Note: Please see post on City of Sacramento Street Design Standards. It turns out that there are at least two different sets of design standards.
The City of Sacramento has Standard Specifications and Drawings that require certain designs for the public right-of-way. There were last revised April 2020, and are available on the Utilities: Development Standards page. It is not clear why these are part of Utilities rather than Public Works or Community Development, but they are. Though I haven’t done an element by element comparison, they seem to be a considerable improvement over the previous standards, which seem to be June 2009.
There are designs which are not being followed, and others that should be eliminated. Today, I’ll address sidewalks crossing alleys. Alleys are only common in the central city, but they do exist other places throughout the city.
The city design standard is below (pdf of entire page). The detail is hard to see, but the alleyway, sidewalk, and alley driveway are all concrete, none are asphalt. The T-11 Standard Alley Entrance Detail page says “Portland Cement Concrete (PCC) is the city standard pavement for alleys.”
Of course there are many alleyways that are asphalt, and some that are unpaved gravel. I don’t know when the city standards changed to require pavement, or when to require concrete, but those are the current standards. That means that if an alley, or a sidewalk, or the alley driveway is changed, it must meet current standards. Below is a photo of Neighbors Alley at 17th Street, which was just redone within the last two months. It clearly does not meet city standards. Both the driveway and the sidewalk are asphalt, not concrete. Though I noticed this work being done, I failed to notice who was doing it. City? Private? Private utility? Not sure.
While this code has always been an attempt to prioritize motor vehicle drivers over people walking, it is becoming increasing problematic as housing and businesses are now located along alleyways in the central city. ADUs and lot split housing are often accessed through alleys and not from the street. This code makes it so that anyone living or doing business in an alley must go out of the way to cross the street, and it prohibits people who just want to walk alleys to avoid busy streets.
Shared space is a type of roadway that is common in Europe, found in a few places in the United States, and so far as I know, only one place in Sacramento. The concept is that pedestrians, bicyclist, and motor vehicles can mix without having to have set-aside areas defined by curbs and painted bike lanes.
In Sacramento, Liestal Row, an alley between L Street and Capitol Avenue, and 17th Street and 18th Street, is the example. The alley was reconstructed with sidewalk areas defined by smooth concrete and roadway areas defined by bricks, however, there are no curbs in between and no limitations that keep the modes separate. The two businesses in the alley, Edible Pedal and Old Soul, spill out into the alley, and people often stand around in conversation. Often vehicles (including bicycles) have to thread their way between other users. What makes the alley work is that motor vehicle drivers are moving at a very slow speed, and do not have priority over other users. I’ve seen the uncertainty in the eyes of drivers negotiating the space, and that is exactly what makes it safe for everyone, the uncertainty that leads to paying attention instead of making assumptions or driving distracted.