but wide stance pickup trucks can use the same cut-throughs, and the cut-throughs are often placed so as to inconvenience bicyclists.

Stop signs: Stop signs calm traffic somewhat by requiring drivers to slow at intersections. Anyone who thinks that drivers actually stop at stop signs, in the absence of conflicting and risky traffic, has not actually stood at an intersection and observed driver behavior. Almost no one stops at stop signs unless they have to. This includes law enforcement officers. Stop signs are the most commonly requested traffic calming solutions by people who live on or near the street. But they are simply not very effective. Drivers accelerate away from the stop signs and are soon going just as fast as they were before, likely 10 to 25 mph over the posted speed limit. While not a major issue, this stop and go traffic adds to air pollution.

Traffic diverters: Traffic diverters turn motor vehicles off a street, but allow bicyclists through. There are a number of these in the central city, and in my opinion, they work great. The subsequent blocks are quiet and safe, at least until the street has regained traffic from other directions. They make is difficult to continue for long distances in a single line of travel, which is a good effect, as it discourages low value driving trips. My observation is that these also increase compliance with stop signs. It is true that some scofflaw drivers will go around these diverters, but at least they have slowed considerably to do so. Below is a typical diverter, this one at 20th Street & D Street.

traffic diverter, 20th St & D St, Sacramento

There are a number of other traffic calming treatments, but so far as I know none are present in the centra city, so I’ve not addressed them.

I don’t think the city should install any more median islands or traffic circles, due to the negative impact on bicyclists. However, I’m OK with letting those that exist remain, as bicyclists and walkers have grown accustomed to them and mostly know how to deal with them. I’m against more stop signs, except where a stop-controlled intersection replaces a signal-controlled intersection (of which there are a number of candidates in the central city). I don’t think speed humps are effective, and I see a speed hump as an admission of a failed street design.

What I would like to see is more traffic diverters, many of them! Every street that is not a one-way arterial in the central city should have a diverter about every eight blocks. This will make is less pleasant for commuters, who have to zig-zag to get where they are going. It will also cause locals to reconsider driving trips, realizing that bicycle or walking trips are easier and more straightforward. It will ensure that more of our streets are calm and peaceful, with less driver intimidation of walkers and bicyclists.

I hope to find the time to make a map of all the traffic diverters in the central city, and will add that reference here when I do.

J St bikeway

The J Street separated bikeway has problems, as has been highlighted by Streets are Better and many others. Separated bikeways are also called protected bike lanes and cycle-tracks, but in California the official term is separate bikeways.

The City of Sacramento placed a separated bikeway on J Street from 19th Street to 29th Street as part of a repaving and roadway reallocation project called the J Street Safety Project in 2018. This was the second such project in Sacramento, the first being portions of P and Q Street downtown, but it was the first in the heavy retail, parking, and traffic environment of J Street.

The theory of these parking-protected bikeways is that the row of parked cars protects bicyclists from moving cars, and this is true in the length of the block (but not at intersections, which are a separate issue), when there are parked cars. But some times of day there are not parked cars, and throughout the day as cars come and go (particularly on a retail corridor), protection is lacking.

It is true that bikeways don’t need strong protection from PARKed cars, but they do need protection from PARKing cars and delivery vehicles, and bikeway intrusion.

Vertical delineators and pavement markings were used to set off the bikeway, with a sign at the beginning of each block segment showing the new allocation. These vertical delineators are also called bollards and soft-hit posts, with soft-hit meaning that they won’t damage cars when drivers hit them. The first photo below shows the 27th to 28th section. It initially had 14 delineators place, but only three are remaining. The other blocks have fared a little bit better, but overall about half the delineators are gone. The second photo shows the 25th to 26th section sign that has been run over by a driver.

J Street bikeway, 27th to 28th section, missing delineators
J Street bikeway, damaged sign

Some of the vertical delineators are being run over by people parking, some by delivery vehicles parking on top of them, and some by drivers going down the bikeway itself. And probably some just for sport. I don’t know which of these causes are most common.

There are several solutions:

One: Put the delineators closer together so as to make it more obvious that vehicles are not supposed to cross them.

