city failure on Capitol Mall bike lane

Sacramento has nearly completed a reconstructed bridge over I-5 between 3rd Street and Tower Bridge. This is part of a project to provide access from and to Old Sacramento, but that part is not complete yet. The pavement is fresh, with bright white lines and green carpet bike lanes. But, the bike lane design is a failure. The eastbound bike lane is OK. A little strange because it varies in width, but acceptable. The westbound bike lane, though, is a hazard to bicyclists.

Below is a photo of the first problem, a bike lane to the right of a place where a right turn is permitted. This is at the entrance to the Old Sacramento access.The straight-and-right arrow indicates that the city expects heavy right turning traffic at this location.

While this design is in compliance with the law, using a dashed line to indicate that traffic from the general purpose lane and the bike lane should safely merge, the use of green paint here is the wrong message. Though green paint has no legal meaning, the general meaning taken is that this is the place for bicycles. So an average bicyclist will stay in the bike lane, not realizing that the safe manesuver is to merge into the general purpose lane. The result is a right hook danger that has been created by the design.

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Stay to the right of right turning cars? NO!

There are a lot of ways to solve this issue, but this is the worst possible solution. Creating a separate signal phase for bicyclists and right turning traffic is one solution. Dropping the bike lane in favor of green-back sharrows in the general purpose lane is another.

However, this problem spot is minor in comparison to what happens just on the other side of the intersection. Here, the bike lane suddenly ends and becomes a right turn only lane. There is no signing for bicyclists or motor vehicle drivers, no pavement markings, no indication of what biyclists should do. I’m a vehicular bicyclist and would not be in this bike lane fragment to begin with, but for the average bicyclist, this green paint is a clear message, “this is where you belong.” Whoops. Sorry. Turns out we needed the road for a right turn lane, and just got rid of the bike lane. Hope you are still alive, but if not, well it wasn’t our fault. But the thing is, it is the city’s fault. This is a mis-design, and the city should be sued the first time someone is injured at this location. It is not as though this was an existing location where the city did the best if could to squeeze in bike facilities. This is a new construction where things should have been done right. They were not.

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Bike lane ends suddenly – good luck!

There are several good solutions for this location, and the NACTO Guide to Urban Bicycling has several, but even the standard MUTCD design is better than this. Though you can’t see the turn lane due to the parked FedEx van (it was there for more than 10 minutes, double-parked, and I couldn’t wait any longer for the photo), there are no bike markings in the right turn lane at all. There is no “bicyclists may use full lane” sign. Maybe bicyclists are meant to fly over this right turn lane and return to earth at the bridge. Or maybe they are meant to die.

As I always warn people in bicyclist education classes, don’t get sucked in by paint. Paint doesn’t keep you safe. And in this particular case, paint creates a danger for you that would not exist if not for the paint. Negligent design, for sure.

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.

Sacramento Riverfront Reconnection, Phase 1

2nd Street extension to Capitol Mall
2nd Street extension to Capitol Mall

SACOG in the 2013 funding round allocated $9M to the Riverfront Reconnection project in the City of Sacramento. This phase extends 2nd Street from Old Sacramento to Capitol Mall, providing an easier access to Old Sacramento, and also adds sidewalks to O Street and improves sidewalks and bike lanes on Capitol Mall between 3rd Street and the Tower Bridge. The overall purpose is to create or restore connections between downtown Sacramento and Old Sacramento which were severed by Interstate 5.

Continue reading “Sacramento Riverfront Reconnection, Phase 1”