whither Sacramento Vision Zero?

The City of Sacramento adopted Vision Zero in 2017, and developed a Vision Zero Action Plan in 2018. The plan identified five high injury corridors for projects to slow traffic and increase safety for walkers and bicyclists. The city then developed a plan for these five corridors in 2021. The city has obtained grants for some of these corridors, and will apply for more. The city lowered speed limits in a number of schools zones (though street design, drop-off/pick-up procedures, and motorist behavior are the issues in most school zones, not speeding). The city also developed a public outreach education program, though there is no evidence of such programs having any effect on driver behavior (NHTSA and California OTS have thousands of programs with no demonstrated success). So far, so good.

But…

  • The city has intentionally ignored high injury intersections, unless they are on one of these corridors. No grant applications have been made to fix intersections, though intersections are where most fatalities and severe injuries occur. No non-grant actions have been taken to fix high injury intersections.
  • The city has failed to set up a crash investigation team to determine causes and solutions for every fatality. The police department (or CHP if the crash occurs on a state highway) will do an investigation, and sometimes involve traffic engineers, but never involves planners, never involves experts in nonprofit organizations (who have as much if not more expertise than city staff), and never involves citizens who walk and bike.
  • The Vision Zero Task Force, which met in 2016 and 2017, has never met since. That means there is no community guidance for the Vision Zero program. City staff is making all the decisions on Vision Zero.
  • The city has ignored all the low cost options for reducing motor vehicle crashes. As just one example, the city has been asked to remove pedestrian beg buttons and create leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) at all signalized intersections, but did only a small beg button set to auto-recall on five crosswalks, and have not increased the number of LPIs in years.

Solutions?

  • The city should create an effective crash investigation team, composed of law enforcement, city traffic engineers, city planners, nonprofit experts, and citizens who walk and bike, and perhaps a representative of the neighborhood association in which the crash occurred. The team should never be led by law enforcement, which has an anti-walker and anti-bicyclist windshield bias. It has been suggested that streets where fatalities have occurred be shut down until the investigation and resulting fixes are in place, which is an idea worth considering.
  • The city should identify the top five high injury intersections, and commit to significant changes to eliminate crashes at those intersections, within three years. And then move on to the next five. The corridor projects and intersection projects should be considered co-equal in city funded projects or grant applications.
  • The city Active Transportation Commission should take on a strong leadership role in advising the council on the Vision Zero program. It may also be appropriate to re-convene the task force to provide more detailed guidance to staff.
  • The city should implement a Vision Zero project to change all traffic signals in the entire city to auto-recall (with removal of the physical beg buttons as staffing allows) and leading pedestrian intervals.
  • The city should undertake a review of peer cities that have reduced speed limits city-wide, to determine whether to implement this change and how to learn from the experiences of other cities. If the review indicates that speeds can be reduced by as little as 3 mph by a reduction from 25 mph to 20 mph, the city should implement it city-wide. Similarly for higher speed streets.

Sac Vision Zero intersections & red light cameras

I’ve written previously about Vision Zero high injury intersections in the City of Sacramento: Sac Vision Zero new intersections map, Sac Vision Zero top intersections all modes, Sac Vision Zero top ped intersections, Sac Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors and top intersections, and Sac Vision Zero flaws.

The City of Sacramento has red light cameras at the following locations:

  • Mack Road & La Mancha Way/Valley Hi Drive
  • El Camino Avenue & Evergreen Street
  • Howe Avenue & Fair Oaks Boulevard
  • Mack Road & Center Parkway
  • Exposition Boulevard & Ethan Way
  • Broadway & 21st Street
  • Folsom Boulevard & Howe Avenue/Power Inn Road
  • Arden Way & Challenge Way
  • 5th Street & I Street
  • 16th Street & W Street
  • Alhambra Boulevard & J Street

The top injury intersections are:

  • Stockton Blvd & Broadway
  • Stockton Blvd & Lemon Hill Ave
  • Stockton Blvd & 47th Ave & Elder Creek Rd
  • Watt Ave & Auburn Blvd
  • Del Paso Blvd & Evergreen St & Lampasas Ave
  • Julliard Dr & Kiefer Blvd & Folsom Blvd
  • Power Inn Rd & Fruitridge Rd
  • Freeport Blvd & Florin Rd
  • Center Pkwy & Cosumnes River Blvd
  • Bruceville Rd & Cosumnes River Blvd
  • Franklin Blvd & Mack Rd

Notice there is no overlap. One could optimistically say that the presence of red light cameras may be making drivers safer and reducing the crashes at these locations. But I doubt it. More likely, the city is just not prioritizing high injury intersections. Of course high injury intersections change over time, as traffic patterns change, and as the city redesigns intersections to be safer, so red light camera locations need not remain static.

