Stockton Blvd needs trees

This is a follow-on the the Stockton Blvd Corridor Study post.

Trees

Following the online virtual open house, I realized I could not picture the situation on some segments of Stockton. Though I’ve traveled Stockton many times, I had not in a while, so I went back. I had commented during the open house, as well as after, that I didn’t think the cross-sections presented gave enough information on or weight to trees, so that was part of my agenda, to see the tree situation better. The day I went, last Sunday, was one of the cooler days in a while, high of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but on the street the lack of shade and heat was noticeable. Add 20 degrees, and it would be intolerable for walking and unpleasant for bicycling.

The tree situation is not good. There are some sections with healthy trees, and some places where trees on commercial properties are healthy and shade the sidewalks, but on the whole, trees are lacking. The first photo below, taken looking south, to the south of Broadway, shows a long section with no trees at all, no buffer, no shade. The sidewalk is wide enough, but who would want to walk here?

Stockton Blvd south of Broadway

The next photo is of the section adjacent to UC Davis Medical Center where trees are present in a slightly too narrow buffer. The trees are relatively young, but when mature, will provide necessary shade and probably also crowd the buffer.

Stockton Blvd near UC Davis Medical Center

The next photo is of a very narrow strip where trees were present but were all cut down, and the following photo, a Google streetview capture of the trees. The trees were obviously planted in a strip far too narrow for them, and some of them were unhealthy as a result, so I’m not presenting this as a model, but as a warning that commercial properties cannot be relied upon to provide trees. Even the small trees in this narrow strip provided some shade and feeling of place to the street. In addition to this instance, there are many commercial properties and some residential properties along Stockton where the trees are dying, dead, or have been removed. And conversely, some where the trees on commercial properties are in good condition, so thank you to these properties. Trees, if they are to serve as a long-term amenity, as I believe they should, must be provided in the public right of way and maintained by the city.

Stockton Blvd, removed trees, near Jansen
Stockton Blvd, trees before removal, near Jansen

A small archive of photos from Stockton Blvd are available in the Flickr album at the end of this post, and those who live along or do business along can provide more detail.

So what is the solution? The first part of the solution is that the city must modify its cross-section renderings and pages so that it highlights the tree situation. Will there be a sidewalk buffer? How wide? What numbers and kinds of trees? To what degree will the project rely on trees on private property, versus trees in the public right-of-way? I find the options presented as unacceptable because they don’t really address this issue. On a few of the pages, trees are mentioned, but never in enough detail.

I would propose for community along Stockton Blvd that there should be continuous sidewalk buffers planted with trees, all the way from Alhambra to 47th Ave/Elder Creek Rd. Where buffers are present with trees, great, make sure they are preserved and cared for. Where buffers are present but the trees are absent or unhealthy, plant new trees and care for them. Where there are no buffers, create them, and plant trees and care for them. Where there is a healthy tree line on private property, this can serve for now, but the buffer should still be provided for the protection of walkers and as a bulwark against possible abandonment of the private trees. I envision Stockton Blvd being a tree-lined community asset, where walking is a pleasure and traffic speeds and volumes are low.

For new buffers, the minimum width of the buffer should be eight feet, as anything narrower does not allow for full development of the trees, and leads to excessive root heaving of the sidewalk. The heaving is to some degree an inevitable consequence of having trees, but wider buffers and correct watering regimes reduce the problem considerably. Where the existing buffers are at least six feet and the trees are healthy, the buffer can be widened or left as is, depending on the situation. Where the buffer is narrower than six feet, the buffer must be expanded.

Where commercial businesses are present and buildings meet the sidewalk, the trees should still be present, but the spacing and species can be adjusted in consultation with the property or business owners so that they don’t block off visibility of local businesses. In most cases the buffer would be paved, with tree wells for the trees, and street furniture or other amenities in the buffer, but the buffer would still be a minimum of eight feet.

Intersections

Another issues that the city diagrams and information do not address is intersections and crossings. The existing conditions report acknowledges that there are long distances between safe crossings on the south end, but doesn’t provide much detail about intersections.

The intersections as they exist actively discourage pedestrian activity. The midblock crossings, of which there are a few, do not have any additional protection. At a minimum, these locations need user-activated RRFBs (Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons). At many of the signalized intersections with minor streets, there is a pedestrian prohibition on either the north or south leg. These prohibitions exist solely to speed the signal cycle and encourage traffic flow; they do not exist for safety reasons. They must be removed. The photos below shows just one of the many such prohibitions. A person walking on the south side of Jansen, wanting to go south on Stockton, would have to use two crosswalks, waiting for the signal, and then walk through an overly wide commercial driveway. There is no reason for this.

