where are the curb extensions?

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.

15th Street at K Street, missing curb extension, Sacramento

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.

Katie’s Mid-Year Budget Request Sign-On

Katie Valenzuela, Sacramento councilmember for District 4, posted a request for people to sign on to ideas for a mid-year budget adjustment to include several transportation and livability issues, at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc2klsRgKrTcY4Ndoh7OWpz9CdwS_-Vb5rZvrrqG9Td75Z1Ig/viewform.


“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.)

broken sidewalk on V Street, Sacramento

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.

assault by an entitled driver

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.

the vehicle: GMC Yukon, grey, license M546BO
the driver, on left, white middle aged male

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.

I hope your day is going better.

the blind spot of roadway re-design

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.

CVC 21950

Strong Towns and speed limits

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

RRFB on J St at 17th St

Last week I walked over to the new Target store at J Street & 17th Street in midtown Sacramento. On my way there, I was thinking to myself that with the additional people walking to the store, the crosswalk over J Street was going to need some sort of additional protection, since I knew from experience that most car drivers don’t yield to people walking at that location.

Lo and behold, a RRFB (rectangular rapid flashing beacon) was installed!

RRFB on J St at 17th St
RRFB on J St at 17th St

The person walking presses a button which triggers flashing lights mounted on the pedestrian crossing signs. A curb extension on the north side of the crosswalk was installed when the sidewalks around the Target store were installed, so the crossing distance has been shortened somewhat, which also helps.

There are signs with the buttons, below. These are not MUTCD compliant signs, which is ironic, because the city had refused at the beginning of the pandemic to install pedestrian crossing signs that indicated the actual effect of the button, whether it was necessary to press it, because there is no MUTCD sign that does that. Maybe the city is reconsidering it’s signing – unlikely.

RRFB button

A word of warning to anyone who thinks signs and flashing light make it safe to cross. What they do is make is safer than it would be without, but not safe. J Street is a three-lane traffic sewer, on which drivers seldom yield to people walking, whether there is a marked crosswalk or not. Anytime a roadway has multiple lanes in a direction, the multi-lane threat exists, that one driver will stop and others will not. I see this routinely on all the streets in Sacramento that are multi-lane. So, cross with caution no matter what. What I do is step into the street to remind drivers that I have the right-of-way, but walk very slowly until the drivers in all lanes have come to a complete stop. Of course that frustrates the driver who originally stopped, that I am crossing so slowly, but my job is to keep myself safe, not to please drivers.

Roseville is a car-centric hell

Due to a miscommunication with a person who gave me a ride from the end of my backpack trip in Foresthill, I ended up in the Galleria part of Roseville yesterday instead of old downtown, which was what I intended. What a hellscape!

Roseville Transit does not run on Sunday, or course not, why would a transit system serve people on Sunday? So there is no way to get from the Galleria area to any place else in Roseville, or to any place else in the world.

Being stubborn, I decided I needed to walk to the closest transit, which is the Louis/Orlando Transit Center just off Auburn Blvd/Riverside Drive in Citrus Heights. On my three mile walk between the Galleria area and old downtown Roseville, I saw two bicyclists and one walker. And thousands of cars, most of them high end SUVs (pedestrian killers). Galleria Blvd has sidewalks in some places, but rarely on both sides, so you have to cross back and forth. No warning ahead, no crosswalks, just cross when you come to the end.

If you wonder what people were doing on the Memorial Day weekend, they were shopping. And shopping. And shopping. Though there is a Roseville Transit line that serves the main mall area, Monday-Saturday, it is almost not possible to walk to or from there. Sidewalks come and go, and with all the freeway onramps and off-ramps surrounding, it does not feel safe to walk. Once on the mall property, there are no sidewalks, just the ones around the buildings.

If you want to see how bad the Galleria part of Roseville is, take a look at Google: https://goo.gl/maps/jGX7BrAJFyDUrwja9/. Follow a piece of sidewalk to see how far it goes, whether it actually connects to anything. Remember that the mall area itself is much more pedestrian friendly that any of the surrounding shopping areas.

I thought, well at least things will be better when I get to old downtown Roseville. In some ways, yes. It is not a place designed for the exclusive needs of cars. There are actual locally owned businesses instead of national chains. There are places to eat, drink, shop. But… it was late Sunday afternoon and the sidewalks had been rolled up. It is hard for local business to compete with the huge subsidies that the national chains and malls get. All that car infrastructure that supports the mall, the six to ten lane roadways, the freeways and interchanges, that all was paid for by you, not by the developers, and that is money out of not just your pocket, but the the pockets of local business owners trying to compete.

On to the transit center, at least some of the walk through quiet OLD residential neighborhoods, the original part of Roseville. Thankfully, SacRT saved the day, bus and then light rail, to home. Of course service is less frequent on Sunday, and other than light rail, it doesn’t run late, but it runs! It is a lifeline for people who can’t drive, who don’t want to drive, who don’t want to be a part of car-centric hell places like Roseville.

