Grids are Good

This post was inspired by one on Strong Towns: Grids are Good. I’ve written about grids before (re-gridding Sacramento, trenching and decking Interstate 5, Sacramento Riverfront Reconnection, Phase 1) but it is a topic worth repeating.

The Sacramento central city is a complete grid, and so are some areas to the east and south of the central city, but the grid is broken by Hwy 50 to the south and Business 80 (Capitol City Freeway) to the east. The further from the central city one gets, the less likely there is to be a grid. Often major arterials still are on a grid, but not always, even some of them are broken. All of the freeways limit crossings. Local streets that used to go through do not. In general, the lower the income of the neighborhood, the fewer streets are carried through by underpasses or overpasses. This was an intentional design by Caltrans, intended to break up lower income neighborhoods and to isolate them from higher income neighborhoods. The principles of redlining were not just about home loans.

In a region with two major rivers, the American and Sacramento, the grid will of course be limited. However, I will point out that the Sacramento region has three bridges across the Sacramento and nine bridges across the American. Portland, a city of similar population but a bit less sprawling, has 12 bridges over just one river, the Willamette.

I worked for several years in the City of Citrus Heights. The saying was ‘it doesn’t go through’. Very few streets are through streets, and there is really nothing resembling a grid at all. This is not an accident, it was an intentional design decision by the county and developers to create street system that didn’t connect, because it was thought to provide a feeling of ruralness, of a peaceful suburb. Of course to get anywhere, everyone has to drive everywhere, so every street has too much traffic, and the major roads are congested much of the time. Ironically, the one remaining historically rural/agricultural part of the county, Orangevale, has a better street grid that any other suburb in the county.

Railroads also break up the grid. In many cases, though, the railroad alignments predate most of the development.

The lack of a grid is why our transportation system does not work well, why our transit system does not work well. Though there are opportunities here and there to reconnect or create a grid, the lack of a grid is something we will have to live with, forever, or at least until the ungridded suburbs die of their own weight (meaning not enough tax income to sustain them).

This is a superficial analysis. I would like like to get more specific about locations where the roadways network was intentionally broken or designed to be broken, and where the grid could be healed.

trenching and decking Interstate 5

Interstate 5 is a Berlin Wall through the heart of Sacramento, severing the connections between downtown and Old Sacramento. It was a product of a time when cars ruled the world, and no other values were of importance. Those times are over, and now it is time to tear down the wall and re-unify Sacramento. A map showing the general idea follows the break, but here are the highlights:

  • the current Interstate 5 elevated freeway would be torn down, and replaced by a trenched and decked section
  • I Street, J Street, L Street, and N Street would be reconnected over the freeway as regular streets; K Street would be reconnected over (not under) the freeway as a pedestrian and bicyclist street, the main grand entrance to Old Sacramento for tourists and many locals
  • Old Sacramento would not only be easily accessible from downtown, but visible from downtown
  • other adjustments would be made to the streets and circulation in this area

This will certainly not be my last post on these ideas, and I will explore the why and how of the pedestrian and bicyclist streets shown.

Note on terms: “cut and cover” is often used for underground transit and rail lines, but the term seems less commonly used for freeways, so I’ve used “trench and deck”; “the big dig” is also often used, after the project in Boston, which went way over budget and took years longer than intended, but apparently has had a very positive affect on the city

Continue reading “trenching and decking Interstate 5”

re-gridding Sacramento

J Street, from Old Sac - you can't get there from here!
J Street – you can’t get there from here! *

Traffic circulation, for everyone, is handicapped or prevented by an incomplete grid system in downtown and midtown Sacramento. Three recent posts have addressed this issue, I’m thinking about several more, and several posts over the last year were also on the same topic. So I created a new category for the Getting Around Sacramento blog, re-gridding Sacramento.

Re-gridding is an awkward phrase, but I haven’t come up with a better one yet, so I’ll use it for now.

Continue reading “re-gridding Sacramento”

I Street into Old Sacramento

The City of Sacramento sponsored Envision Sacramento website seeks input from the public on a number of issues. One of the topics was “What are your ideas on improving the Old Sacramento connection from downtown Sacramento via I Street?” You can view the comments, just below the survey, but to comment yourself you must create an account.

I Street entrance to Old Sacramento, from Envision Sacramento
I Street entrance to Old Sacramento, from Envision Sacramento

The topic uses the photo at right to illustrate the question. What you can’t see in the photo is that behind the photographer and across 3rd Street (to the left), pedestrian access is on the south side, but to the west, it is on the north side.

Comments include a number about the aesthetics of this entrance to Old Sacramento, including the having a dark freeway under crossing as the main route into the one of the highlights of Sacramento, with poor signing for motor vehicle drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. A surprising (to me) number of comments, though, were about the transportation aspects, that it is really not safe for bicyclists or pedestrians to use this entrance, even if they know it is there, and the paucity of other options. I think it is clear that the commenters agreed that the way in which Interstate 5 severed the connections between downtown and Old Sacramento is a major issue.

A gallery of photos shows some of the specific problems at this location.

Continue reading “I Street into Old Sacramento”

Gallery: I Street into Old Sacramento

These photos are of the I Street entrance to Old Sacramento, showing various problems and hazards that exist for pedestrians and bicyclists at this location.