Stockton Blvd at Jansen Dr, pedestrian prohibition

At the major intersections, where crosswalks are present on all legs, the crossing distances are long. Though not as bad as many other locations in Sacramento, intersections are often flared out to add turn lanes, both left and, often, right turn lanes. This increases crossing distance. This issue can be solved in two ways: removing the unnecessary turn lanes, or adding pedestrian refuge islands in the middle, so that slower walkers can make the crossing in two stages. The medians must be six feet wide, to meet standards, and must have a pedestrian button so that people don’t become stranded. (Note: I’m not in favor of pedestrian buttons at all, except when they: 1) trigger audible information, or 2) lengthen the crossing time; however, this is one situation in which they make sense)

The project information does not really address intersections at all. City staff said that these details would be worked out later, but I find this unacceptable. Intersection design must be part of the options presented. Intersections are where most conflicts occur between pedestrians and vehicle drivers, and bicyclists and drivers as well, so they are a critical element of any effort to improve Stockton.

Driveways

Some of the sections of Stockton are littered with driveways. Each commercial property has one to several. Part of improving Stockton must be to reduce the number of driveways. Each commercial property should have one driveway, or less. One of (the only) advantages of the parking moats that front the street (what I mean by parking moat is that the commercial buildings are set back away from the street, and parking lots face the street; these parking moats contribute significantly to the feeling of Stockton Blvd being a car-dominated place). In several cases, these parking moats can be combined for several properties in order to reduce the frequency of driveways. The issue with driveways is that they not only make a place feel busy and unwelcoming to walkers and bicyclists, but they are safety hazards for walkers and bicyclists very nearly as bad as the hazard of an intersection.

Stockton Blvd, north of Elder Creek, excessive driveways

Built Form

There is a section of ‘old’ Stockton Blvd where the buildings come to the sidewalk, and parking, if any is to the side or back. This traditional pattern (traditional before suburban sprawl) is the best built environment, the one that feels most welcoming to people outside cars. It increases customers, it makes the street feel smaller and the sidewalk feel larger.

The ‘new’ sections of Stockton Blvd where buildings are set back behind a moat of parking have exactly the opposite effect, producing an environment that feels unwelcoming to walkers, makes the sidewalk feel like a part of the street rather than a part of the neighborhood. This built form is a widely recognized mistake, but the correction will take many, many years as these commercial properties evolve. But what can happen, now, is that all new commercial buildings can be required to front the sidewalk. There are a lot of empty or abandoned parcels on Stockton, which everyone hopes will see new development. That development should be the traditional pattern that gives the street a neighborhood feel rather than a traffic sewer feel.

Stockton Blvd, buildings fronting the sidewalk

Speed Limits

Another issue that the study pays scant attention to is speed limits. Whether or not the street design option work depends on design speed and posted speed. The default assumption in transportation planning is that speed limits cannot be lowered, due to California ‘law’. First, it is not a law, it is case law, established by judges, not the legislature, that says traffic tickets won’t be enforced unless speed limits are set to the level at which only 15% of drivers exceed. This will of course be changed, but the process is long, with powerful opponents, most specifically CHP whose lip service to safety is legend. But more important to this study is that streets that are reconfigured, with a change to lane width or number of lanes or mix of modes, can be set to any speed limit the city wishes. The road is new, and the past speed limit doesn’t apply.

So, in accordance with my desire to see a tree-lined neighborhood boulevard, I think that the speed limit for this entire length should be 30 mph. And of course the street must be designed to enforce that posted speed limit.

Highway 50 Interchange

The Hwy 50 and Stockton Blvd interchange is problematic for both walkers and bicyclists. There are no bike lanes through this section, at all, and walkers on the east side of Stockton face long crossing distances in a design that strongly favors high speed motor vehicle drivers. In the photo below, look at the long crossing distance on the north side of the freeway, of the exit and entrance ramps. It’s about 120 feet, with no protection from drivers, at all. I have both used and observed this crosswalk, and can confirm that very few drivers yield to walkers in the crosswalk. It is a guaranteed death trap for walkers.

The roadway striping does not delineate areas for motor vehicles and bicyclists, nor does it indicate where riders or drivers should be merging to reach their destination. It is just a wide-open area, and as with all wide-open areas, drivers will assume they have complete right-of-way. You can see by the tire tracks that the turns on and off the freeways are being taken at high speed.

Stockton Blvd – Hwy 50 interchange

This interchange must be completely reconfigured for the safety of walkers and bicyclists, and drivers for that matter. The entry and exit ramps must connect with the street at 90 degree angles, requiring drivers to make low speed turns. Bicycle lanes with green conflict markings must be installed throughout the interchange. Sidewalks must be improved and crossing distances shortened to no more than 22 feet.

It is disappointing that such a critical safety hazard was not addressed in the study.

