3rd St & J St construction: bad to worse

The intersection of 3rd Street and J Street is undergoing construction right now, most of it related to sewer line installation on 3rd Street, but perhaps related to other projects as well. Here is the Google image, not showing the current construction. I thought I had written about this intersection and its pedestrian hostility before, but I can’t find it searching, so it must have been one of those thoughts I never followed through on.

This has always been a problematic intersection. Two freeway off-ramps, coming from I-5 southbound and I-5 northbound, bring high speed drivers onto J Street without causing them to slow much from freeway speeds unless the lights happen to be red. 3rd Street is much calmers but has its own issues.

For a person walking north or south on the east side of 3rd Street, there are five crosswalks to navigate just to cross J Street. You can see in the photo that they are not well maintained, quite faded, low visibility crosswalks that many drivers would not even notice. Each crossing requires pushing a button, and since freeway off-ramp traffic is prioritized, each signal cycle is quite long. (For those counting, the reason I call this five crossings is that the crossing of 3rd Street on the south side had a short pedestrian cycle which was less than required by MUTCD and certainly less than should be available to walkers, so for most people, it had to be crossed in two stages, making for an even longer time to clear the intersection. Of course with no ped button on the median, one the second crossing just has to be done in a gap in traffic, against the signal.)

At this time, the intersection cannot be navigated at all. The northwest corner is under construction. Not sure why, as the ramps and curbs there were fairly new, but it is, which of course closes both the crossing of 3rd St and the crossing of the southbound off-ramp to J St. No signing and no barrier is in place on the northeast corner to indicate the closure. Notice that the pedestrian detour signs are still up on this route, even though it is not accessible. Notice also the very poorly designed curb ramp, with a detectable strip that sends walkers/rollers out into J St with its high speed traffic.

3rd St & J St, construction northwest corner, no warning

If on the other hand, you started into this mess on the south side of the intersection, there is no advance warning on the southeast corner that the crosswalk and sidewalk are closed ahead. But if somehow you approached the southwest corner, there is a sign placed in the ramp to prevent you from getting to or from the southwest corner. If there were a sign on this side, you would think there would be a sign and barrier on the southeast corner letting you know. You’d be be wrong.

3rd St & J St, southwest corner, sidewalk closed but no warning

What makes all of this particularly egregious is that pedestrian crossing on the east leg of the intersection is prohibited. See the prohibition signing and barricade on northeast and southeast corners, below.

3rd St & J St, northeast corner, crossing prohibition on east leg
3rd St & J St, southeast corner, crossing prohibition on east leg

So, solutions:

First, sign and barricades sidewalks and crosswalks properly. It is well known how to do this, and failure indicates intentional neglect on the part of the construction company, and of the city staff that permits these construction projects.

Second, install a crosswalk over J Street on the east side of the intersection, so that walkers can cross in one quick crossing rather than five slow crossings. Crossing prohibitions are more than 90% of the time an effort by traffic engineers to speed motor vehicle traffic. They rarely have anything to do with safety, and in this case, the prohibition is not there for safety.

This construction project is yet one more of the issue in Sacramento where the city requirements and construction company implementation do not meet ADA requirements, nor MUTCD requirements. These practices create a hostile environment for walkers and bicyclists, and this is no ‘accident’. It is intentional, and it is probably criminal.

Added: I missed a great argument for installing a crosswalk over J Street on the east side. There is no reason for there even to be crosswalks to the west side of 3rd Street, as there are no sidewalks on the west side, to the north or to the south. So if one new crosswalk is installed on the east side, four can be removed, including the ped signals. That should make the traffic engineers salivate!

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.

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.

I’m tired of the electric vehicle conversation

Warning: Grumpy old man mode.

I am really, really growing tired of the electric vehicle boosterism that pervades the environmental community. It is sucking all the air out of organizations and meetings, diverting attention away from solutions that would have a much greater impact on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The transportation sector is responsible for 41% of GHGs in California (2020), and that percentage will continue to climb as we work to reduce the other sectors. Except for this pandemic period, GHG emissions from vehicles have continued to climb every year, and they will probably go back to their rise when the pandemic is over, and that is already happening in some places.

