Central City Mobility: 5th St & Hwy 50

For other posts on the City of Sacramento Central City Mobility Projects, see category: Central City Mobility Project.

I had earlier expressed concern and lack of information about where the 5th Street one-way to two-way conversion will be handled where 5th Street passes under Hwy 50. (Yes, I know, that this is technically not Hwy 50, but everyone thinks it is, so…)

The following diagram was provided the the city and design firm (pdf). The configuration looks workable, and it probably not any less safe than the current mess. The merging of the two on-ramps into one narrower entrance will probably help to slow traffic entering the freeway, making 5th Street a bit safer. Same with the narrowing of the off-ramp. The curb line will need to be moved in a few locations to accommodate the entire street width with bike lanes, but the curbs here are already quite deteriorated, so that work would be needed in any case. It is not clear from the diagram whether the missing sidewalks in the block between Broadway and X Street will be corrected.

Central City Mobility: 5th St conversion

One of the elements of the Central City Mobility Project is the conversion of 5th Street from a one-way, two-lane street, to a two-way, one-lane each direction street. Some work is underway: wiring and signal bases have been installed for the signals necessary for two way traffic at the existing signal locations. Looking at the bases, photo below, I’m guessing that there will be new signal poles and mast arms, not re-use of the existing signals equipment. That seems like a waste of money to me, but the city loves to spend money on new signals, and signal controllers.

I am not sure that many of the current signal locations are even needed. After the conversion, 5th Street will be a lower speed and probably lower volume street. Four-way stops at some major cross streets (such as T Street) might work just fine. Again, the city loves to spend money on signals, and already has unneeded signals at a number of locations (too many traffic signals?).

5th St and T St new signal base
5th St and T St new signal base

The Central City Mobility Project map shows the 5th Street conversion as extending from Broadway to I Street. The block between Broadway and X Street is already two-way, as are the two blocks between L Street and J Street (the DOCO underpass). It is also two-way north of I Street.

I wonder what, if anything, will be done for the block between X Street and W Street, under the Hwy 50 freeway. This is a very complex block, with a freeway onramp west of 5th Street and a freeway offramp west of 5th Street. The onramp and off-ramp have separate signal phases from X Street and W Street. Traffic westbound onto the ramp, if it makes the green light, is already traveling at freeway speeds, about 65 mph as it crosses 5th Street. Similarly, but not as egregious, the off-ramp traffic, if it makes the green light, is traveling a bit below freeway speeds. I am really not sure how this complex situation can be made safe for bicyclists. Northbound bicyclists only have to deal with drivers running the red light at 5th Street from W Street, but southbound bicyclists would have to deal with multiple turning vehicle movements. In general, the only way to make complex situations like this safe is to have exclusive bicycle phases in which only bicyclists and walkers are moving, no vehicle movement or turns are permitted. But the city is very unlikely to select that safe alternative because it would lengthen the signal cycles and therefore slow motor vehicle traffic to some degree. The city doesn’t want to slow motor vehicle traffic.

The diagram below, from Google Maps, indicates the complexity of this block, but the reality on the ground is even worse.

Google Maps of 5th St and Hwy 50 intersection
Google Maps of 5th St and Hwy 50 intersection

the importance of I Street

I have written before about the two one-block sections of I Street where the bike lane is replaced by sparrows. I won’t repeat here, but please read why are bike lane gaps so important?, Sacramento’s worst possible place for sharrows, Sac kill those sharrows on I St.

So the neglect of the Central City Mobility Project for fixing these two blocks of I Street is disturbing. Of the people riding on I Street anywhere west of 16 Street, probably 50% are going to Sacramento Valley Station. But if you spend time on I Street looking for bicyclists, you won’t see many. The average bicyclist won’t ride on I Street. They are uncomfortable with the volume and speed of motor vehicle traffic, but more importantly, they are scared to death of these two one-block sections with only sharrows. So they drive to, or have someone drop them off at, the station. Sacramento Valley Station is the most important transit hub in the city, in the county, and in Northern California outside of the Bay Area, yet the city has neglected access to the station.

The TIRCP grant for improvements at Sacramento Valley Station may improve access from the station on H Street, but again, that is not a near term project, and it is not clear how effective it will be. Probably 80% of the riders on H Street are coming from the station. (Sac kill those sharrows on H St, H St bicycle fixes)

My observation of bicyclist numbers and destinations is based on observation and talking to some riders. It would be nice if the data were available, but I don’t have it, and apparently the city doesn’t have it, or at least has never shared it publicly. I know that the city purchased cell phone data several years ago that would have allowed them to see bicyclist patterns, but so far as I know, they only used it for motor vehicle drivers patterns.

I St shadows between 10th St and 9th St, Sacramento
I St shadows between 10th St and 9th St, Sacramento

more Central City Mobility Project

The City of Sacramento’s Central City Mobility Project is underway, and projected to finish by next May. The map below shows the major components of the project: new parking protected separated bikeways on 19th Street and 21st Street between W Street and I Street, extended parking protected separated bikeways on P Street and Q Street from 15th Street to 21st Street, a separated bikeway (not parking protected?) on I Street from 21st Street to 12th Street, and conversion of 5th Street from a one-way street to two-way from Broadway to I Street (the two-block section from L Street to J Street is already two-way). The project also includes upgrades of corner ramps to ADA compliance along 21St, 19th, P, Q and I streets. I notice that ramp upgrades are also occurring at some locations other than these streets, whether under this project or a separate initiative, I’m not sure.

