There has been a tremendous amount of infill building, much of it housing, in midtown Sacramento and even downtown. This is a wonderful thing. As part of the construction projects, sidewalks and curbs are often torn up and replaced. In some instances, the replacement is done the right way, with wider sidewalks, directional curb ramps (two to a corner, not diagonal), and curb extensions. But in at least half the replacements, but curb extensions are missing.
The photo above shows the new sidewalks and curb ramps at the southeast corner of the SAFE Convention Center, at 15th Street and K Street. That much is good, and a big improvement over what was there before.
However, the curb extension on 15th Street is missing. The purpose of curb extension is to slow traffic speeds, to shorten the crossing distance, and to increase visibility between drivers and walkers. But it is missing here. Once the convention center really opens, this will be a very busy crossing for pedestrians, and is already receiving increased use from the performing arts center.
What gives, Sacramento? Every reconstructed corner should have curb extensions. Yes, they must be designed appropriately so they only block the parking lane and not a bike lane, but in this case, there is no bike lane.
“In the year I’ve been in office, I’ve heard from thousands of people regarding their concerns and ideas about needed improvements in their neighborhoods. When I bring these community concerns to staff, I hear a lot of support and empathy for the issues raised, but it is often followed by a somber realization: there isn’t a sufficient budget to provide these services.
While I understand the limitations of the City budget, I also believe there are basic services any City should provide:
Streetlights, particularly in older neighborhoods that lack sufficient lighting to promote safety for all road users.
Sidewalk repair, the costs for which we put onto property owners during the 2008 recession. Sidewalks are a public good everyone uses and should be maintained by the City.
Public Restrooms to serve everyone in our city, particularly at parks. This should also include porta potties near large encampments.
Road and traffic safety improvements, particularly targeting streets and intersections where there are repeated collisions or injuries.
Public garbage cans and collection to help mitigate litter.
These needs aren’t unique to District 4, but are issues I’ve also observed citywide. As we approach the midyear and future budgets, I urge you to join me in asking that we consider the quality-of-life improvements the community is asking for and appropriate funds for these purposes.”
These five items are all transportation issues to some degree or another.
Streetlights: Many people will not walk at night when there is insufficient lighting. They feel unsafe. Many intersections are poorly lit for people walking, providing light for drivers but not for people in crosswalks.
Sidewalk repair: The lower the income level of a neighborhood, which is strongly but not complete correlated with people of color, the poorer the sidewalks. This is an ongoing problem in north Sacramento and south Sacramento, but exists other places. When the city claims it has not responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, but does maintain roadways, it is sending a clear message that drivers are more important than walkers. This must change. The first step is not to start fixing sidewalks, but to change city code so that the city is responsible for maintaining sidewalks, not adjacent property owners. There may be situations in which a tree on private property damages a public sidewalk, but most of the damage from trees occurs by city owned trees in the sidewalk buffer area. In fact, the worst sidewalks are often adjacent to city-owned property, where the ordinance requiring property owner repair apparently doesn’t apply. (In the interests of transparency, if one wishes to see truly horrible sidewalks, visit the City of Los Angeles. Makes Sacramento look like a walking paradise.)
Public restrooms: Any person who is walking is likely to be making a slower trip than a driver, and more likely to need to use a restroom during their trip. Walkers are also more likely to chain destinations, and therefore need a restroom during a longer trip, while drivers often make shorter individual trips to single destinations. The city has resisted making public restrooms available, partially in an effort to make unhoused people unwelcome. One new restroom was built in Cesar Chavez Plaza, and some parks have restrooms available for some hours, but many park restrooms remain locked. For example, the one in Fremont Park has been locked up for two years now.
Traffic safety improvements: This one is obvious. What is not obvious is that the city has an unwritten policy that it will only make major street changes with federal, state, and regional grants, not out of the general budget. A few things are done as part of routine maintenance, when a street is repaved and re-striped, but this is a tiny fraction of what is needed. Improvements to high-injury intersections and corridors should be a funded part of the city budget, not dependent upon grants from outside.
Public garbage cans: Again, people walking are likely to generate things that need to be trashed or recycled. For example, walk to your local coffee shop and then continue on your journey, you end up with an empty cup to dispose of. People driving simply throw it on the floor, or out the window in many cases. And if they throw it on the floor, it is likely to be thrown on the ground the next time the vehicle is parked. I know this because this is the pattern for people who commute in from the suburbs and park in the central city. I’ve observed it hundreds of times. It is true that in areas with active business improvement districts, there are more public garbage cans, but that leaves many areas of the city out, which are just as deserving of the service.