I ask that the city install red light cameras at all the high injury intersections. I am not asking that the city move the existing cameras to the new locations. If someone thought a red light camera was necessary at an intersection, it probably still is, and should continue unless evidence indicates otherwise.

A lot of driver-apologists claim that red light cameras are not fair, that they are installed mostly to gain ticket revenue, and that they aren’t accurate anyway. Yes, some places have installed cameras for funding, but Sacramento is not one of them. Yes, sometimes the camera systems flag a vehicle that is not running a red light, but the photos are reviewed. Even if the city were making $1M a day on red light cameras, that would be just fine with me if it prevents one death. I value life more highly than do many drivers.

I worked in Citrus Heights for several years, which has a much higher percentage of traffic signals complemented by red light cameras. My perception is that it really did make a difference. I saw very little red light running in Citrus Heights. Other violations, sure, but not red light running.

photo from City of Sacramento Red Light Running Program page

lower speed limits?

Assembly Bill 43 (Friedman), passed in 2021, allows cities to set lower speed limits in specific situations. The 85% percentile rule says that speed limits should be set at the speed 85% of drivers are going, the prevailing speed, causes speed limits to increase, as drivers reset their normal speed to be somewhat over the posted speed limit. So speed limits continue to go up and will never go down again. This legislation is the second attempt to reverse that trend and that craziness.

The bill adds to a few limited circumstances where speed limits can be lowered to include ‘business activity districts’ (now), and concentrations of pedestrians and bicyclists and ‘safety corridors’ starting June 2024. There are a lot of details that will have to be worked out by local entities before implementation.

The first bill, AB 321 (Nava), allows cities to lower speed limits in school zones to 20 mph or 15 mph. The City of Sacramento did take advantage of this earlier law to lower speed limits at 115 schools. (City of Sacramento reduces speed limit in school zones)

A few cities are moving forward to implement lower speed limits in the situations the new law allows:

This option is available to all cities and counties in the Sacramento region. Which will be the first to step up and slow down?

Yes, I know that better design of the roadway is the most effective method for reducing speeds and increasing safety, but infrastructure changes are expensive and slow to be implemented. This bill will save lives and reduce severe injury in the meanwhile.

red light cameras

The City of Sacramento has 11 red light camera locations: Red Light Running Program. Of these, some are at high-injury intersections, but most are not. These locations are cross-referenced with high injury intersections shown in the post Sac Vision Zero new intersections map.

LocationTop allTop pedTop bike
Mack Rd & La Mancha Way/Valley Hi Drnonono
El Camino Ave & Evergreen Stnonono
Howe Ave & Fair Oaks Blvdnonono
Mack Rd & Center Parkwaynonono
Exposition Blvd & Ethan Waynonono
Broadway & 21st Stnonono
Folsom Blvd & Howe Ave/Power Inn Rdnonono
Arden Way & Challenge Waynonono
5th St & I Stnonono
16th St & W Stnonono
Alhambra Blvd & J Stnonono

My first thought is that the city was putting these cameras in the wrong location. But then I thought, what if the presence of red light cameras is making these locations safer and therefore dropping them out of the highest injury intersection list. I don’t have the information to answer that question, which would take analysis of crashes at the intersections, and before/after data.

What I do know is that many more red light cameras are needed to counteract the pandemic of red light running: pandemic of red light running. I spend time around the edges of Fremont Park, close to where I live, which includes the intersection of arterial streets P, Q, 15th, and 16th, and one of the things I do is watch traffic in the intersections. It has now become rare for a signal cycle for 16th St northbound at P St to not see an incidence of red light running. The other intersections are not quite as bad, but the pattern is there. And this is happening everywhere in Sacramento that I go; these are not likely to even be the worst intersections.

I believe that most of the red light running is by egregious violators, people who routinely and continuously violate traffic law for their own convenience or thrill seeking. This is true of most traffic violations, but red light running is the one most likely to result in fatality and serious injury, for people in all modes of travel. So having a more widespread set of red light cameras would serve to catch these red light violators. Of course the follow-up is necessary, to revoke the licenses and confiscate the vehicles of these repeat offenders. The longer the city looks the other way on this issue, the more people will come to see it as normal behavior, and the less safe our streets will be.

