Strong Towns Chuck Marohn in Citrus Heights on Thursday

Chuck Marohn, President of the Strong Towns organization, will be in the Sacramento area this Thursday (June 16). He is speaking in Citrus Heights, 6:00PM to 7:30PM, and it appears he is also presenting to the SACOG Board at a workshop, item 14 (immediately following consideration of the proposed transportation sales tax measure side agreement).

This conjunction seems appropriate, since Strong Towns has just released its five campaigns that are the core of its new strategic plan:

  1. We’re Advocating for Safe and Productive Streets
  2. America *Must* End Highway Expansions
  3. Your City’s Accounting Is Unnecessarily Obscure. It’s Time To Pull Back the Veil
  4. Legalizing Incremental Change—Everywhere—To Meet America’s Housing Needs
  5. End the Parking Mandates and Subsidies That Are Hurting Our Cities

So, how does the transportation sales tax measure measure up?

  1. It does almost nothing for safe and productive streets. It at least give lip service to complete streets, but since it does not define what that means, the transportation agencies will create arterials that look a little nicer, but do little to slow traffic or increase the number of safe crossings. In fact, it is the unwritten policy of each of the agencies that speed limits will NOT be reduced when a roadway is reconstructed.
  2. It is all about highway expansions. More freeways, more interchanges! More construction jobs dedicated to making our cities worse rather than better.
  3. Accounting. The Existing Measure A has an Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee (ITOC), which ensures that no one is absconding with funds, but does not address whether the projects actually contribute to economic stability, nor whether bonding almost all projects was a good idea. Measure A income is going largely to pay off bond debt, which is why SacTA and other advocates are so wanting to pass another measure, so Measure A can be bailed out.
  4. The measure says nothing about the connection between land use and transportation. It just makes the assumption that more transportation infrastructure is good, and more sprawl (technically, low density exurban development) is also good.
  5. Parking is hardly mentioned. Yes, this is primarily the purview of local agencies (cities and the county), but it is interesting that none of the projects in the Transportation Expenditure Plan address management of parking. Isleton wants to rehabilitate a parking lot, and the City of Sacramento wants parking facilities (not defined).

I am a founding member of Strong Towns, and the organization has influenced my thinking about transportation and housing more than any other source. I don’t agree with everything, but I do agree with most, and it is these goals that I work to implement in the city, county, and region.

So – go see Chuck!

SacCity low income high minority

As promised, a different map of the City of Sacramento showing low income high minority (LIHM) areas, below and in pdf. The light green = low income high minority, is probably the most significant category. There are similarities to the median household income map posted earlier, but they are not identical. It is not that either is right or wrong, just different measures.

This dataset is the Environmental Justice or LIHM developed by SACOG in 2020, for use in their MTP/SCS development process and other uses. This dataset used block groups, the smallest of the census areas, rather than census tracts, which is why the areas on this map do not necessarily match the census tract boundaries on the MHI map. The summary description is:

Environmental Justice areas as of 2020. Created with various factors related to environmental impact of the Sacramento region.

SACOG, with the assistance of the SACOG Equity Working Group, identified 2020 EJ areas as census block group level concentrations of low income, and/or high minority and/or qualification of an “other vulnerability” and/or within the CalEnviroScreen 3.0 identified areas. The other vulnerabilities take into consideration concentrations of: older adults aged 75 or more, linguistically isolated households, single parent households with children under the age of 18, low educational attainment, severely housing cost burdened households, and persons with disabilities.

This is consistent with SACOG’s 2020 MTP/SCS adopted plan. This feature has identified 548 boundaries as Environmental Justice areas for the SACOG region as of August 2021.

housing grants and transportation

The Strategic Growth Council has awarded $808M in grants for affordable housing in the sixth round of the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

Streetsblog Cal covered one of the two in the Sacramento region:

“In Yuba City in Northern California, Richland Village, also awarded $30 million, will build 176 units in a net-zero-energy project that includes electric vehicle charging, as well as a transit center hub nearby with an electric bus charging system. It will also add sidewalks, bike lanes, new crosswalks, traffic calming measures, and pedestrian-level lighting. The award will also help fund workforce development programs, multi-lingual legal counseling services, and transit passes for residents.”

The other project is On Broadway Apartments in Sacramento at Broadway and 19th St, with 138 units of income restricted housing. This is two blocks from the Broadway light rail station and along SacRT bus route 51. I could not find any articles that are not firewalled, but here are two you may want to read: https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article242715176.html and https://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/news/2020/05/14/broadway-proposal-would-add-150-affordable-apartme.html.