The city discriminates against people walking (and bicycling). These budget items would be a first step towards redressing that.
I will say that the greatest need for these improvements is not in District 4, which has often received more attention from the city than any district other than District 1. Sacramento has had and continues to have a serious equity failing, spending more money on repair and improvements in higher income areas.
This morning I was nearly hit and then assaulted by the driver of an SUV in Sacramento. I was crossing 14th St at the south side of P St at about 7:30AM. The driver had stopped before the crosswalk, so I proceeded across, but the driver lurched forward and nearly hit me. I had to jump back to avoid being hit, and slapped the side of his vehicle to get his attention. I proceeded across the crosswalk and onto the sidewalk. The driver leapt out of this vehicle and came after me, screaming that if I ever touched his car again, he would hurt me. I don’t remember the exact words, but they were violent words. He kept saying “I didn’t see you”, not in an apologetic manner, but in a way that implied it was my fault that he didn’t see me. After yelling a number of more threats, he shoved me. This is assault.
A bystander took photos of the driver and his vehicle, seen below. The bystander used the same term that I often used, ‘entitled drivers’. She was more than happy to provide the photos to me, and expressed hope that I would file charges. I have submitted an incident report to Sacramento PD.
I notice when walkers and bicyclist post photo of vehicles driven by offending drivers, they often blank out the license number. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is fear of retaliation, worse violence from the driver. But here you go: the license plate was CA M546BO. It is a strange license number.
Back to the entitled. Many drivers feel that they own the road, and it is the responsibility of others to get out of their way. This applies particularly to walkers and bicyclists, but it even applies to other drivers. The excuse often offered is “I didn’t see them”. I think this is often fabricated after the fact to justify what would otherwise not be justifiable, which is an intention or willingness to harm others. But in some case it is true. They didn’t see because they didn’t look. Many drivers are looking at their phones or their large in-dash information displays. In this case, the driver was looking only to the right to see traffic on one-way P Street. He probably never looked left at all. But it is the legal responsibility of drivers to look and to see. If they are not willing to do that, as is true of this driver, they should not hold a license to drive. This driver, in part because he has a large, expensive vehicle, felt entitled to be driving on the street without paying attention, particularly at a crosswalk where walkers have the right of way.
This is the people we share the streets with. And the people about whom traffic ‘safety’ agencies such as National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) continue to claim that road safety is a shared responsibility. Bullshit. Drivers kill people, walkers and bicyclists (with extremely rare exceptions) do not.
This is also a street design issue. One way streets are safer to cross for walkers because you only need to look in one direction, left or right. However, for people on cross streets, they are much more dangerous because many (most?) drivers never look the other direction for people in the crosswalk or bicycling.
North Natomas Jibe, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates (SABA) and other partners are offering a Smart Cycling class in the Sacramento area on November 2 & 4, evening ‘classroom’ presentations through Zoom, and an in-person field day on Saturday, November 6, for parking lot skills and road skills.
This class is oriented towards people who would like to go on to the League Cycling Instructor (LCI) Seminar which will be offered in the spring, for which passing scores on the skills and test are a prerequisite, but it is open to anyone who is interested. North Natomas Jibe’s Project Ride Smart, San Juan Unified’s Bicyclist Education Program, and several other programs in the Sacramento region use LCI’s as instructors for in-school and out-of-school youth programs.
When you sign up for the class (use the QR code in the graphic above), you will receive a Zoom link to the ‘classroom’ presentation, held Tuesday, November 2 and Thursday, November 4, 6:00 to 7:30PM. There will be a chance to ask questions.
The class includes Saturday, November 6 field day, 9:00AM to 3:00PM. It will include parking lot skills for bike handling and hazard avoidance, and a road ride in traffic in the area of the Jibe office, followed by a debrief and multiple choice exam for people who want a certificate and/or are going on to the LCI Seminar. Lunch will be provided, but you can bring your own. Bring snacks as well, if you get hungry.
For the field day, you need a bike in good working order (ABC Quick Check), a bicycle helmet (required for our insurance), clothing appropriate for the forecasted weather, and a water bottle if you wish. The class will take place in most weather, except heavy rain and high winds. If you are borrowing a bike, please ride it beforehand so you are familiar with how it handles. If your bike needs repairs or adjustments, we can suggest a bike shop in your area to get it ‘up to speed’ before the class.
It has become popular these days to claim that the only real solution to traffic violence is re-design of roadways to prevent bad driver behavior, and to eliminate traffic enforcement as a solution to bad driver behavior. I’m not in disagreement with this. Re-design does prevent a lot of bad driver behavior. Traffic enforcement is very often a tool of oppression by law enforcement on people of color. All true.