Mode Share

The study, online survey, and open house never address the key issue for the entire corridor, which is: what should be the priority of travel modes in design of the street? Some of the options imply a higher priority for some modes than others, but the critical question is never asked of the public. I had said in my previous post that my priorities would be transit first, then walking, then bicycling, then private motor vehicle travel. However, having spent more time looking at and thinking about the corridor, I’m going to change that. The priorities should be walking first, strongly supported by the tree-lined boulevard configuration I’ve outlined and justified, then transit, then bicycling, then private motor vehicles.

What is is important here, though, it not my preference, but that the public, and in particular the residents and customers along the corridor were never asked this question.

What Now?

I’ve laid out what I consider some major flaws in the study. I am not against the particular options that were presented, and from that limited perspective, the study has done a good job. But the number of things NOT considered is glaring. I know the city hopes to address these issues later, but I don’t find later to be acceptable. The public needs a full set in information now, so that it can comment on the study from a perspective of understanding how the street will feel after the changes, not just design diagrams, but how each traveler will get along and across the corridor, and whether it supports their desires for mobility and livability.

I think the city should pause the study process and add in the elements not addressed, then go back out to key stakeholders, and re-do the engagement process including the survey and open house.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157714923753216

Stockton Blvd Corridor Study

The City of Sacramento is undertaking a Stockton Blvd Corridor Study, covering the section between Alhambra Blvd and 47th Ave / Elder Creek Rd, but focused on the two high injury segments around Broadway to 14th Ave and north of Lemon Hill Ave to south of 47th Ave / Elder Creek Rd. Map below.

Tomorrow, Thursday June 25, there will be a virtual open house at 6:00 pm. There is also a survey which is open through Tuesday, June 30. The survey offers existing conditions information for each of several segments, and then presents two options are asks the user to select one of the other, and make comments if they wish. The options were developed as a result of a community engagement process which was partially led by Jackie Cole of VG Consulting. I attended one of the meetings in February, which had more actual community members than most such meetings, but was only moderately attended. I did not attend any of the other events.

I would encourage anyone who travels on Stockton Blvd, and particularly people who live on or do business on the corridor to take the survey and attend the virtual open house. Please use the comment boxes to tell stories of your personal experiences and concerns using the corridor, as they make a huge difference in the design ultimately selected (we hope).

The nature and width of Stockton (both the street and the right of way) varies considerably over the length of the section, so there is not a single roadway design that can be used throughout.

The survey and background documents do not address the number of driveways along several sections of the road. In some places there are more driveways than not driveways, with each commercial property having one or more driveways. The density of driveways mean that most measures taken to make the street safer for walkers and bicyclists, and faster for transit, will fail. The city must reduce the number of driveways, whereever consolidation is possible. A key question which the survey never asks is what should be the priority of the different travel modes along the corridor. I would argue for:

  1. transit
  2. walking
  3. bicycling
    …..
  4. private motor vehicles

But your priorities may be different. The reason I place transit at the top is that SacRT Route 51, when highest ridership route in the entire system, runs on Stockton from Broadway to 47th Ave and beyond. This is the sort of ridership that would justify bus rapid transit (BRT) in most cities, and some of the options do ease bus travel but fall short of BRT. And of course people must either walk or bicycle to the bus, and so these two modes must come next. High quality sidewalks and bike facilities can ease these ‘first mile’ trips, and make it possible to reduce somewhat the frequency of bus stops, further speeding the bus.

Stockton Blvd at Hwy 50, wide and ugly

Legislation I’d like to see

In all my spare time, which means while commuting to work on my bike, I think about state legislation I’d like to see. Here is my list of the moment. Feel free to add suggestions.

Bicycling

  • Remove far-to-the-right bike lane provisions, CVC 21202
  • Flip parking in bike lanes from permissible unless posted to prohibited unless posted
  • Require that all signals detect bicycles within two years
  • Be explicit in CVC that placing waste containers in bike lanes is the same violation as leaving any material in a travel lane
  • Require that all waste containers be inscribed with ‘do not place in bike lane’, and have reflective stripes on the sides of the container
  • Implement ‘Idaho stop law’ (yield as stop) for stop sign controlled intersections

Pedestrians

  • Require full traffic studies for the removal or crosswalks or prohibition of crossing, with the default position being that crosswalks will not be removed and prohibitions will not be created or continued
  • Remove the prohibition on pedestrians crossing the street between signalized intersections on all streets 30 mph or less

Speed

  • Change the prima facie speed limit for residential and commercial streets (local) from 25 mph to 20 mph; change to 20 mph or less for posted school zones
  • Set the maximum speed allowable on collector streets to 30 mph; set the maximum allowable speed on arterial streets to 40 mph
  • Allow automated speed enforcement everywhere