Sacramento Tweed Ride, December 4

The Sacramento Tweed group is hosting the annual Tweed Ride on Saturday, December 4, starting at 12:00 noon. The ride is “Winter Wonderland Ride and Picnic”. It meets at WAL Public Market at 1104 R St, at 11:30AM, and rolls about at noon. It is a ‘bring your own picnic’ event. The picnic occurs in a local park. There is sometimes an unofficial after-event visit to a drinking establishment.

There were a number of tweed riders on the SABA Mural ride on Sunday, distributing handbills and encouraging local bicyclists to join. Period clothing is appreciated and celebrated (roughly 1902-1920), but certainly not required. Period bicycles are also appreciated and celebrated, but certainly not required. Come as you are!

The handbill flier is below, and the event is on Facebook at Sacramento Tweed Ride 2.0, https://www.facebook.com/groups/534956886520489/.

And a photo from the 2014 Sacramento Tweed Ride picnic.

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.

Stockton Blvd Corridor Plan review

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

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

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

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

Stockton Blvd & Fruitridge Road intersection

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

city’s 311 app broken

The City of Sacramento recently release a new 311 app. I have been using this app (iOS version), mostly to report issues with construction signing. The app is broken!

What are the issues?

  • If you switch away from the app to some other app, the app logs you out, and you have to log in again.
  • Once you’ve logged in again, it asks you to confirm your contact details. Even though it asked you to do that moments ago – it doesn’t keep track.
  • It will not allow you to upload photos. Usually it give an error message, photo could not be uploaded, but sometimes it hangs the entire app. If you are wondering, it makes no difference whether you take the photo then or try to use an existing photo, nor what size you attempt to upload.
  • The app (and the website) is happy to show you requests you’ve made, but the only information on the request is the cross streets or address that you reported. It doesn’t show what the request was, so if you’ve made more than one request on the same location, or simply don’t remember what the request was, you won’t get any help from the app (or the website).

An ongoing problem, not specific to the app, is that the city closes requests without saying whether they did anything or not. The only way for you to know whether they did anything is to go back to the same location, and look to see. That’s if you remember what your request was.

a day in the life… of bike share

I saw a cool graphic of the flow of JUMP bike share bikes in San Francisco, and thought is would be interesting to do the same for Sacramento. The effect is not so dramatic, but it is interesting. I have zeroed in on the central city, which of course only tells part of the story, but this is the level at which bike and hub icons show, whereas the next zoom out only shows them as dots. I’d like to do this for a weekday as well, but probably won’t have the chance for several weeks, as I’m out of town.

The first one is Saturday, at a few points in time, the second one is Sunday, at three hour intervals. Maybe like watching paint dry, maybe better.

JUMP_Sac-map_2018-06-09

 

Bike share in Santa Monica

Breeze maintenance shed
The Breeze Bike Share in Santa Monica uses the same Social Bicycles (SoBi) bikes that the Tower Bridge Preview in Sacramento does. On a recent four day visit to Santa Monica, I used the system quite a bit, both for transportation and to compare systems. Here is my take:

  • Breeze Bike Share is operated by a separate company, CycleHop, rather than directly by SoBi as is the Sacramento system. The company also operates systems in West Hollywood/Beverly Hills, Long Beach, San Mateo, and other cities outside California. CycleHop has a major maintenance and storage facility, which I stumbled across, shown in the photo above. They tried rebalancing with bikes for a while but have gone to using vans as they are more efficient. 
  • Breeze bikes are green, and the major corporate sponsor is Hulu. As far as I know, Sacramento is still in search of a major corporate sponsor. 
  • The cost per hour for Breeze is $7, whereas Tower Bridge is $4. This makes a difference! Though I only used up $5 of my initial investment (it costs a minimum of $7 to join), this is only because I spent time every day returning bikes to,hubs in order to gain return credits. 
  • Return to hub credit is $1 in the Breeze system, $1.50 in Tower Bridge. It makes a difference!
  • Outside-hub fees are $2, and outside boundary (geofenced) is $20, the same as Tower Bridge. 
  • I saw people riding Breeze bikes all over town, at all times of day. I often saw the hub racks fill up and empty out over a short period of time, so I know that bikes in the busiest areas were getting many trips per day, though I don’t have any data. It is rare to see Tower Bridge bikes on the road, and though I think they get used one or two times a day, use per bike is much lower.
  • Downtown Santa Monica has a high density of hubs, about every two blocks, but the hubs are much sparser in the more suburban parts of town. The downtown hubs are quite large, up to 16 racks spaces. The advertisement says 500 bikes, 80 stations. 
  • Several of the hubs are sponsored, which is indicated by a different icon for the hub, but I was unable to find out more about these sponsored stations, and it was not obvious who was sponsoring them. Tower Bridge does not have any sponsored stations at this time. 
  • Hubs were located close to each light rail station (Metro Expo Line), and at many major bus stops. Tower Bridge hubs are not. 
  • Breeze has the same problems of geo-location that Tower Bridge has, sometimes bikes shown as in hub were not, sometimes bikes shown as out-of-hub were at a hub, and sometimes the bikes were nowhere to be found at the indicated location. More of an irritant than a major issue, since the next hub or bike is not far away. 
  • Breeze has a low-income program, but details are only available on request, not on the website. 
  • Breeze allows users to unlock bikes with a registered TAP card (similar to Connect Card), but charges are to the Breeze account and not the TAP account. I’m using my Connect Card in Sacramento, and also used it in Santa Monica. Using a card is a slight convenience over entering a six digit number. 
  • Santa Monica has flat areas, and gently inclined areas, similar to Sacramento and West Sacramento, but the rise from beach level to downtown level, and out of the Rustic Creek canyon, is comparable to American River up to Fair Oaks. A lot of bikes get left down by the pier and beach , so I imagine part of the re-balancing effort is getting these bikes back up the hill. 