Do electric vehicles have a lower emissions impact than fossil fuel vehicles? Yes, but the difference is not enough to justify the boosterism. Until our electricity supply is 100% renewable (with storage of course needed for peak periods), and we are not importing electricity from other states, the impact from electric vehicles will be unacceptably high.

And there is the other impact of vehicles. You’ve all seen the images, a take off on the old one showing the number of and space used by cars, buses, bicycles and walkers, showing congestion from electric vehicles being exactly the same as fossil fuel vehicles. But congestion is actually a friend to walkers and bicyclists, so mostly a concern to transit and drivers.

The biggest problem with cars is that they dominate our cities, and make compact, walkable development and neighborhoods impossible. I live in a place (downtown Sacramento) where nearly all of my needs are within walking distance, and the few that are not are within bicycling distance. I’m car free and have been for ten years (I had written care free instead of car free, but you know, it is much the same thing).

Yet car drivers through downtown, many but not all of them people who don’t live in downtown, challenge me for right-of-way every time a use a crosswalk. Crossing the street should not require either yielding my right of way to drivers, or trying to intimidate them into stopping (which most walkers are too afraid to do, rightly so). When I’m bicycling, drivers running red lights and not coming close to stopping at stop signs are a constant danger, meaning I have to be on high alert rather than enjoying my place and my ride. The nature of the majority of drivers is that they willingly intimidate walkers and bicyclists. People driving electric vehicles are not any better. Tesla drivers are giving BMW drivers a run for their money in competition for the worst drivers on the road.

Because of the space taken up by cars, the roadway, on-street parking, off-street parking, everything is further away. Downtown and midtown, things are still within a reasonable distance, but that is not true anywhere else in the region except downtown Davis, old town Folsom, and old town Roseville. The amount of land devoted to cars is truly amazing, and sad, and criminal. Six lane or more arterials, with parking lanes and turn lanes. Six lane or more freeways, with the ever present threat to widen them. Katy Freeway (26 lanes in Houston area), coming to your community, courtesy of Caltrans!

I suspect a lot of the energy behind electric cars is just people who really don’t want to give up their car, at all, ever. They are the same people who bought Prius cars because they were more environmental, and continued driving the same or more, and then bought Tesla cars because they are even more green, and continued driving the same or more.

Car drivers kill more than 40,000 people every year in the US, and it looks like 2020 is going to be 43,000 when the official data is in. Motor vehicle fatalities are usually a bit above gun-related deaths. Cars are the leading cause of death for children and young people. Many people tolerate this as just part of the way things are, but it is not the way things are. It is the result of our American car addiction, and the design of our roadways (engineers are morally and legally responsible for this), and the choices of drivers.

Here is my suggestion. We remove one-half of all cars from service, by whatever means necessary, with whatever funding it takes. There should be criteria that prioritizes: 1) the most polluting cars; and 2) cars owned by drivers who drive a lot, 3) cars that are not used but still take up space on the street. I realize that there are homeless people living in vehicles, and I’m not talking about those, but the ones just gathering dust and leaves and cobwebs. I am not suggesting that the government pay going prices for these vehicles, but something quite a bit less. If necessary to induce the change, we can simply refuse to renew registration on vehicles in these categories.

Then, and only then, we start subsidizing replacement of the remaining internal combustion cars with electric, starting with the lowest income people. If we devote X amount of dollars to this, and X amount only gets us up to 40% of the median income, that is just fine with me. As many studies have shown, it is high income people that are receiving almost all the benefits from electric vehicle incentives. That is classist and racist, and must stop. We might eventually get to higher income levels, but only after replacement in the lower income levels has been achieved. That means we need to immediately end the programs as they exist and revise them to be equitable. If you are an electric car booster and and not working to achieve equity, you are just being an entitled jerk.

Please, let me not hear anything about electric vehicles the next time I go to a meeting or jump on Twitter. Please.