But… There is also a blind spot. Roadway re-design does not force drivers to yield to walkers in the crosswalk. Sure, if traffic is going slower, it is less likely that collisions will be fatal to the walker, and perhaps slightly less likely to result in a collision at all, with more reaction time. But a driver that won’t yield at 35 mph is a driver that won’t yield at 25 mph. Failure to yield to someone in the crosswalk is sociopathic behavior, in that it intimidates people against walking, and it is psychopathic behavior in that it prioritizes driver convenience over the lives of others. These people are mentally ill, and they should be removed from our roadways. Not just ticketed, but their drivers license pulled and their vehicle confiscated.
No technology that I’m aware of will automatically enforce yielding behavior, or ticket failure to yield. Red light running cameras are legal in California, but are installed on only a tiny fraction of signalized intersections, and are not even used in many localities. Speed cameras are illegal in California (to protect the guilty). I have never heard of cameras focused on failure to yield.
Law enforcement has essentially stopped enforcing failure to yield. I’ve never seen someone stopped for this violation, and the traffic stop statistics say that it almost never happens. Law enforcement doesn’t care. It sees walkers as second class citizens. After all, they are often lower income and sometimes homeless, people that law enforcement feels obligated to oppress, not to serve. I myself have experienced law enforcement officers failing to yield to me in the crosswalk a number of times. CHP is the worst offender, but all the agencies are guilty.
What provoked this post? I was bicycling home along P Street from the store. A woman was crossing. The driver in the left hand land stopped for her, as did I. The driver in the right hand lane not only did not slow to see why, but blew through the crosswalk, very nearly hitting the woman. I caught up with the vehicle, and saw that both the driver and passenger were high-income, white, and young. When I tried to talk to them about their violation and nearly hitting the woman, they blew me off and implied that I was crazy for even caring about this. This is the drivers we share the road with.
Yes, let’s re-design the roadways. But in the meanwhile, lets enforce failure to yield with serious consequences. The lives of people walking are too valuable to sacrifice to drivers, for even one day. I realize there are equity implications of traffic enforcement, but my anecdotal observation says that the worse drivers are high-income white males. Hardly the oppressed class.
I am a strong supporter of Strong Towns, and think their analyses of financial and transportation issues is almost always spot on. However, I think there is a blind spot when it comes to speed limits. In a recent broadcast, Chuck Marohn addresses a question from a member about whether it is better to change speed limits street by street, or all at once. In response, Chuck launches into his view that only design changes can control speed. This is the first question in the broadcast, so you can listen from the beginning.
Here is my response:
I have to push back against Chuck’s take on speed limits. Nothing he says is incorrect, but there is an underlying ideology that rejects changing speed limits without changing design, as any part of a solution.
This is not about enforcement. I agree that much of traffic enforcement is pretextual, and intended to oppress people of color and low income. I’m not asking for any more enforcement, and am in complete agreement with the current movement towards removing most traffic enforcement from the responsibilities of armed law enforcement agents. And moving speed and red light running enforcement to automated systems. In high risk, high fatality/injury settings, we could even invest in automated enforcement of failure to yield to people in crosswalks, which is a driver behavior that not only kills people walking but intimidates them out of walking.
Chuck correctly states that drivers respond to roadway design, and consider what feels safe in setting their own speed. However, he misses the fact that drivers also respond to the speed limit. Drivers are very aware of posted speed limits. I constantly hear drivers say things like “I always go 5 mph (or 10 mph, or…) over the speed limit”. If the speed limit is 25, they will go 30, or 35, not just based on roadway design, but on the posted speed limit. If we lower it to 20, they will go 25 or 30. That is a huge difference (see the fatality at various speeds charts), and should not be discounted.
The problem with 85% is not just that it allows drivers to set their own speed limits, but speed creep. If 85% indicates a ‘safe’ speed of 35, and it is posted, then drivers will start going 40, and the next survey will show 40 is the ‘safe’ speed, and so on, ad infinitum. Regardless of the impact on drivers, every increase in actual speeds makes the street less safe for people outside vehicles. Which is why high speeds should be reserved for limited access, designed for higher speeds, roadways. Streets should always be posted for the desired safe speed, no matter the roadway design.
I live in a city where, at the current rate of roadway redesign, it will take about 80 years to create a safe system, and in a county where it will take at least 120 years. I am not willing to accept the death and severe injury that will happen in the meanwhile. We must do anything and everything we can to reduce that trauma, and that includes lowering posted speed limits.
There is evidence from around the world that when speed limits in a city are lowered wholesale, both the rate and severity of crashes also decreases. By as much as we want? No, but to reject this change out of hand for ideological reasons is, in my mind, a huge mistake.