Two: Add bollards which either are, or at least look to be, more substantial. The photo below is from a somewhat different setting in Oakland, with more substantial bollards. Reading blogs and Twitter, these seem to be successful in some cities and some settings, but not in others.

bollards in Oakland

Three: More substantial separators such as planter boxes.

planter separated diagram from C40

Four: Partial hard curbs or medians. The photo shows a median at the start of a bikeway section. It reduces the number of signs flattened by drivers and signals to drivers that there is something different about this block.

bikeway with hard median start, FresnoCOG

Five: Continuous hard physical curb or median. It is hard to find good photos of these, probably because in the past they haven’t been seen as necessary. There are a lot of photos of hard medians adjacent to moving traffic, and adjacent to two-way cycle-tracks, and alongside raised bike lanes that are at or close to sidewalk level. But the graphic below gives the general idea.

Of course hard curbs or medians are more expensive, but last 20-30 years whereas delineators or bollards may need to be replaced every year, so I think they are a good investment.

A major issue with all separate bikeways is the presence of driveways. In fact streets with a high density of driveways should not have this design. Below at the blocks of the bikeway, with information about driveways.

19th3 drivewayspartially separated; driveways not changeable
20th3 driveways2 changeable driveways
21st1 drivewaydriveway not changeable
22nd2 driveways2 changeable driveways
23rdno driveways
24th2 driveways1 maybe changeable
25thno driveways
26thno driveways
27thno driveways
28th2 drivewayspartially separated; 1 driveway changeable

The changeable driveways will be the topic of a separate post, but the basic idea is that parking lots that have access to the alleyway do not need access to the main street, so in this case, parking lots with access to Jazz Alley do not need access to J Street.

My recommendations

  1. Place hard medians at the beginning of each block, to protect the signs, and better signify to drivers this is a different place. For the locations where there are bus stops (19th, 22nd, 25th, 27th, 28th), the median would be moved down the block a bit. Note that this is too high a frequency of bus stops, but that is an issue for another post.
  2. Place more substantial bollards, and at a closer spacing.
  3. Place a continuous hard median on one of the four blocks without driveways, the same width at the painted buffers present now. This would be a pilot to test the installation, determine costs, and document benefits. If the pilot is successful, the other three blocks with no driveways should receive the same treatment.
  4. Start negotiation between the city and the owners of parcels that are used solely as parking lots, to close J Street driveways and use Jazz Alley access. Some of these parcels will be redeveloped into more productive uses anyway, but that may take longer than desired.

MUTCD sidewalk construction signs

A follow-on to my previous post MUTCD revision comments, and of relevance to all my construction zone posts.

The MUTCD (Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices) is a bit confused (and a lot lacking) when it comes to signs for temporary traffic control devices. Orange is supposed to be the color for temporary traffic control devices, yet the manual uses regulatory (white) signs for sidewalks in construction zones. A white sign indicates permanence, an orange sign indicates temporary. That subtlety seems beyond the comprehension of the people who write the MUTCD, but I’m here to help them. Below are the pairs of signs for sidewalk closure in construction zones. On the left is the existing MUTCD sign, on the right is the sign as it should be.

R9-9 regulatory version
R9-9 TTC version
R9-11a regulatory version
R9-11a TTC version
R9-11 regulatory version
R9-11 TTC version

There might be situations in which the permanent, white regulatory sign might be appropriate, though the number of such situations is and should be rare. Sidewalks should be continuous, not broken, not closed.

Note that I did not include the R9-10 sign with arrows pointing both ways, since I can’t think of a context in which that would be the appropriate sign. Unless someone can, it should be removed from the MUTCD.

I have also suggested that all TTC signs be given a unique code, not M, not R, not W, but perhaps T.

J St construction zone bad to worse

Though in most cases the construction zone signing and barriers improve after they are reported (first time, second time, third time…), sometimes they get worse. I had reported to the Sac311 system that there was no advance warning of the sidewalk closed ahead on the south side of J Street, westbound, at 7th Street. This the left hand photo below.

The ‘correction’ was to place an incorrect sign at the location, which is more confusing than the lack of a sign. I observed and listened for a while to people looking at this location. Every single one commented on the confusion. Does the detour sign point to a detour, or does it mean to cross the street? There were discussions and even arguments within couples and groups. The sign is the wrong sign, and it is placed in a very confusing manner, angled toward the sidewalk rather than perpendicular to it. The clear indication is to continue along the sidewalk if one wants to go west on J Street, but this is incorrect, as the sidewalk is closed a short distance away. This is the right hand photo.

7th St & J St sw, no advance signing
7th St & J St sw, wrong advance signing

The correct sign of course is this one, MUTCD R9-11 right, placed perpendicular to the path of travel along J Street. It could be argued that the sign should be orange rather than red, indicating a temporary traffic control (TTC) device, but at this time the MUTCD does not offer this sign in this color.