Central City Mobility Project map
Central City Mobility Project map

As far as it goes, this project looks to be great. The city is making an effort to create a grid of higher quality bicycle facilities in the central city, of a mile spacing, or less. But a bicycle network is only as good as it’s weakest spot, and this project leaves several weak spots in the grid. The map below highlights some of these, shown in cyan color:

  • P Street and Q Street parking protected separated bikeways should be extended west to 5th Street, which would include a reduction of lanes on those streets. Stopping the bikeways at 9th and 10th Street reduces access to Sacramento Valley Station, as well as many other destinations in this area, including using the Tower Bridge to access West Sacramento.
  • 9th Street parking protected separated bikeways should be extended from Q Street south to Broadway, to provide access to the higher quality bikeway along Broadway, and points south of Broadway.
  • I Street separated bikeway should be extended from 12th Street west to 5th Street, created a complete bikeway from 21st Street to Sacramento Valley Station.
  • J Street parking protected separated bikeway should be extended east from 5th Street to 19th Street, to proved a complete bikeway from 5th Street to 28th Street.
  • A separated bikeway should be constructed on 28th Street to provide a high quality bike route parallel to the unsafe 29th Street one-way southbound traffic sewer and 30th Street one-way northbound traffic sewer.
  • Regular bike lanes, at a minimum, should be installed on 13th Street between P Street and Capitol Park. 13th Street is one of the most heavily bicycled north-south routes in the entire central city, but this two block gap makes that trip less safe.

It is also possible that the P Street and Q Street bikeways should be extended east at least to 28th Street, or beyond, but I haven’t looked closely at that yet.

Central City Mobility Project map with recommended additions
Central City Mobility Project map with recommended additions

Speed Limits

The project page does not mention speed limits. This is typical for city projects. The city believes that speed limits should never be lowered, except in school zones, so it is no surprise that speed limits on these sections of bikeway was not mentioned. The speed map below (pdf) shows posted speed limits on central city streets. Keep in mind that every street has a higher design speed, so except in congested conditions, actual speeds almost always exceed, or greatly exceed, the posted speed limit. Speed limits should be reduced to 25 mph or less on the separated bikeway streets. This means:

  • 19th Street: reduce speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, from H Street to Broadway
  • P Street: reduce speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, from 21st Street to 10th Street
  • Q Street: reduce speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, from 10th Street to 21st Street
  • 9th Street: reduce speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, from N Street to Broadway
  • 10th Street: reduce speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, from Broadway to N Street
  • 5th Street: reduce speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, from Broadway to H Street
  • 21st Street is already OK, posted 25 mph
  • of course the additions recommend above should receive the same treatment

Actually, all streets in the central city should have posted speed limits of no more than 25 mph, and if the street is residential or mixed use, then 20 mph. There is no place in a central city for speed limits above 25 mph. The desires of suburban drivers to speed through the central city along traffic sewers are never more important than the desires of central city residents for safety and livability. Over time these streets can be reallocated (dieted) so that design speed matches posted speed, but in the meanwhile, lower posted speed limits are entirely in order.

Note that this map is only available in a static pdf version; speed limit data has not been posted on the city’s Open Data site. The map shows in cyan the streets which are posted 25 mph, but which one might assume would be faster based on the appearance of the street design. All other streets not colored are assumed to be 25 mph.

City of Sacramento speed limits map, central city, 2018
City of Sacramento speed limits map, central city, 2018

separated bikeways and bus routes

The City of Sacramento started a design with protected bikeways on streets with significant bus traffic on P Street and Q Street in downtown Sacramento. I live on P Street, so see use of the bikeway on a daily basis. It works OK. P and Q are not heavily biked streets, and the separated bikeways are not heavily used, but they are OK. And actually, P Street doesn’t work well for buses. Since much of the bus traffic is commuter buses, a lot of them over a short period of time, there is often a stack-up of buses blocking traffic and interfering with each other at a stop opposite me on P Street at 13th Street.

Note: I’m using the term separated bikeway here because it is the term in state law, and therefore planning and engineering documents. Most people call these protected bike lanes, or sometimes cycletracks, though the term cycletrack is more commonly used for two-way bike facilities. Use whatever term you’d like!

On Q Street eastbound, the separated bikeway transitions to a bike lane at 14th Street. Since there are bike lanes on both sides of Q Street to the east, a bicyclist a decide where to transition to the right side of the street. This works OK.

On P Street westbound, however, it is a completely different story. The separated bikeway ends at 9th Street. To the west there are no bicycle facilities of any sort. It is a three lane traffic sewer (what I can three or more lane roadways, the purpose of which is solely to flush traffic in and out of downtown). With the construction going on all through downtown, P Street is and has been reduced to two lanes is several places, and with state workers mostly working from home, there is much less traffic in downtown. Nevertheless, the design is fatally flawed. I use the term ‘fatally’ on purpose – it is a design likely to result in bicyclist fatalities.

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