Stockton Blvd draft available

The Stockton Blvd Corridor Study draft is now available for review. It and some display boards reflecting the report can be downloaded at https://www.cityofsacramento.org/Public-Works/Transportation/Planning-Projects/Stockton-Blvd-Corridor-Study. The city is asking for feedback through email rather than another round of workshops.

I have not reviewed the report, but if I have comments to share, I’ll post them on the blog. My take on the earlier ideas are here: Stockton Blvd Corridor Study and Stockton Blvd needs trees.

MUTCD revision comments

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is revising the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and is seeking public comment. You can view the revised document at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/12/14/2020-26789/national-standards-for-traffic-control-devices-the-manual-on-uniform-traffic-control-devices-for (scroll down until you see Supporting/Related Materials in the green box, and you may make comments on this same page (Submit a Formal Comment is a big green button).

The MUTCD is an incredibly complex document, with cross-references everywhere that require you to jump around through the document, terms used but never defined (though 287 terms are defined), incredible detail on some topics while pretty much ignoring other topics (like bicyclists and walkers). The document is intended to cover signs and markings (the paint on roadways) but does not address roadway design except in a very minor way. That is deferred to private organizations such as Association Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Many people have suggested that the main reason FHWA is updating MUTCD is to add the section on automated vehicles, and the other changes are an afterthought.

One could devote their life to reading and understanding the MUTCD, and probably would not, in fact I’m not sure that anyone in FHWA has ever read the entire document. The reason it is so important, however, is that it is the document to which transportation engineers constantly refer to as the reason they can’t do the right thing, or must do the wrong thing.

My comments so far are below.


The MUTCD should be separated into two documents, one for highways and another for streets. Local engineers continually refer to items that should only apply to highways in designing or refusing to design facilities for streets.

Section 1C.02
Definitions of Words and Phrases Used in this Manual

106. Intersection—intersection is defined as follows: (b) The junction of an alley, or driveway, or side roadway with a public roadway or highway shall not constitute an intersection, unless the public roadway or highway at said junction is controlled by a traffic control device.

The definition uses the term ‘side roadway’ but this term is not otherwise defined. If used, it must be defined.

2B.59 Traffic Signal Pedestrian and Bicycle Actuation Signs (R10-1 through R10-4, and R10-24 through R10-26)
Figure 2B-26. Pedestrian Signs and Plaques of the signs document

The activation signs in 2B-59 should be greatly simplified. There should be a sign for signal heads that count down, a sign for symbols only, a sign to activate audible message, and a sign to extend crossing time. Having 18 signs does not help pedestrians in any way. Signs reflecting old pedestrian signal heads should be phased out in five years, along with changing all pedestrian signal heads to reflect the current standard.

4I.05 Pedestrian Detectors
Push button pedestrian detectors which are not required (the signal is on auto-recall) SHALL be removed, or converted to accessible pedestrian detectors, within five years of the date of publication. Accessible push button detectors will have associated signing which clearly indicates the purpose of the button, and that a button press is not required to cross. The existence of push buttons which serve no purpose is confusing to pedestrians and indicates a bias against people who walk.

Figure 4I-4 
Pedestrian Intervals In the Relationship to associated vehicular phase intervals: diagram, the third option (Part of Yellow Change Interval + Red Clearance Interval = Buffer Interval) and the fourth option (Red Clearance Interval = Buffer Interval) should be removed. These two options may significantly reduce safety for pedestrians while having only minor impact on traffic throughput. These types of signal setups discourage people from crossing streets.

Part 6: Temporary Traffic Control

The entire Part 6 Temporary Traffic Control is extremely weak in the accommodation and protection of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Bicycles

Figure 6P-48. Bicycle Lane Closure with on-Road Detour (TA-48)
Whenever construction signs are placed in a bike lane, as they often are, the ‘bike lane closed ahead’ sign should precede the ‘road work ahead’ sign, since bicyclists will be forced into the roadway by the sign and motor vehicle drivers need the warning of bicyclists before they need the warning of road work.

W11-1/W16-1P assembly is shown on the figure, but the sign is not in associated sign document. The ‘bike lane closed ahead’ sign is not in the associated sign document, nor does it seem to exist anywhere in the current MUTCD.