The standard response by cars-first entitled drivers is that tickets are just a money-making scheme by the government. The purpose of red light cameras is to make streets safer, and if that results in some income, so be it. I’m more than happy to have these sociopathic drivers hit in the pocketbook, and the money can be used to make our streets safer, such as by installing more red light cameras. Red light tickets, with photos, are part of the documentation needed to revoke licenses and confiscate vehicles.

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.

AB 550 allows speed cameras

AB 550, by Assemblyman David Chui, would allow the use of Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE, or speed cameras) in certain circumstances. I can’t point you to the language for specifics, since the legislative website has not been updated yet. You might call this a gut and amend bill, but since the original subject was ‘pedestrian safety’ it is really more of an amend.

The bill would establish a pilot program, which local transportation agencies could participate in. It would not start until July 2022, more than a year from now, in order for CalSTA (California State Transportation Agency) to develop an implementation plan. The program would rest with Caltrans and local transportation agencies, not with law enforcement agencies, which is a critical distinction to reduce the use of discriminatory pretext stops by law enforcement.

This legislation for ASE is a key component of the Vision Zero movement: “Managing speed to safe levels.”

It has long been my theory that most fatal crashes, whether the victim is a driver, passenger, walker or bicyclist, are caused by egregious speeders, drivers who travel more than 10 mph over the speed limit, the sort of people that CHP occasionally catches going 120 mph on the freeway, and is the same person driving 50 mph on a residential street. If that person is getting repeated automated speeding tickets, then they (he) can be targeted for more serious consequences like loss of freedom and loss of vehicle. Of course loss of vehicle probably requires other law changes, but this bill is at least a start.

When the bill language is available and hearing scheduled, I’ll post again. Keep an eye out here, or Streetsblog, or Twitter.

Streetsblog SF: Lawmaker Tries Again on Automated Speed Enforcement

from Streetsblog SF, original source unknown

the VZ solution we won’t talk about

The one thing that no one in the transportation advocacy community wants to talk about is speed-limiting vehicles. Speed-limiting means that vehicles cannot operate over the speed limit selected for a section of roadway. The technology for doing this is largely already in place on modern motor vehicles, as they already monitor their speed and already have available information about the speed limit on the street they are on. Older vehicles of course don’t, and would need to be retrofitted.

Why speed limiting? Because it is a simple solution that cuts through all the other discussion and contortions and expense of other solutions. Some people think education is the solution, as though all the education to date has done any good. Some people don’t want any traffic laws enforced, because ‘freedom’, meaning of course the freedom to operate a vehicle recklessly and kill people. Some people think that the solution is to redesign roads so as to prevent speeding. I’m not against that solution, but our mis-designed transportation system has a value of trillions of dollars, and fixing it will require trillions of dollars. We could spend our money that way, but why when we have so many other good causes to spend on. Vision Zero efforts are admirable, at least when they don’t have the involvement of law enforcement, but there has been very slow progress or regression in the United States because the engineering profession and law enforcement really don’t believe in the idea, giving it lip service while trying to subvert it.

Speed kills. It increase the severity of crashes, making severe injury and fatality more likely. It also increase the frequency of crashes, because drivers have less time to react and avoid, or slow before impact. You have all seen a version of the graph below, and it is important to remember that at every speed, speed is a contributing factor.

Speed limited does not mean changing posting speed limits, though it turns out that reducing speed limits does indeed reduce traffic speeds and reduce crashes and injury severity. However, speed limits are not set to the design speed of the road, but lower than than. As a result, drivers are encouraged by road design to speed, while fingers are wagged and tickets are written. But the problem is not solved. Crashes and severe injuries and death continue apace, or increase in the case of this last year.

With speed-limiting, no vehicle goes faster than the speed limit. If there are no crashes, maybe it gets increased a bit. If there are crashes with severe injury or fatality, then it gets reduced. We don’t need to change speed limit signs, we just change the permissible speed which vehicles respond to and follow.

Of course we should redesign streets to make them friendlier and safer for walkers, bicyclists, transit users, and drivers for that matter. But in the meanwhile, I want no one to die or be seriously injured on the streets and roads we have. Speed-limiting is the solution.

It is worth pointing out that designers and manufacturers of autonomous vehicles don’t want this to happen. They are assuming they will be allowed to violate speed limits, because they know that their primary target driver audience, young aggressive males, won’t buy vehicles that go the speed limit. They are just hoping no one notices that they are going to bypass this, and probably will get away with it.