  1. The crosswalks here are not really safe. All sorts of signing has been installed to try to make them safe, but that is a poor substitute for correct design.
  2. The free right turn from I Street eastbound to 3rd Street southbound is taken at high speed by many drivers, leaving insufficient time to stop for pedestrians. It is especially challenging because the driver is leaving the dark area under the freeway underpass and entering a bright area on the street, and the eye adjustment period again leaves insufficient time to stop for pedestrians.
  3. The sidewalk on the southwest corner of I Street and 3rd Street doesn’t really lead anywhere for a person wanting to go to Old Sacramento. There are stairs into the parking garage, but no ramp, and on 3rd Street the sidewalk ends at the driveway entrance to the parking garage. If an able bodied person does us the stairs, there is not indication once inside the parking garage about how to get to Old Sacramento, and several of the ways one might go are signed against pedestrians.
  4. The sidewalk heading west from 5th Street is on the south side of I Street, and there is no sidewalk on the north side due to the high-speed onramps to Interstate 5 and I Street Bridge. From 3rd Street and on into Old Sacramento, the sidewalk is on the north side, and there is no sidewalk on the south side. So a pedestrian must cross over I Street in order to continue westward. It is not comfortable or safe to use this crosswalk. I watched a number of people crossing at other locations, including the island formed by the free right turn, because they didn’t feel safe using the crosswalk. Most motor vehicle drivers stop at the stop sign on I Street, but many do not.

5th Street mess at Sac Valley Station

With this post, I’ve added a new category to my blog: re-gridding Sacramento. I’ll have more to say about that category, and many more posts, in the near future.

Sac Valley Station exit, forced right
Sac Valley Station exit, forced right

5th St to I St, forced right turn
5th St to I St, forced right turn


Let’s say one was driving and wanted to leave the Sacramento Valley Station (Amtrak and Capitol Corridor) to head southbound or eastbound. Tough luck. The exit at the east end of the parking lot forces you to turn right, to the south, onto 5th Street. I often see people turning across the double yellow line to go northbound on 5th Street, and to be honest, I don’t blame them, because this is the logical though illegal way to go south or east.

Continue reading “5th Street mess at Sac Valley Station”

Sacramento Riverfront Reconnection, Phase 1

2nd Street extension to Capitol Mall
2nd Street extension to Capitol Mall

SACOG in the 2013 funding round allocated $9M to the Riverfront Reconnection project in the City of Sacramento. This phase extends 2nd Street from Old Sacramento to Capitol Mall, providing an easier access to Old Sacramento, and also adds sidewalks to O Street and improves sidewalks and bike lanes on Capitol Mall between 3rd Street and the Tower Bridge. The overall purpose is to create or restore connections between downtown Sacramento and Old Sacramento which were severed by Interstate 5.

Continue reading “Sacramento Riverfront Reconnection, Phase 1”

removing Business 80?

William Burg started a wonderful conversation on Facebook about removing Business 80 from B Street to Hwy 50, returning the traffic to surface streets. The post is now up to 115 comments, and still going after two weeks. I believe that you have to be a member of Facebook to view this thread, but don’t need to be friends with William Burg (though you should). I agree with Jared that this topic should be amplified for Sacramento Press.

Some people think that this is crazy thinking, it will never happen. I think it will. Why? Not because it is a good idea, though it is, but because we will not be able to continue to keep these freeways open and in decent condition with future transportation funding. Caltrans and others have just spent or are spending $202 million on Hwy 50, basically just to keep in it usable condition. Not to improve it in any significant way, but just to keep it working. Where is the money going to come from to maintain Hwy 50, Interstate 80, Interstate 5, and Business 80 (Capital City Expressway)?

Continue reading “removing Business 80?”

freeway teardown

Synchronously today, Terry Preston (WALKSacramento) and SABA (Jim Brown) posted to Facebook with a link to an article “Is it time to start dismantling downtown freeways?” I encourage you to follow and join in those discussions: Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates and Terry Preston. I am glad to see this being discussed. I posted on this blog about the same topic, “and the freeways” back in March.

SF-FerryBuilding_Embarcadero
San Francisco Ferry Building, with and without the Embarcadero Freeway

Continue reading “freeway teardown”

The I Street mess

Thank you, Elle, for reminding me in your “transportation ‘planning’ downtown” that I wanted to write about I Street. Note: If you are looking at Google Maps, it does not show the current lane configuration on I Street since the repaving and re-striping project of last fall, nor the realignment of tracks and work on extending 5th and 6th streets over the tracks.

I Street from the 4th Street crosswalk
I Street from the 4th Street crosswalk; I have the walk signal but this is still scary

I Street in Sacramento approaching the train station is a mess. Starting with the confusing floating bike lane between 7th and 6th streets (subject of a future post), the street becomes worse and worse: five lanes wide, high speed, and completely unfriendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. For pedestrians, the crossing on the east side of the I/5th intersection is uncomfortable because westbound traffic is already moving at high speed and often runs the red light, and right turning cars from I to 5th often do not yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. The west side is so unsafe due to traffic turning left off 5th Street, it is signed against pedestrian crossing, even though this is a logical walking route from downtown to the train station. A crosswalk has been added on the east side of the I/4th intersection, but it has the same challenges that drivers are moving too fast and often run the run light. When I used this new crosswalk, I was very concerned, and I have a much higher tolerance for danger than most people do.

The right-most two travel lanes lead to the high-speed northbound I-5 freeway onramp, so drivers passing 6th Street are already accelerating to freeway speeds, many times going 55 mph as they cross through the I/5th intersection. The next two lanes lead to a medium speed onramp to the I Street bridge over the Sacramento river, and to the southbound I-5 onramp. For pedestrians, the only way to go westbound towards Old Sacramento is to go through the parking lot for the train station and under the onramps along an ugly, dark, poorly marked pedestrian way.

Continue reading “The I Street mess”