Schools

  • Require law enforcement to send incident reports involving children going to or from school to school districts within 24 hours of completion, and investigations within 72 hours of completion
  • Prohibit U-turns within school zones
  • K-12 school districts and colleges/university would be required to have transportation demand management programs, since school-related traffic is a significant portion or overall traffic

Other

  • Shift the burden of proof to the motor vehicle driver for all collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists involving fatality or severe injury
  • Allow any citizen to challenge the professional license of an engineer who is aware of a traffic safety hazard and fails to request funding to mitigate that hazard
  • Decriminalize transit fare evasion
  • Allow conversion of any and all freeway lanes to toll

we don’t need transportation “balance”

A recent post on Streetsblog, Brent Toderian: Don’t “Balance” Modes — Prioritize Walking, Biking, and Transit, is from a visit and keynote in Denver, but applies perfectly to Sacramento, and I encourage you to read and reflect.

His main point is that those calling for balancing spending on all the modes really mean “lets just keep doing what we were doing.” We have spent, in this region, trillions of dollars in support of one mode, the privately owned motor vehicle. We have spent a little on transit, and almost nothing on walking and bicycling. If we simply increase the share for transit, walking and bicycling a bit, we have not really done anything. There is a deficit in transit, walking, and bicycling that can only be overcome but shifting our spending to these modes. Every dollar spent on expanding or widening roadways and freeways for privately owned vehicles directly harms transit, walking and bicycling because it encourages and subsidizes privately owned vehicles. It encourages people to live further away from jobs and services. It induces traffic, which congests our roadways so that transit can’t work as well. It encourages inappropriate speeds that endanger walkers and bicyclists.

nonewroadsBefore we can start doing right, creating system that truly serves people’s desires for access in livable communities, we have to stop doing what we were doing. It think we can keep doing the wrong stuff and just add in the right stuff, we are wrong. We need to stop expanding and widening roads. Now, and for ever. #NoNewRoads

MTP-SCS comments

mtpscsSACOG is working on the 2016 update of the MTP-SCS (Metropolitan Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy) or Greenprint, with the draft having been out for a month and the deadline for comments on November 16. The last of the public meetings will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, November 10, 6:30-7:30PM, at SACOG Offices, 1415 L Street, 3rd Floor, Sacramento. I hope you can attend.

I have been part of a 350Sac Transportation Committee effort to review the document. I’ve reviewed parts of it, Chapters 1, 4, and 5C, and Appendix A, but have not had the time to review the whole thing – it is massive. The comments below are my own, not the committees. Your comments on the plan are welcome and important. If you can’t tackle the whole plan, pick a small part of interest to you, and comment on that part.

Continue reading “MTP-SCS comments”

Sac Grid 2.0

Tomorrow (Monday) an open house / community meeting will be held on the Sacramento Grid 2.0 project which aims to improve transportation in the downtown/midtown area of Sacramento.

I attended the stakeholder meeting October 20, and had input leading up and as a result of that meeting, but then forgot to post. Thank you, Ken Petruzzelli for reminding me to post.

The stakeholder meeting was all about the maps of each component (pedestrian, bicycling, transit, and others), gathering feedback about what works and what doesn’t. Of course with physical maps you can’t overlay different layers to see what the correlation is, but the facilitator at my table did a good job of relating the layers. The maps have not been made available to the public yet, and what you see on Monday could differ from those shown at the stakeholder meeting.

Significant issues in my group (there were six groups) were: whether bike lanes on both sides of one-way streets made sense, with the consensus being that they were not needed except in special circumstances of heavy bicyclist traffic turning left; whether the two-way cycle-track (separated bikeway) on N Street between 3rd and 15th would work well at intersections in the western part; and that nothing in the plan seemed to address a reduction of signals and stop signs throughout the grid that would improve transportation flow and actually reduce speeding.

The map approach at the stakeholder meeting left out that which isn’t spatial – policy. I think policy to support the transformation is at least as important as which streets are changed. What follows is a list of policy issues that I think must be addressed in the plan.

Continue reading “Sac Grid 2.0”

Sacramento’s Transportation Report Card

The lead article this week in the Sacramento News & Review is Sacramento’s report card. I can’t resist getting in on the fun.

R-St_Dragon-bike-rackThe article covers bicycle transportation in the “On two wheels” paragraph, and does it pretty well, giving a C grade. I’d add that art bike racks can be fun if they are also functional. The dragon at Shoki Ramen House and the bottle openers at New Helvetia Brewing are good examples. I think bicycling really works pretty well in the central city and some of east Sacramento, with people getting along in sharing the road most of the time. The further out you go, though, the worse things are, with belligerent drivers traveling at high speeds. I’d give central city a B and the far suburbs an D-. Does this average to a C?

Continue reading “Sacramento’s Transportation Report Card”