We need more of this… dedicated bus lanes

dedicated bus lane, Capitol Mall, Sacramento
dedicated bus lane, Capitol Mall, Sacramento

The recent relocation of bus service from L Street to the Capitol Mall for demolition of the mall and later construction of the arena has resulting in an interesting change: the first dedicated bus lane (that I’m aware of) in the Sacramento region. There are some dedicated light rail lanes.

True, the bus lane is only one block long, between 8th Street and 7th Street (this photo is taken from 8th Street looking westbound).

Prior to the bus stops being moved, asphalt was replaced with concrete, which is the only material that can stand up well to frequent bus traffic.

So why am I excited about a one-block long dedicated bus lane? Because it is a local example of something that is happening in many cities, but you don’t have to travel to see it. It also represents a reallocation of street space that increases the utility of bus systems and better balances different modes of transportation. Buses spend much of their time at critical times of the day waiting on motor vehicle traffic congestion. Dedicated bus lanes remove some of this conflict and create, for the first time, the possibility of buses being a faster mode of transport than private cars.

This one-block location show a good balance of modes. There is a wide sidewalk for pedestrians, a dedicated bus lane, a dedicated bicycle lane, and a travel lane for motor vehicles. Many more of our streets should look like this. Any street that carries bus traffic at a frequency of once every ten minutes or better (whether from a high-frequency single route or from multiple routes), at any time of day, should have dedicated bus lanes.

There are six SacRT routes that ran on L Street and are temporarily running on Capitol Mall. In addition, four Yolobus routes and several from other transit providers run along these streets.

So what are we going to do when the arena is finished and some or all of the bus traffic moves back to L Street? I think that L Street should have a dedicated bus lane from 15th Street, where it becomes three lanes westbound (and four lanes at 6th Street), all the way to 3rd St. SABA has suggested a protected bike lane on the south side for the portion between 7th Street and 3rd Street, and I think that is a good idea as well. I am not sure if SacRT has proposed anything. Wide sidewalks, dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and a somewhat reduced capacity for private motor vehicles would make for a more welcoming and efficient street. The arena developers and city have resisted making any transformative changes to circulation downtown, but significant public pressure could bring the improvements.

The NACTO Urban Street Design Guide has diagrams and details about dedicated bus lanes.

Arena for revitalization and transit?

Richard Layman, author of the Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space blog, posted yesterday on “An arena subsidy project I’d probably favor: Sacramento.”

After an extensive review of the benefits and pitfalls of arenas and stadiums, and subsidies of them, he goes on to look at the Sacramento subsidy for the Kings arena (the Entertainment and Sports Complex). He gives it a tentative up vote, based on the effects of moving investment from the suburbs to the center city, and utilizing the existing transit system.

Take a read and see what you think.

arena or not…

arena arial, from City of Sacramento
arena arial, from City of Sacramento

Whether the arena is built or not, I care little, and whether the Kings stay or not, I care not at all. But what I find interesting is that no one any longer talks about a public asset like this being located in the suburbs. When it was in the railyards, it was a downtown arena. As it is now proposed on the footprint of the mall, it is the downtown arena. It is the same in Seattle, where the arena location is not so central but is still part of downtown.

Sacramento has grown up! It realizes that downtown is the place for public assets. Downtown has a high density of public transit, walkable and bikeable areas, a grid street pattern, established businesses that can serve patrons of an events center, and yes, even freeways.

The ARCO/Power Balance/Sleep Train facility squats in the middle of acres of parking, a 12,000 parking space wasteland. It is far from light rail, is poorly served by bus (you can get there, but you can’t get home, for evening events, and not at all on Sunday, transit score 24, minimal), is in an un-walkable and un-bikeable area (all high speed arterial roads, walk score 48, car dependent), where almost no streets go through (the classic suburban street system of cul-de-sacs and streets that wind interminably). Why anyone ever thought an arena in Natomas was a good idea, I don’t know, but at least no one any longer thinks it is. And that is progress!

Downtown Plaza, the currently proposed location, has a walk score of 94, walker’s paradise, and a transit score of 67, good transit.

Arena thoughts

Power Balance Pavilion (red) vs. The Railyards (green)

The SacBee headlined Saturday, “Arena Deal Dead.” I never really cared that much about the idea of a new arena for the Kings. I’m not a big sports fan, and of all the sports, I think that professional basketball is the most boring of them all (not so for college ball). Whether the Kings play in Sacramento or not is a matter of indifference. Mayor Johnson has said that he wants to see a sports and entertainment venue in the rail yards regardless of whether the Kings are there, or in Sacramento at all, but without the anchor tenant and in these economic times, new construction seems unlikely.

However, there are a lot of transportation implications related to the arena that I’d like to comment on. The Power Balance Pavilion (formerly ARCO Arena), located in North Natomas (part of the City of Sacramento, but north of the river and north of I-80) is in a terrible location. Why was it built out here, in the middle of agricultural fields, which have since been converted to bland suburbs? Because the land was cheap, and really for no other reason. Though there is sort of freeway access, it is a long way out from the urban and suburban areas where attendees come from. It is even worse for transit, with only one line serving the area. On weekdays, you can get close on RT route 11, on weekends, nothing even comes close. I once rode my bike to the place and got there well ahead of the bus. Once arriving, you are faced with a sea of ugly parking, with no way to tell where you’ll be directed to park relative to where you want to go. After the event there is a long lasting traffic jam as everyone tries to find their way back out of the parking lot and waits long periods at the signals. I can’t think of a more unpleasant way to start and end some experience at the place. And if you ride, be assured there are no bike racks.

If the RT light rail green line is extended to the airport, there would be a station close to the pavilion. However, this project is so far off into the future that RT has not even projected a service date. So for all intents and purposes, the pavilion must be considered a car-only venue.

Continue reading “Arena thoughts”