There will always be egregious violators, drivers who drive as fast as they can no matter what. I think these drivers are actually responsible for most crashes. If these drivers can be caught and punished (removal of driving privilege and confiscation of vehicle) by any sort of enforcement, that is great. Redesigning a roadway does not eliminate these drivers or reduce their speed, it just makes it more likely that they will kill themselves along with the other people they are killing. That is small consolation.
I am absolutely in favor of roadways designed to self-enforce lower speeds. I have supported and helped design projects to do exactly that. And at no time have I ever felt that was enough. I think we need to use every action at our disposal (except biased traffic enforcement) to lower speeds. Now, not at some time in the future.
Another classic mistake by the City of Sacramento. Re-striping was just done on several blocks of N Street. Eastbound on N Street 22nd Street, this is what it looks like.
Take a close look. Extend the dashed line forward, and you’ll see the taper, from a regular bike lane adjacent to a parking lane, to just a bike lane. Look even closer. See where the no parking sign is? A vehicle can park that close to the intersection, completely blocking the bike lane, and in fact blocking part of the general purpose lane. Yesterday, when I rode by, but neglected to take a photo, there was a large pedestrian-killer pickup truck parked right up to the no parking sign, and it was actually covering up three of the dash marks. Riding a bicycle in the bike lane and expecting it to continue? In Sacramento, that is not a reasonable expectation.
I would hope that the striping crew, whether city or contractor (not sure which this was) would notice the problem and stop painting until this was clarified. But it is not really the responsibility of the stripers. This design was signed off on by a ‘professional’ engineer employed by the city. This is the quality of people the city employs.
Westbound on N Street, it is not as bad since the no parking sign is further from the intersection. See below.
It is still a poor design, but nowhere near as dangerous.
As I’ve said before (traffic calming in the central city), these median islands, when placed in this way, as a widening of the center line only at intersections, are a hazard to bicyclists, though they do provide some safety for pedestrians. The best traffic calming measure, and the one that should be used by the city, is traffic diverters.
Rentable scooters, called shared rideables by the city, are thick as flies in Sacramento central city. They are being deployed to bike rack areas, completely filling the racks and leaving no space for bikes.
The photo below shows a rack with each space occupied by a scooter, no spaces available. It also illustrates a JUMP rack at which other companies are deploying their scooters. These JUMP racks, and the trapezoidal racks, were purchased for the original SoBi and later JUMP systems, and so ‘belong’ to the JUMP/Lime system.
Individuals are free to park their own bike or scooter, or any bike scooter they rent, at these racks, but the other companies are prohibited from deploying to them.
And there are simply too many scooters in some areas, particularly Old Sacramento and R Street. Lime, Bird, Spin, and Razor are deploying more scooters to high demand areas than can possibly be rented in a day. I assume that they are trying to drive each other out of business so they can dominate and raise prices, which is the business model for all app-based companies. In some ways, a fallout would be good, but in the meanwhile, the huge number of scooters is occupying public space, the sidewalks, and reducing livability and walkability.
Scooters are still being parked in locations where they block sidewalk access, particularly for people with mobility devices or with vision limitations who cannot easily maneuver around the scooters. The prevalence of this has declined over time, but any is too much. I suspect that the companies are not holding users to account for illegal parking by fining them or cancelling accounts for repeated violations.
Scooters are often lying on the ground, making for even worse access issues. With the exception of Razor which was designed with a dual kickstand, all the scooter models in use in Sacramento area have flimsy, one-sided kickstands. People knock them over intentionally or accidentally, and they even fall over in high winds.
Prohibit companies from filling more than 50% of any bike rack with scooters.
Create more scooter parking areas, on wide sidewalks or within the street parking area, so that bike racks are not used as much for scooters.
Require scooters to have dual kickstands.
Require the companies to demonstrate an actual level of use of their scooters, or else reduce the number of scooters, or disperse deployment.
I’m hoping to see scooter charging stations show up, so that scooters in denser areas can be charged while parked. The motor vehicle use for picking up, charging, and redeploying undoes most of the environmental benefit of the scooters. Rebalancing will always be needed, but if many scooters can be charged in place, the number to be rebalanced should be low enough that they can be moved by bikes with trailers, not motor vehicles.
The JUMP/Lime bikeshare bikes in Sacramento and West Sacramento say “Available on Lime and Uber” on the bikes. They are not available on Uber. After many months of the Uber app offering only ride-hail car services, they finally added back shared devices under the ‘2 Wheels’ option. The app offers to rent bikes, showing them on the map for selection, or allowing the user to scan the QR code on the bike. It goes to ‘starting ride’ and then… nothing. The bike is not unlocked, and the ride terminates after a few moments, without any message.
