preserving access during construction

Sacramento central city is booming with construction, which I consider to be a wonderful thing. Mixed use buildings, single lot apartments and  homes, state office buildings. But the construction is having a serious impact on walkability, and often bikeability. (Note: this post is not about road construction or about temporary closures, which also need to be addressed, but not today.)

Two examples, both of state developments, but with principles applicable to private developments, will illustrate the issues. For the new California Natural Resources Agency building between O and P, and 8th and 7th, the sidewalk, parking and one travel lane on the south side (P St) were removed from service. These are not being used in any way for the project. Perhaps they will be eventually, but in the meanwhile, presumably for the entire life of the construction project, they are just sitting empty and unused. For the new O Street office building at O and 12th, the sidewalk and parking were removed from the east side of 12th between the N-O alley and the O-P alley. The section to the north, where the building is being constructed, needs closure, as the underground level is being dug and the sidewalk will be replaced. But on the section to the south, which is being used for storing construction materials, do not need to be closed. There is plenty of space on this former parking lot.

12th Street construction closure

For some of the private construction going on, of which there are many examples, some closures are no doubt necessary. But the closures seem to be occurring from the very first day of construction to the very last day of construction, even though it is needed for only part of the time.

Construction companies are doing this because they can, out of convenience or laziness. And the city is allowing them to. Each construction project requires a traffic control plan, and the permit specifies allowable areas and time frames.

When I questioned the closure on the southern section of 12th Street, Matt from Construction Services in Public Works argued that since parking was removed, it was only fair that the sidewalk access be removed. His thinking was that fairness required making everyone lose something, and that the loss of parking was equivalent to the loss of sidewalk access.

This of course is a ridiculous argument. Parking is in no way equivalent to access. And priority must be given on all roadways to the most vulnerable users, which are in order of importance, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicle drivers.

At the recent Sacramento Active Transportation Commission meeting, Jennifer said that she though there might be guidance on access restrictions, but wasn’t sure, and would look into it.

In the meanwhile, let me propose:

  1. For any roadway with more than one lane in a direction, space will be taken from a general purpose travel lane:
    • If a sidewalk or informal walking path is present, pedestrian access will be preserved by the creation of a temporary sidewalk protected by delineators or barriers.
    • If a bike lane or separated bikeway is present, access will be preserved by the creation of a temporary bike lane protected by delineators or barriers.
  2. For any roadway with a single lane in a direction, space will be taken by closing the general purpose lane in one direction, with appropriate detours for motor vehicles:
    • If a sidewalk or informal walking path is present, pedestrian access will be preserved by the creation of a temporary sidewalk protected by delineators or barriers.
    • If a bike lane or separated bikeway is present, access will be preserved by the creation of a temporary bike lane protected by delineators or barriers.

JUMP success!

Back in June, I suggested that the JUMP system was failing (Two weeks in – failure?). The major issues were that low battery bikes were not being picked up for recharging for several days, there were nowhere close to the 300 promised bikes, and the GPS units did not seem to be reporting correct information or communicating with the network.

We are now at 600 bikes (I think), the bikes are being picked up for charging much more quickly, the drop zones seem to be working for accumulating the bikes that needs to be charged, the GPS units and network are having many fewer problems, and most importantly, there are enough bikes out in the Sacramento central city that there is a bike available within two blocks or so. So, I’m declaring success for the central city. The number of bikes has reached a critical mass necessary for a successful system, and it is working GREAT. I have only occasionally used the bikes in West Sacramento and Davis, so can’t offer a perspective on those two cities.

Just like transit, which can be judged in part by whether a train or bus is coming soon, a bike share system can be judged by whether there is a bike easily available. There are still a few times of day, and a few locations within the central city where it may be hard to find a bike, but most of the time, they are there waiting for you.

East Sacramento, Land Park, and Oak Park are not doing as well, particularly Oak Park. There is not a sufficient density of bikes in these areas that there will be one available close by. In fact, it can be a quarter mile or more between bikes.

Another criteria for judging bike share systems is whether they are reducing motor vehicle trips. In the central city, it seems to be doing so. My impression is that there is a noticeable reduction in motor vehicle traffic, particularly in the evening. Evenings, the bikes are being used largely by young people moving between various restaurants, music venues and bars. It seems like a lot of during-the-evening travel is by bike, but I notice that many people are going home via ride hailing (Lyft and Uber), because it is late, or they are drunk, or they live outside the JUMP system boundary. I have heard from rail hail drivers that evening business is down, and from riders that the drivers are complaining about it. All of this is anecdotal, and no one has made data available yet. I’m not sure that the city would even know if there has been a shift in travel mode. But to the degree that anecdotal evidence is true, this is a good sign. More active transportation trips, fewer motor vehicle trips, is exactly what is needed.

The bikes are also being used for commute trips, and at-work errands. These bikes may only get used for the to-work and to-home trips plus maybe one more trip during the day. On evenings and weekends, each bike in the central city seems to be getting many uses a day. When I park a bike in a popular part of the central city, it is often gone within five minutes. On the other hand, some of the outlying bikes in the suburban neighborhoods are not getting much use, sitting there for several days in a few cases before someone grabs them, or they are picked up by JUMP.