The ‘bikes may use full lane’ (R4-11) and the ‘share the road’ assembly are shown as optional. They should not be optional, since the detour roadway does not have a bike lane, whereas the construction roadway did.

Figure 6P-47. Bicycle Lane Closure without Detour (TA-47)
Again makes the ‘bikes may use full lane’ and ‘share the road’ assembly optional. It should not be. Signing in this situation must communicate to both the bicyclist and the motor vehicle driver. The ‘bikes merge’ sign is not in the TTC signs document, nor anywhere else in the MUTCD.

There is no diagram that shows signing and marking for a temporary separated bicycle pathway placed in the roadway. There must be a diagram for this situation.

Pedestrians

Almost nowhere in the TTC sign diagrams are sidewalks shown nor the appropriate treatment of temporary closures, whether through detour or added pathways. The implication is that pedestrians don’t exist and need not be accommodated.

Figure 6K-2. Pedestrian Channelizing Device shows how a channelization should be constructed, but says nothing about where that channelization might occur.

Figure 6P-29. Crosswalk Closures and Pedestrian Detours (TA-29) shows sidewalk closures, with a mid block temporary crosswalk, but it does not show the barriers themselves, nor are these sidewalk barriers shown anywhere in the MUTCD so far as I can determine. Transportation agencies routinely use inconsistent signing and barriers for sidewalk closures, which is just as much of a hazard as inconsistent roadway signing, so this must be addressed in the MUTCD.

A diagram should be added that shows a pedestrian channelization placed in the roadway to provide safe and direct travel for pedestrians, in addition to the detour situation.

Sac one-way to two-way

The City of Sacramento Downtown Mobility Project includes the conversion of two one-way street segments to two-way. Specifically, I Street from 15th St to 21st St, and 5th Street from I St to X St. The time frame for these changes was projected to be 2021.

Note that 5th Street is already two-way from L St to J St, and from I St to Railyards Blvd. One-way 5th Street significantly handicaps access from the south to and from Sacramento Valley Station.

Downtown Mobility Plan

The 2040 Sacramento General Plan mobility element Proposed Roadway Changes map (10MB; this is from the City Council agenda item 15 for January 19, 2021, I’ve not found it on the city website) indicates additional one-way to two-way conversions in the central city. On the clip of the city-wide map showing the central city, below in pinkish, these are small sections of 3rd St, sections of 7th St and 8th St, one block of 16th St, small sections of 19th St and 21st St, sections of G St and H St, some additional sections of I St, a long section of N St, and small sections of L St and P St under the Business 80/Capital City freeway. There is no indication of sequencing of these conversions in documents available so far, but since the plan is a 20 year plan, I would hope that these conversion are prioritized for the next five years.

2040 Sacramento General Plan, Proposed Roadway Changes, excerpt

I’ve written a number of times about the safety hazards of one-way streets and recommendations for converting them in Sacramento: One-way streets, again; 5th Street mess at Sac Valley Station; more on conversion to two-way streets; street changes. When these additional conversions are implemented, the central city will be closer to my ideal of no one-way streets except when there is a separated (protected) bikeway on the street. An even this is questionable, as it increases safety for bicyclists but does little to increase safety for walkers.

Someone recently asked when the streets in the central city were converted to one-way, and I don’t know. Anyone out there have information?

Reform NHTSA? Hmm…

Congratulations to Californian Steven Cliff on his appointment as interim administrator the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). See StreetsblogCal post Steven Cliff, from California Air Resources Board, Appointed Acting Head of National Highway and Traffic Safety for more information.

The agency has many areas of responsibility including vehicle safety and education. The agency mission is: “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is responsible for keeping people safe on America’s roadways.” The agency has for years (long predating Trump) seen its mission as making it safe for people inside vehicles, and has ignored any issues of safety for people outside vehicles. People have repeatedly asked that the agency address vehicle design that would make it safer for people outside, making it less likely that they would be hit by a driver, and more likely to survive if they were hit. Its education programs are rife with victim blaming and bias against walkers and bicyclists. Nearly everyone who is active in the walker and bicyclist safety profession rejects out of hand their educational materials as being so biased as to be unusable. Even though they have officially stopped using the discredited claim that driver behavior is responsible for 94% of crashes, they are still relaying and cheering on this garbage when other agencies and organizations use it.