J Street needs construction bypass

The future development, possibly to be called Anthem Cathedral Square, at J Street & 11th Street is currently a hole in the ground. The old buildings have been razed, and debris hauled away, but new construction has not started, so it will be some while before J Street on the north side of the site (south side of the street) returns to normal.

A channelized bypass should be created to carry the sidewalk for walkers and the bike lane for bicyclists past this construction site, between 10th St and 11th St, by removing a general purpose travel lane from J Street. The aerial below (before removal of the buildings) shows a sidewalk, a parking lane, a bicycle lane, three general purpose travel lanes, and a parking lane. The channelized bypass would include a shared pathway for walkers and bicyclists, in place of the right hand general purpose lane. The bypass can be created with use of orange construction barrier, as was done on 9th Street. This bypass would remain in place until construction is complete.

While the razing and cleanup was going on, there was decent signing, but it has disappeared or been moved to the side. The first set is the former signage at J St & 1oth St, and then today without an signage. There should be a sign here, the MUTCD R9-11; a barrier is not appropriate at this location since the closure is ahead and there are businesses open.

J St at 10th St se, signage
J St at 10th St se, no signage

At the sidewalk closure point, there is an acceptable barrier but no signage. At this point, it looks like there could be a bypass, but it is fenced off. The appropriate sign here is MUTCD R9-9.

J St past 10th St, sidewalk barrier

At J St & 11th St southeast corner, there was a barrier and signage, but the barrier has been moved to the side and the signage is gone. There should be a barrier and sign here to indicate that the crosswalk is closed. The third photo is an example of a correct barrier and signage.

11th St at J St se, signage
11th St at J St se, no signage
crosswalk closure barrier
correct barrier and signage

At J St & 11th St northwest corner, there should be a barrier and signing to indicate the crosswalk is closed, but neither is present.

J St & 11th St nw, no barrier or signage

This construction zone failure is one among many in Sacramento. The city is not creating traffic control plans that accommodate walkers and bicyclists, and the construction companies are not appropriately placing signs and barriers. This is a violation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Responsibility for encroachment permits (when the construction project goes into the public right of way, which includes sidewalks), and traffic control plans to mitigate the situation, rests with the City of Sacramento Department of Public Works.

I have created a new category, construction zone, which will make is easier to find other posts on the construction zone topic. Photos of many construction zone locations are on Flicker in Sac construction-zone album.

Stockton Blvd Corridor Plan review

I have finally gotten to reviewing the Stockton Blvd Corridor Plan, following my post noticing the draft plan: Stockton Blvd draft available.

Overall, the plan is great, and when someday implemented, will result in a much safer and livable Stockton Blvd. The plan addresses major concerns raised by the community, including safer and more frequent crossings, better lighting, more trees, more effective transit service, and others. However…