Breeze map below. Green dots are hubs with bikes, grey dots are hubs without bikes, blue dots are bikes parked out-of-hub. You can see the higher density downtown. 

parks and green space

Strong Towns had a post yesterday “Why greenspace is different from a park” that got me thinking about parks and green spaces in Sacramento. As a commenter said, it is the quality and use of the land, and the relationship to space around it, that is most important, not the park or greenspace binary. 

Two dead parks come immediately to mind, Winn Park in midtown (P & Q, 27th & 28th), and Crocker Park (N & O, 2nd & 3rd). How are they dead? Very few people ever use them, certainly not enough to make the space feel used and safe, as the blog post points out is so important. In Winn, there is finally a small playground, but overall it does not make the park feel any less abandoned. Crocker Park as nothing to do. Yes, both places have trees and grass, but those thing are not in short supply in Sacramento. Several other square block parks feel alive.

Roosevelt Park (P & Q, 9th & 10th) has sports and a nearly continuous pick-up basketball game going on. Fremont Park has a larger playground, a fountain in the summer, benches, and events such as Chalk It Up. Probably most importantly, it has both residences and business on adjacent streets. The park is not the only reason to go there. Cesar Chavez Park (I & J, 9th & 10th) is probably the busiest small park in the region. It is a homeless daytime retreat, has a lot of events, now has a cafe again, and is surrounded by business and government, particularly the library. Many reasons to go there. There are several other one-block parks in downtown and midtown that I’m less familiar with. 

Crocker Art Museum is working up plans to activate Crocker Park by integrating it better with the museum. I think they’ll do a good job, though funding may slow the solutions. The city is finally talking about activating Winn Park, but I don’t think there is a plan yet. I’m sure some people in the neighborhood would be horrified, but what Winn needs is not just a park with more things to do, but more facing retail business and higher density housing. There is a bit, such as Lou’s Sushi, but it needs more. More things to do not just in the park, but around the park. 

The Strong Towns post also talks about green spaces, those areas left to grass or sometimes more interesting vegetation, but not really serving any purpose. In Sacramento, there are green spaces along some of the freeways. This is dead land, and few people want to even be there, but as the commenter points out, it can be used to handle stormwater and to filter air pollution, if designed properly. In newer subdivisions, there is often green space along the main roads. How this is of benefit escapes me. Those people whose back fences face a busy street have and will alway have lower property values, and no amount of non-native plants is going to change that. Front yard greenspaces are a horror in the suburbs, perhaps the thing most responsible for making suburbs the low value communities they are. People retreating into a set back house with a moat of grass is the problem, not the solution, to livable and responsible communities. The inner ring, older suburbs have this issue to some degree, but the setbacks are much less, and the lack of snout houses (those showing their very best two, three, four cars garages to the street) makes it acceptable. Sacramento downtown and midtown of course have a lot of temporary green space, places where housing was torn down (some which could have been repurposed or rehabilitated, and some not) and the planned replacement never built. I suppose it is good to have some land “banked” in this way, but we have far too much. 

And then there is Capitol Mall. Vast grass in between tall buildings, and never used by anyone except for a few major events each year. I suppose that someone thought a grand entrance to Sacramento was needed, along the lines of a city of skyscrapers and parks envisioned by Le Curbusier. But it is pretty much useless. It is not a park in any sense of the word. There have been suggestions over the years of how to fix this, including Rob Turner in Sactown Magazine: Boulevard of Broken Dreams. But solutions will be expensive and contentious. 

Rain swales are another type of greenspace which I have apparently not written about, but will. There ar several close to where I live.