NHTSA has promoted the ‘shared responsibility’ mythology, that all users of the road are equally responsible for safety, frequently seen along with the message that walkers and bicyclist must wear high visibility clothing, must carry lights, must never use cell phones, must be aware at all times of the hazard presented by motor vehicles and are responsible for avoiding those hazards. This is bullshit. Drivers of vehicles which are designed to be unsafe for people outside them, who think they own the road and that pedestrians and bicyclists should be somewhere else, should be responsible. These drivers are traveling along roadways that were designed to be unsafe for walkers and bicyclists by transportation agency engineers, who also should be responsible.

NHTSA does not have responsibility for roadway design, that lies with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). However, NHTSA has made no effort to work with FHWA to bring together concerns about the safety of vehicle design with the safety of roadway design. The agency view seems to be ‘not our problem’.

I encourage you to read Don Kostelec, who has been one of strongest voices highlighting the victim-blaming of agencies like NHTSA and the mis-design of roadways by engineers. He does a better job of this than I ever could.

20% of roadway fatalities in 2019 were what NHTSA calls ‘nonoccupant fatalities’, meaning people walking and bicycling. Or eating in cafes, or sleeping in their beds, or shopping in stores, or any number of other ways in which drivers kill people when departing the roadway. During the pandemic there has been a huge increase in poor (criminal) driver behavior, and after the pandemic there will be a large increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT). In some places, vehicles miles traveled (VMT) has already increased nearly back to where it was before the pandemic, even though many people are taking few or no trips. Those who are taking trips have increased their motor vehicle use. This does not bode well. NHTSA does not directly contribute to this problem, but it has had a central role in absolving drivers of responsibility for crashes that kill and maim walkers and bicyclists, and for that, I hold them responsible.

7,338 walkers and bicyclist died on the roadways in 2019. The numbers will probably be similar in 2020, though some cities have seen huge increases. Ironically, the percentage of total fatalities may decrease since there has been such a huge increase, of about 1.5 times, in single vehicle crashes, mostly due to speeding. (https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/Publication/813054)

I don’t think that NHTSA can be reformed. The culture of windshield perspective and victim blaming is so deeply ingrained in the agency that, short of casting off all the administrators, department heads, and much of the employee base, no reform is possible. While other agencies and organizations at all government levels have shifted away from victim blaming and windshield bias, many kicking and screaming, NHTSA has not shifted. It is still stuck in the 1970s mindset that plagues transportation agencies, that the purpose of roadways is to move the maximum number of motor vehicles at the maximum possible speed.

So, Steven, I wish you the best of luck and professional success in this position, but I’m not holding my breath. The anti-safety culture is just too deeply embedded in NHTSA. Of that 7,338 people who died in 2019, I would guess that half of them would be alive today if NHTSA actually took its stated mission of roadway safety seriously.

pavement condition in Sac City, part 2

I started wondering about other variables that might affect pavement condition index (PCI) in the council districts, so here is a little more exploration. See the previous post: pavement condition in Sac City.

First, the council district map, for those who may not be familiar with boundaries.

I wondered about the relationship between population density (people per square mile) and PCI. There isn’t any correlation, though again, the district 1 and 8 outliers may be interesting. I did not realize that district 8 has the highest population density of the districts.

I wondered about the relationship between lanes miles and PCI. There is a weak correlation.

And finally, here is my current data table, in case you want to play with data or suggest insights. Note that the population of each district is roughly the same, as it should be. The unfunded column is the amount (millions of dollars) of backlog, to bring roadways up to PCI 75, but it does not include the ongoing yearly expense of maintaining them at that level.

pavement condition in Sac City

In the search for other information, I came across the City of Sacramento Pavement Condition Report, dated March 2020, and it has some interesting things to ponder. The city has 3000 lane miles of streets. The county reports road miles instead of lane miles, so I can’t directly compare the city and county, but the city does say it has the fifth largest roadways network in California.