Central city car-free workers

And here is the last of the three census-related maps, before I move on to other topics. This one shows the percentage of workers who are car-free (zero motor vehicles owned). Again, the 95814 zip code nails it, at 18.4%, and 95811 is close behind at 14.5%. Yes, I’m one of them.

The near suburbs also show moderate car-free percentages, probably in this case due to low income as much as choice. College (Los Rios and Sac State) students, if they are working, probably also contribute in the near suburbs. Not surprisingly, the distant suburbs have almost no one car-free. Those people are locked into the driving life by the place they have chosen to live.

It is important to remember these percentages are of workers, people who are working somewhere. They do not include people too young to work, people who have retired, or just people not working. If those people are included, the car-free rates would be much, much higher. These people are just as entitled to transportation expenditures as car drivers, but our transportation systems is set up to give them crumbs rather than a fair share.

On the other hand, there large numbers of people in the distant suburbs who have three or more cars per worker. Not per family, but per worker. The 95615 zip code (Courtland) tops the list with 54% having three or more cars, but other zip codes are close behind. Yow!

Again, the Sacramento County map (car-free) is available.

Sacramento-central-car-free

 

Central city commute times

Here is the second map generated from American Community Survey data, this one showing average commute times by zip code. Nothing surprising here, the central city still compares well with other areas of the county, but there are some interesting patterns in the Sacramento County map (commute time), such as the northeast county in which I’m guessing people are commuting to Roseville rather than downtown, and therefore have reasonable commute times.

Sacramento-central-commute-time

If I were looking at commute times for surrounding counties, I suspect the average commute times would be significantly longer, since many people are commuting into employment centers such as downtown, Roseville, and Folsom. I have to admit that my own commute is long, 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on where I’m working in the eastern suburbs. But I’d much rather be on a bike for 90 minutes than in a car for 20 minutes. I use transit at times, but for most trips it is either the same or longer to my work destination, so I use it mostly on horrible weather days and when I need to get work done on the way there or the way home.

Since this map doesn’t require much explanation, I’ll say more about census data. The American Community Survey has some very complex questions, such as whether you departed for work between 6:00AM and 6:30AM, but it can’t seem to find the bandwidth for some simple but very useful questions such as “Is your commute multi-modal? What percentage?” A person can only answer in one category: car/truck/van, bicycling, walking, transit, or other. If a trip is 51% transit and 49% bicycling, it shows up as an entirely transit trip. If a person drives 15 minutes to a parking garage and then walks 10 minutes to work, it shows up as an entirely driving trip. A number of people have suggested that this single mode constraint over-emphasizes the mode share for driving and therefore underemphasizes walking, bicycling and transit.

I will be looking at the National Household Travel Survey, last completed in 2009, to see how it compares to the American Community Survey. There is also a California Household Travel Survey, which looked at things is a much more detailed manner, but did not provide anywhere near the coverage of a census, sampling only typical parts of the state in detail.

How do central city people get to work?

Many central city residents have claimed recently that they can’t get to work if there isn’t parking both at their residence and at their work. I was curious just how central city folks do get to work, so I delved into census data (more about that below the graphic).

Turns out a lot of central city residents don’t drive to work. In 95814 (where I live) and 95811, about 56% use privately owned vehicles (POV = car/truck/van), but the other 44% walk, bicycle, use transit, or work from home. That is remarkable! When you think about how much attention and money we devote to those who drive, it eye-opening. Other areas near the central city have high active and transit use, but it falls off rapidly in most of the suburbs (but not all). The map below zeroes in on the central city. The Sacramento County Privately Owned Vehicles (POV) Commute is also available.

Sacramento-central-commute

 

 

So, where does this information come from? The American Community Survey, 2014 version, which has estimated data covering a five year period. The report from which I extracted the data is S0801, Commuting Characteristics by Sex. The field mapped above is HC01_EST_VC03, which is “Total; Estimate; MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION TO WORK – Car, truck, or van.” I think the symbology (colors) I used represent what I’m trying communicate – green is good, red is bad.

It took quite some time to find the fields I was looking for, and the search tool does not make it easy (http://factfinder.census.gov/). Then it took some time to figure out how to extract the data fields I wanted and dispose of those I did not. And then it took a LOT of time to figure out how to get ArcGIS ArcMap to match the zip coded commuting data with the county’s zip code map. Turns out that Excel does not properly label the data type of a field, so either the zip code was a number, which didn’t match the text in the zip code layer, or the rest of the data was text, which could not be symbolized properly. I had to use Apple Numbers to create an export format that retained the correct field type. But now that I know how to do this, I’ll have some more maps to share soon.

 

Irrational thinking about parking

This week Sacramento News and Review’s Streetalk (not available online as far as I can tell) interviewed five people in midtown about parking meter hours. Facebook also has had a number of posts about parking in the central city. I am amazed that seemingly intelligent people have such fuzzy thinking about parking. Just as with driving, it engenders thoughts that have no grounding in reality, but if anything, parking is a stronger influence. Despite what many people think, free parking is not guaranteed in either the constitution or the bible. (Cheap gas is, though, look it up. – I’m joking.)