I have of course reported this issue to Lime. The support people insist that it works correctly, referring me to or reading from the support article “How does renting a scooter through Uber work?”. When I insist that this is incorrect, their response is, well, just use the Lime app. The reason I want to use the Uber app rather than the Lime app is that I have a large credit in Uber Cash, accumulated from rebalancing bikes in the past, that I want to use.
I’m not a scooter user, so I can’t report whether scooter rental works or not. I’m also not an Android user, so can only report on the iOS app.
The size of the bike fleet continues to be smaller than it was under JUMP. Friends who live outside the central city tell me there are rarely bikes available close to them. even in the central city it may be some distance to a bike. Under JUMP, the system did not work well until the number of bikes deployed reached a critical density of about 900 bikes, and then it worked great, being the most successful location in the country. Lime doesn’t seem interested in achieving this critical density.
I see a lot of dead bikes around, ‘dead’ meaning that the batteries are too low to rent, or the battery has completely run out. For a few of these bikes in my neighborhood, I’ve reported them to both Lime and to the city, but Lime was very slow to pick the bikes up. One dead bike was there for a week before it was picked up; others have been there for several days after being reported.
I recently attended a meeting of SacTRU (Sacramento Transit Riders Union) and heard complaints about the bus stops along J Street between 19th Street and 29th Street, in the section where a separated bikeway (cycletrack, protected bike lane) was installed. I have heard these concerns before, so let me talk about them. Two SacRT routes run along this section of J Street, Bus 30 and Bus 38.
The concerns are two:
The bus stops are too widely spaced.
The bus stops are very difficult for disabled people (and bus operators) to use because the bus no longer stops at the curb, but rather in the street.
Actually, there are TOO MANY bus stops in this section of 10-1/2 blocks, from 19th Street to nearly 29th Street where the separated bikeway ends. Five bus stops, two of them only one block apart. In a central city setting like midtown, bus stops should be no closer than three blocks apart (about 1/4 mile), and preferably more, like four to six blocks. Why? Because every stop slows the bus significantly, not only the deceleration to the stop and acceleration from the stop, but dwell time. Buses in some areas like this actually spend more time stopped than moving, and as a result, the speed of the route is often below 10 mph. The following five photos show the five bus stops. It is significant that there are too many stops, because solutions to issue 2 are not inexpensive.
The second issue is real. Bus operators can have a hard time deploying ramps to the street, particularly when the street is strongly crowned as parts or J Street are. A disabled passenger needing the bus ramp, which might be a wheelchair user or someone with a disability making stepping up to and down from the bus difficult, have to wait in the bikeway to board, not appreciated by the rider or by bicyclists. After debarking, the person must travel along the bikeway to the nearest driveway or corner curb ramp, again, not appreciated by the rider or bicyclists.
So, what is the solution? Bus boarding islands, which have been implemented in many cities. The first photo below is from Seattle. Riders have an large area to wait for the bus, the bus ramp is easy to deploy, and there is a safe crossing to the sidewalk at the end of the island. A slight disadvantage for the rider is that they must ramp down off the island and then back up to the sidewalk.
The diagram shows an alternative configuration, where the bikeway humps up over the crosswalk, but the route from platform to sidewalk for bus riders is level. This is probably safer for both riders and bicyclists.
There are two significant challenges for these bus boarding islands. First is that installing them may require addressing drainage, which can greatly increase the cost of the installation. If three of the five bus stop photos, you can see drainage inlets, so this would be an issue on J Street.
The second is that by placing the bus boarding island where the bus stop now is, buses then stop in the travel lane rather than pulling out into the bus stop. The positive of this is that they don’t then have to negotiate their way back into traffic, which can be challenging and lead to significant delays to the bus schedule. The negative is that private vehicle drivers will complain about the slight delay to their drive from having to wait behind the bus. The convenience and safety for the many people on the bus outweighs the slight inconvenience for private vehicle drivers, but there will be complaints. Timed points on the route, where the bus would stop to wait if it is ahead of schedule, should not be in the travel lane, but that is not true for any of these stops.
To solve the boarding issue on J Street would take a cooperative project with SacRT and the city, and funding from both sides. The number of bus stops should be reduced, probably to three, so that fewer bus boarding islands are needed. This should be carefully planned so that they don’t need to be changed. It is possible to install temporary bus islands, as Oakland and other cities have done in a few places, so if the stop doesn’t turn out to be the best location, it can be moved without great expense.