The report has maps for each council district, showing the PCI for each (PCI = pavement condition index, a measure of how well the roadway has been maintained, higher is better). I wondered whether the PCI correlated with income, as many things do, so I plotted 2020 median household income of each district against PCI, table and chart below.

There is not a strong correlation between income and PCI, R = .42, but district 1 and 2 are clear outliers, with 1 being the highest income and highest PCI, and 2 being the lowest income and lowest PCI. The city report says that the reason district 1 has a high PCI is that the roads there are newer, but I’m a little doubtful this explains it all, since many of the roads in that area are now old enough to need maintenance.

The target score for ‘roads in good condition’ is at least PCI 75, so Sacramento is falling far short of that because it is not spending enough on roadway maintenance. Part of the reason for this is that money is spent on building new roadways and widening roadways instead of maintaining roadways. But the underlying reason is that the city has allowed to be constructed, and then taken on maintenance responsibility for, roadways which it does not have the income to maintain. In new developments, construction of internal roadways is paid by the developer, but arterials and collectors, which often must be upgraded to handle increased traffic, and the interchanges with freeways, are largely paid by the city, or grants, and are maintained by the city. But low density development, of which the city was formerly very fond and still has some attachment to, cannot ever generate enough income in property or sales taxes to maintain the roadways. This is one of the great suburban subsidies that so hurts our cities and counties.

The report lays out three funding level scenarios:

  1. current funding levels: The PCI will deteriorate over 10 years to 42, which is rated ‘poor’, and if ever corrected, would cost about ten times as much to correct as it would to maintain. I doubt that most people in the city would find this in any way acceptable.
  2. maintain current conditions: To keep the PCI level at 60, the city would need to spend $35.7 million per year, but it is currently only spending $9.7 million per year. This is 3.7 times current expenditures. Though the PCI would be stable, there would be a continuous increasing backlog of maintenance because the PCI would not be improved to the desired 75.
  3. improve conditions to state of good repair: To bring PCI to 75 would cost $58.5 million per year. This is 6.0 times current expenditures.

What to do? I’m sure if the city knew, it might never have gotten into this bind. This is a pattern with nearly all cities, that they cannot under any reasonable current taxation scheme hope to maintain their infrastructure. This post is about roadways, but the same is true of water supply and sewer and electric and gas. And services such as fire and police, for that matter. And it doesn’t even touch on the need for sidewalk maintenance, which is only addressed in terms of adding ADA structures at intersections. For much greater insight on the problem and possible solutions, I refer you to Strong Towns and the book Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity (from your local bookstore or library).

But I will suggest some things:

  • a moratorium on accepting any new roadways into the city, until the city has identified a mechanism for maintaining them, which would probably entail the developer paying into a trust fund for maintenance
  • paving of parking lanes to a lower level of maintenance than travel lanes; adjacent areas do not need the load bearing capacity of travel lanes nor receive as much wear and tear; the city has already done this in a few locations
  • reducing excess travel lanes; for most roadways in the city, three travel lanes per direction are excess capacity, rarely needed except for brief periods of time or in uncommon circumstances; though re-allocation to bike lanes, separated bikeways, or sidewalks (or in a few cases, parking) should be the ultimate fate of these excess areas, in the meanwhile they can just be blocked off from use and therefore remove the need for maintenance; in many cases two lanes per direction are also excess
  • evaluate whether a lower PCI than 75 might be just fine for residential streets and collector streets; after all, poor pavement does have a traffic calming effect, and we need traffic calming everywhere, so maybe PCI 60 is OK for many roadways

I believe that funding to maintain local streets, most of which are residential streets, and probably collector streets, should come from the city or county level, not from the state or federal government. The closer to the roadway the funding is, the more likely the city or county is to make rational and sustainable decisions about roadway maintenance responsibilities and funding. I think an argument could be made that arterial maintenance should be funded by the state since these roadways serve traffic beyond the city and county boundaries.

As a car-free person, you might assume that I don’t care much about pavement condition, but buses and bikes operate on the same streets as private motor vehicles and commercial vehicles, so acceptable pavement condition is important to me as well.