  • The plan is still too oriented to the throughput of motor vehicle traffic. Better, but not as good as it could be. Maintaining the five lane configuration for significant parts of the corridor is unnecessary.
  • The plan does not even mention speed limits. When any street is reconfigured/reallocated, it removes any obligation to the unsafe and outmoded 85% rule, so the city should have considered speed limit changes for the corridor.
  • The plan recommends two-way cycle tracks in some locations. These are great for traveling along, but the problem comes in transitioning into and out of them at the beginning and end. Unless very clear guidance and priority is provided, these transitions can be very unsafe, particularly for less experienced bicyclists. In most cases, a bicycle signal head with exclusive bicyclist phase is required at beginning and end.
  • The plan acknowledges the challenging intersection of Stockton Blvd/34th Street/R Street as a “unique challenge” (page 13), but doesn’t even suggest solutions. I believe that the only way to make this intersection safe is to either restrict R Street or 34th Street, or to construct a flyover for light rail, similar to that for 19th Street, Watt Ave, and Sunrise Blvd. Yes, the expense of any of these might be beyond the scope of this plan, but eliminating this issue from the plan makes it difficult to compare the relative cost and benefit of other solutions.
  • On page 36, a diagram shows a bike lane eastbound on T Street to the right of a dedicated right hand turn lane. Bike lanes should never be to the right of dedicated turn lanes unless there is a bicycle signal head to create an exclusive bicyclist phase, which the plan does not propose. This must be fixed.
  • Shared bus and bike lanes will be a new concept for the city, and region. I support the implementation of these, and have used them in several other cities where transit frequency is not high. But they should be considered a pilot. If they don’t work out for bicyclists, and bus drivers, in this region, how do we fix it?
  • The flared intersection at Stockton Blvd and Fruitridge Road is preserved in the plan, but this is completely inappropriate. Flared intersections are always more dangerous for people crossing the street. The roadway width at the intersection, shown on page 41, is 90 feet. Crossings of this length cannot be safe, no matter what the length of the pedestrian cycle, without a pedestrian refuge median (with push buttons unless the pedestrian crossing is already on auto-recall). Double left hand turn lanes are dangerous for drivers and everyone else, as driver attention is focused on the vehicle beside, and not the roadway ahead, so these should be reduced to single left turn lanes. The right hand turns lanes should probably be eliminated, unless a traffic study shows conclusively that traffic would not clear during a signal cycle without them. The upshot is that this intersection should be completely reconfigured, not just tinkered with.
  • The plan does not indicate which intersection signals and signalized pedestrian crossings will be on auto-recall, or not. There is probably no justification for pedestrians activation buttons at any location on the corridor (pedestrian crossings should have auto-detection), but if there is, these should be called out clearly in the plan.
  • The plan shows most intersections as having skipped (dotted) green bike lanes striped through the intersection, but a few do not. They should be used everywhere. For the protected legs of partially protected intersections, the striping should be continuous rather than skipped (dotted). MUTCD frowns on this, but it has been installed many places with positive safety outcomes.
  • Added item: No right turn on red prohibitions should never be used without leading pedestrian intervals (LPI). Otherwise, drivers turning will immediately come into conflict with walkers in the crosswalk. I don’t think this is being proposed in this plan, but just want to make sure.

The City of Sacramento Active Transportation Commission will consider the plan this evening (2021-03-18). I apologize for not posting this in time for you to consider my suggestions, and relay them to the commission, if you agree.

Stockton Blvd & Fruitridge Road intersection

Added info: There was a discussion about the prioritization of different travel modes during the SacATC meeting this evening. It reminded me of one of my favorite graphics about transportation modes, from Chicago Department of Transportation. I think this is the right answer for Stockton Blvd, and for nearly every other roadway.

Vacant buildings

I find it interesting when something I’ve been thinking about but not written about suddenly shows up in Twitter and news media. Specifically, vacant buildings. Not talking about buildings that have been vacated during the pandemic, which may or may not see future use, but buildings that were vacant pre-pandemic, oftentime for years. The Sacramento central city has a lot of vacant buildings, most of them commercial spaces such as offices and warehouses, but some housing and retail as well.

The CityLab article The Case for a Duty to the City raises the issue and possible solutions to empty and underutilized buildings. It was highlighted in a Strong Towns UpZoned podcast “If you have a property in the city, you should not leave it empty.”, which brought me to it. And then today an article in the Sacramento Business Journal Cassadyne plans 50-unit apartment project in Midtown Sacramento (sorry about the firewall), about replacing empty parking lot with housing and an unused warehouse with parking.

I don’t have a solution for unused/underused/vacant buildings. Certainly the city should do everything it can to encourage adaptive reuse of functional buildings, or replacement when the building is no longer functional or can’t be repurposed for any use that is economically viable. But I’m also mostly a libertarian about property use, believing that people should do what they want with their property (while still not believing in the whole concept of private property). So I don’t think the city should force any particular development or use on a property owner, but sending economic signals that letting a building sit vacant is not in the best interest of the city, that is a valid function of a city.

Vacancy taxes or fees are one of the actions that has been proposed in other cities, particularly cities in Europe. I have mixed feelings. These might turn a project that is barely viable for a property owner into a decision to sell the land to a bigger developer who might be even less likely to move forward with productive use. So if there were to be a vacancy tax in Sacramento, I’d want an exclusion for any property that is owned by an individual rather than a corporation, or properties that are only a single traditional parcel (that has not been aggregated into a large parcel). That might actually encourage corporations to shed their small properties back to the market, so they could be picked up by smaller infill developers. More about small versus large developers, and preservation of traditional parcels, in a future posts.

Not knowing much specifically about this development proposal, I tend to think that the developer is providing too much parking, which will be underutilized, and which will promote vehicle ownership and use. But… I don’t think the city should prohibit that. It should, however, send a message that unproductive uses such as unneeded parking will have a cost, some sort of tax or fee on land used as parking. Or requiring that parking be unbundled from rent. Or requiring that the parking be available to the public through metering. Some policy that sends a message that excess parking is a societal harm rather than something to be promoted.