First, let me say that I don’t believe the parking changes are solely due to an effort to pay off the city indebtedness for the arena, but I also don’t deny that the arena has driven the pace of the changes and has city officials (elected and staff) drooling over the income. But let’s look rationally at some of the benefits.

People complain that later hours will reduce the amount of parking available. In fact, it is quite likely to have the opposite effect. The reason there is “no parking” in the central city is not because it is priced too high or the hours too long, but because it is priced too low and the hours too short. When people have free parking, whether during the day or the evening, they do several things: 1) they drive when they don’t need to (they often could walk, bicycle or use transit) because that choice is subsidized by free parking; 2) they stay longer in the parking spots because there is no cost of doing so; 3) they don’t carpool when they could; and 4) they don’t plan out trips so that they can maximize efficiency, rather they make trips on the spur of the moment. That drive to get coffee, for example.

The key factor that determines whether parking works for people is turnover. If there aren’t any parking spaces open, it is because metered spots are priced too low and free parking is given away for, well, free. Metered parking, if the pricing is either dynamic or increased to reflect demand, guarantees there will be open spots. Open spots mean that people won’t have to circle the block(s). I live at 16th & O, and I see a lot of drivers circling and circling, just looking for that one close spot. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an open spot, would you not rather be eating or drinking or listening to music or hanging out with friends, than circling the block? Or even better, if you must drive, park further away and get in some of your daily physical activity.

I can’t resist replying to each of the interviewees:

  • Christina: Why will it be a major inconvenience? Is that something you said because you’d heard other people say it?
  • Beth: “It would inhibit people using this area…” Why? Do people not go to work because they have to pay for parking? Why would they not do the things in the evening they want to do, and pay for parking? Most evening activities are not low budget, no matter what you are doing, and parking fees are not going to be a significant part of that. With a $25 dinner and $20 in drinks (or more), parking fees are just not that big a deal.
  • Vanessa: The reason it is so hard for you to find parking (if it really is) is that parking is underpriced and therefore overused. You can use the new SacPark app to extend your time, if you wish, or just park in a garage and walk to work. What a concept!
  • Kayla: If you can’t be away from your car, then perhaps you should move out. But, how about giving up your car and having a better life? “…my free spaces…”? I always wondered whose free spaces those are, and now I know, they belong to you. Not.
  • Tavares: Midtown is popular because of the culture and opportunity, not because of free parking. People will continue coming, and fortunately they will be able to find parking because there will be some metered spots open and they won’t have to circle the block, wasting time and gas.
  • Montha: “…coins in my pocket…? Are you telling me you don’t have a credit card? Most parking has been converted to single space smart meters that accept credit cards, and the kiosks also accept credit cards. Are you telling me you don’t have a smart phone? The SacPark app allows you to easily pay for your parking without a single coin in your pocket.

Yes, I’m pretty unsympathetic. I live car-free in midtown, and in part I live here because I can have a great life and be car-free. My main complaint about parking is that 10-20% of my rent goes to subsidizing free parking spots for other residents in the apartment complex. I’d have an even greater life if I had that as disposable income to enjoy midtown even more.

This issue has caused me to look into the census characteristic of the central city residents, and I’ll have more posts on that soon.

parking rights?

Tony Bizjak wrote in his Back-Seat Driver weekly column yesterday about parking issues in the central city, Backseat Driver: Sacramento’s central city residents want parking rights protected (SacBee 2015-08-17), as a follow-on to the community meeting held by Steve Hansen last week.

I don’t know whether Tony was responsible for the headline, but the headline does at least accurately reflect the view of some central city residents that they have a right to free parking, right in front of their house, and of some suburban commuters that they have a right to low cost parking right at their place of employment. There is no right to parking. You won’t find it in the constitution, federal, state or local law, nor in the bible, protestations to the contrary. There are always trade-offs in providing parking, including reduced livability, air pollution and carbon release, potentially lower walkability and bikeability, a less effective transit system, proliferation of that most ugly of urban forms – the parking garage and the surface parking lot, and most of all, encouragement to drive everywhere – a relict of the 1950s and 1970s that most “world class” cities are rapidly moving away from.

The article opens with “A downtown can’t prosper if its people can’t park their cars,” which has become a tag line for comments at the SacBee, Facebook and Twitter. Says who? The implication is that all other considerations are subservient to the demand for parking. A city’s businesses can’t prosper if customers can’t find parking reasonable close to the business they wish to frequent, for those customers that must or choose to drive. All day commuter parking and all day and night residential parking are in fact what threaten the prosperity of downtown, and it is our existing parking policies that make this so. A downtown can’t prosper if it is not walkable, bikeable and transit friendly, and in my opinion those are at least as important as drivability. It is not that parking need necessarily conflict with these other goals, but it does currently, and the restrictions, requirements and limitations being asked by some residents and some commuters will make it worse, much worse.

Continue reading “parking rights?”