Sac Vision Zero new intersections map

Thinking about the intersections maps and what they show (Sac Vision Zero top intersections all modes, Sac Vision Zero top ped intersections, Sac Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors and top intersections), I thought it might be interesting to present the data in a different way. The two maps below show all of the top intersections identified in the all-modes, pedestrian, and bicycle data. They are divided into a north section and a south section so that the intersections and their labels are visible. The maps are available as pdfs (north, south).

legend for intersections on maps below
Sacramento top collision intersections, north section
Sacramento top collision intersections, south section

The intersection data is in the table below.

What’s next? I’ll take a closer look at some of these intersections. For people who follow traffic engineering, it will probably be immediately obvious why these intersections are dangerous. A detailed analysis requires looking at each collision record individually, which I don’t have time to do. The city did make use of incident reports, which contain more information than the data in SWITRS, in developing the Vision Zero Plan.

Sac Vision Zero top intersections all modes

And now for the third analysis of high injury network intersections and the relationship to the Sacramento Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors. The dataset this time is all killed or severe injury collisions in Sacramento, for all modes of travel, for the period 2009-2017. Of the 1641 collisions in the city, 322 (20%) were at intersections defined by the intersection of arterial and/or collector streets. There is also a pdf map available.

Sacramento high injury network intersections and Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors

Of the eleven intersections with four or five collisions, three are on the Top 5 Corridors:

  • Stockton Blvd & Broadway, 4 (on Stockton-Broadway corridor)
  • Stockton Blvd & Lemon Hill Ave, 4 (on the Stockton South corridor)
  • Stockton Blvd & 47th Ave & Elder Creek Rd, 4 (on the Stockton South corridor)

and eight are not:

  • Watt Ave & Auburn Blvd, 5
  • Del Paso Blvd & Evergreen St & Lampasas Ave, 5
  • Julliard Dr & Kiefer Blvd & Folsom Blvd, 5
  • Power Inn Rd & Fruitridge Rd, 4
  • Freeport Blvd & Florin Rd, 4
  • Center Pkwy & Cosumnes River Blvd, 4 (not on map)
  • Bruceville Rd & Cosumnes River Blvd, 4 (not on map)
  • Franklin Blvd & Mack Rd, 4 (not on map)

The three last intersections are not on the map because I wanted to maintain the same scale as used for the previous maps, but they would be off the south edge of the map. Note that the number of collisions at these intersections is not directly comparable to the bicycle collisions map I created because I used a different dataset, degree of injury and span of years. I may go back and update the bicycle map to be consistent, but it is probably more worthwhile to look at some of these intersections in more detail.

Sac Vision Zero top ped intersections

As promised, a follow-on to my post on the top bicycle collision intersections in Sacramento (Sac Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors and top intersections), here is the same sort of analysis for pedestrian collisions. I used a somewhat different data set, this time only killed and severe injury crashes (KSI), for the years 2009-2017. This mirrors the data the city used in the Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors document, and so is not directly comparable to the different criteria I used on the bicycle post.

Pedestrian (walker) collisions are more dispersed that bicycle collisions, fewer occurring at intersections and more in between. Of the 408 collisions, 70 were at intersections, 17%, compared to 69% for bicycle collisions. Of these 408 collisions, twelve intersections stood out: Amherst St & Florin Rd, Marysville Blvd & Grand Ave, and Watt Ave & Auburn Blvd, each with three; and 15th St & Capitol Mall, 29th St & Florin Rd, 5th St & N St, 7th St & J St, Stockton Blvd & Broadway, Stockton Blvd & Lemon Hill Ave, Riverside Dr & X St, and Julliard Dr & Kiefer Blvd & Folsom Blvd, each with two. Of these 12 intersections, 4 are on Top Five corridors: Marysville Blvd & Grand Ave on the Marysville corridor, Stockton Blvd & Broadway on the Stockton-Broadway corridor, Stockton Blvd & Lemon Hill Ave on the South Stockton corridor, and 29th St & Florin Rd on the Florin corridor.

The map belows shows the city corridors and the twelve intersections, with the number of collisions and intersection name labeled. There is also a pdf available.

map Vision Zero top pedestrian intersections
Sacramento pedestrian collision top intersections, with Vision Zero corridors

There is a better alignment between the five designated corridors and pedestrian collision intersections than was true for bicycle collisions.

I will point out that the Julliard Dr & Kiefer Blvd & Folsom Blvd intersection is the site of three pedestrian collisions and four bicycle collisions, which is higher than any other intersection in the city. It should really be a focus for the city.

Addition 2021-03-02: Someone asked how the pedestrian collision locations relate to disadvantaged communities. Below, a map with CalEnviroScreen 3 2018-06 (CES) layer, with red end being higher pollution, green being lower, and weighted with income. CES is not the only measure of disadvantage, but it is one commonly used.