What about mass murder?

I will pause for a moment my mission to publicize and formulate ideas that make for a more livable place, more walkable, more bikeable, with effective transit, a diverse range of people, and jobs close to home.

The city, and the streets, are not safe for many people, not just because of traffic violence, but because of all types of violence. The last two years have seen a rising awareness that Blacks are not safe in public space, subject to oppression by law enforcement and violence in the places they live, and on the streets they use. What was once the problem of ‘driving while Black’ is now obviously the problem of ‘walking while Black’, ‘bicycling while Black’, and ‘existing while Black’. The same is true, to perhaps a slightly lesser degree, for Latinx. Hatred of trans people is growing, and they are unusually subject to violence. And now it is becoming clear that it is also not safe for Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

The incident in Georgia was probably a racial hate crime, but whether it was or not, it was a crime against those who died, and against society. Misogyny is also a hate crime. White supremacy is also a hate crime.

We have become a society where many people encourage the arming of everyone including mentally unstable individuals (usually white males, but not always), and they then try to absolve them when they act out. The former president encouraged hatred of ‘others’, meaning anyone not a white male, but focusing on people of color. The Republican party has long been the defender of the idea that the 2nd Amendment and the ‘right to bear arms’ is more important than all other amendments, and the rest of the constitution, and life itself. If people are not safe from gun violence, particularly white supremacy-fueled gun violence (by individuals and under the color of law), then all other freedoms are moot. The former president has blood on his hands on this one, and so do all his supporters, and so do all of the people who have opposed restrictions on gun ownership. Gun ownership in urban places is a pox on our humanity.

I will continue to be a voice for livable places. I appreciate every day the work of people to make those place safe and welcoming for everyone. I often think that I should join those voices in a more active way, but I also see that there are now many such voices, but still only a few voices for more livable places, and I feel like I need to continue to be one of those voices. We must adapt places and build places where the transportation network supports affordable housing for everyone, and affordable housing supports an effective and equitable transportation network. That is my mission. But I know that my work is for naught if people are not safe in those places.

more housing, less parking, part 2 central city SE

This is the second of the four quadrants of Sacramento central city, bounded by Capitol Ave on the north, Broadway on the south, 16th Street on the west, and Alhambra Blvd on the east.

Please see my previous post, more housing, less parking, for background information, and the southwest quadrant.

The graphic is below, but more useful will be the ArcGIS Online WebApp Sacramento parking & empty. Red is surface parking, orange is empty parcels.

The slideshow below shows many of the surface parking lots in this quadrant of the central city. It may include photos of parcels that contain a building but also have excess parking.

The next slideshow shows many of the empty lots in this quadrant of the central city.

It turns out that compiling the data, including parcels and photos, it quite time consuming, so the other two quadrants of the central city will be a while in coming, but I’ll be adding several posts about what I’ve learned, and the opportunities.

AB 550 allows speed cameras

AB 550, by Assemblyman David Chui, would allow the use of Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE, or speed cameras) in certain circumstances. I can’t point you to the language for specifics, since the legislative website has not been updated yet. You might call this a gut and amend bill, but since the original subject was ‘pedestrian safety’ it is really more of an amend.

The bill would establish a pilot program, which local transportation agencies could participate in. It would not start until July 2022, more than a year from now, in order for CalSTA (California State Transportation Agency) to develop an implementation plan. The program would rest with Caltrans and local transportation agencies, not with law enforcement agencies, which is a critical distinction to reduce the use of discriminatory pretext stops by law enforcement.

This legislation for ASE is a key component of the Vision Zero movement: “Managing speed to safe levels.”

It has long been my theory that most fatal crashes, whether the victim is a driver, passenger, walker or bicyclist, are caused by egregious speeders, drivers who travel more than 10 mph over the speed limit, the sort of people that CHP occasionally catches going 120 mph on the freeway, and is the same person driving 50 mph on a residential street. If that person is getting repeated automated speeding tickets, then they (he) can be targeted for more serious consequences like loss of freedom and loss of vehicle. Of course loss of vehicle probably requires other law changes, but this bill is at least a start.

When the bill language is available and hearing scheduled, I’ll post again. Keep an eye out here, or Streetsblog, or Twitter.

Streetsblog SF: Lawmaker Tries Again on Automated Speed Enforcement

from Streetsblog SF, original source unknown