I was walking, not bicycling, but of course was also looking at bicycle facilities. There are bike lanes on most of the stroads in Roseville. And what welcoming bike lanes they are! The photo below is of the dashed bike lane on Galleria Blvd northbound, approaching Hwy 65. It runs for 900 feet! Between high speed traffic on the left and high speed traffic on the right (40 mph posted means the minimum speed, not the maximum, most drivers are going about 55). The right hand lane is the freeway access lane, so drivers are accelerating towards the entry, hoping to catch a green light and squeal tires onto the onramp. Yes, this is the behavior I observed. Roseville seems to be of the impression that painting lines on the roadway for bicyclists is all it takes, that and nothing more.

Galleria Blvd bike lane, northbound to Hwy 65

The one good thing about being in Roseville is that it reminds me of how lucky, and how privileged, I am to live in Sacramento central city.

Hmm. 16th St traffic calming

A new traffic calming feature has showed up on 16th Street approaching R Street in midtown Sacramento. Paint and flex posts have been placed between the travel lanes. Advance yield lines (‘sharks teeth’) were also painted, showing where drivers should stop when yielding to pedestrians.

16th St lane channelization

I’m not sure what to think of this. Certainly this is a problematic intersection. Cars stopped for the light rail gates between R Street and Q Street often stop throughout the intersection, blocking both the north and south crosswalks over 16th Street, as well as the intersection itself, preventing vehicles along R Street from proceeding while the traffic is stopped. As with all multilane streets, but particularly high speed, one-way arterials, drivers in one lane may stop for a walker while the others will not. I see this every day, and this intersection is worse than most. For reasons I don’t understand, traffic speeds on 16th Street northbound are noticeably higher than 15th Street southbound, even though the design of both streets in the same.

So, how’s it working. Well, I’ve so far only had the chance to observe it for 15 minutes. I’m not sure it is making much difference. About 10% of drivers stopped at or close to the advance yield lines. About 70% of drivers stopped at the forward edge of the flex posts, about 10% stopped over the crosswalk, and about 10% did not stop for people using the crosswalk. I saw three people nearly hit by drivers. This is not unusual, and it not worse than before, but it is not good.

Below is an example. The driver to the left stopped over the top of the crosswalk, even though it was clear that traffic ahead was stopped for the light rail gate, and there was no space to proceed into. The driver to the right stopped before the crosswalk, but not at the advance yield line. Not visible it the driver in the closest lane who did not stop at all because there was a space in that lane across the intersection.

walker using the crosswalk over 16th St at R St

While I appreciate the effort, I’m not sure if the results will be what is desired, which is the ability of walkers to safely cross the street.

In the long run, the reallocation of roadway on 16th Street to reduce the general purpose lanes from three to two will help this location a great deal, but I don’t know when that will happen. It could be years away.

With the new businesses on R Street to the east, and the street dining area on R Street to the west of 15th Street, this intersection has become quite busy with walkers, bicyclists, scooters, and motor vehicles. It does deserve attention.

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.

curb ramps

While walking in the central city today, I saw this brand new curb ramp on the southwest corner of X Street and 24th Street.

new curb ramp, southwest corner of X Street & 24th Street

Why, why, why, did the city put in a diagonal curb ramp when they should have put in a two perpendicular ramps? Though I’ve searched in vain through city documents looking to see what the criteria is for a single ramp per corner versus two ramps per corner, I have heard it said by city staff that the single ramps are for residential neighborhoods and the two ramps are for urban neighborhoods. This is definitely an urban neighborhood setting, with both 24th Street and X Street being arterials. Yet the city put in a single ramp. They call this a ‘single flare curb ramp’. What should have been installed here is a ‘standard curb ramp’. The city diagrams do not show exactly this situation, where there is a sidewalk buffer (planter strip) on X Street, with an attached sidewalk on 24th Street, but the diagram below is the closest to the situation.

If the city development code does not specify that single, diagonal ramps should be used only in purely residential situations (if even there), it should be modified to be so.

2021-03-12: Adding a photo that better shows the context for this diagonal ramp. This is the southwest corner, X Street to the right and 24th Street to the left. There is space for perpendicular ramps. Of course this would have been a great location for a curb extension (bulb out) on both 24th Street and X Street, but yes, that would be significantly more expensive and might involve drainage issues.

curb ramp at southwest corner of 24th St & X St

2021-03-17: Adding a photo of a new curb ramp in the same area of town, at 22nd Street and W Street, showing the correct perpendicular curb ramps. It isn’t that the city doesn’t know how to do it right, it is that they chose not to at the intersection of X Street and 24th Street.

perpendicular curb ramps at 22nd Street & W Street