pinching bike lanes

Another classic mistake by the City of Sacramento. Re-striping was just done on several blocks of N Street. Eastbound on N Street 22nd Street, this is what it looks like.

N St eastbound at 22nd St

Take a close look. Extend the dashed line forward, and you’ll see the taper, from a regular bike lane adjacent to a parking lane, to just a bike lane. Look even closer. See where the no parking sign is? A vehicle can park that close to the intersection, completely blocking the bike lane, and in fact blocking part of the general purpose lane. Yesterday, when I rode by, but neglected to take a photo, there was a large pedestrian-killer pickup truck parked right up to the no parking sign, and it was actually covering up three of the dash marks. Riding a bicycle in the bike lane and expecting it to continue? In Sacramento, that is not a reasonable expectation.

I would hope that the striping crew, whether city or contractor (not sure which this was) would notice the problem and stop painting until this was clarified. But it is not really the responsibility of the stripers. This design was signed off on by a ‘professional’ engineer employed by the city. This is the quality of people the city employs.

Westbound on N Street, it is not as bad since the no parking sign is further from the intersection. See below.

N St westbound at 22nd St

It is still a poor design, but nowhere near as dangerous.

As I’ve said before (traffic calming in the central city), these median islands, when placed in this way, as a widening of the center line only at intersections, are a hazard to bicyclists, though they do provide some safety for pedestrians. The best traffic calming measure, and the one that should be used by the city, is traffic diverters.

Sac Transportation Priorities Plan

I’ve been intending on writing something useful on the City of Sacramento Transportation Priorities Plan, but here we are just a few days away from the deadline to comment, June 14th, and I’ve not done so. I encourage you to go to the webpage (https://www.cityofsacramento.org/Public-Works/Transportation/Planning-Projects/Transportation-Priorities-Plan), review, and provide your input.

curb ramps

While walking in the central city today, I saw this brand new curb ramp on the southwest corner of X Street and 24th Street.

new curb ramp, southwest corner of X Street & 24th Street

Why, why, why, did the city put in a diagonal curb ramp when they should have put in a two perpendicular ramps? Though I’ve searched in vain through city documents looking to see what the criteria is for a single ramp per corner versus two ramps per corner, I have heard it said by city staff that the single ramps are for residential neighborhoods and the two ramps are for urban neighborhoods. This is definitely an urban neighborhood setting, with both 24th Street and X Street being arterials. Yet the city put in a single ramp. They call this a ‘single flare curb ramp’. What should have been installed here is a ‘standard curb ramp’. The city diagrams do not show exactly this situation, where there is a sidewalk buffer (planter strip) on X Street, with an attached sidewalk on 24th Street, but the diagram below is the closest to the situation.

If the city development code does not specify that single, diagonal ramps should be used only in purely residential situations (if even there), it should be modified to be so.

2021-03-12: Adding a photo that better shows the context for this diagonal ramp. This is the southwest corner, X Street to the right and 24th Street to the left. There is space for perpendicular ramps. Of course this would have been a great location for a curb extension (bulb out) on both 24th Street and X Street, but yes, that would be significantly more expensive and might involve drainage issues.

curb ramp at southwest corner of 24th St & X St

2021-03-17: Adding a photo of a new curb ramp in the same area of town, at 22nd Street and W Street, showing the correct perpendicular curb ramps. It isn’t that the city doesn’t know how to do it right, it is that they chose not to at the intersection of X Street and 24th Street.

perpendicular curb ramps at 22nd Street & W Street

Sac one-way to two-way

The City of Sacramento Downtown Mobility Project includes the conversion of two one-way street segments to two-way. Specifically, I Street from 15th St to 21st St, and 5th Street from I St to X St. The time frame for these changes was projected to be 2021.

Note that 5th Street is already two-way from L St to J St, and from I St to Railyards Blvd. One-way 5th Street significantly handicaps access from the south to and from Sacramento Valley Station.

Downtown Mobility Plan

The 2040 Sacramento General Plan mobility element Proposed Roadway Changes map (10MB; this is from the City Council agenda item 15 for January 19, 2021, I’ve not found it on the city website) indicates additional one-way to two-way conversions in the central city. On the clip of the city-wide map showing the central city, below in pinkish, these are small sections of 3rd St, sections of 7th St and 8th St, one block of 16th St, small sections of 19th St and 21st St, sections of G St and H St, some additional sections of I St, a long section of N St, and small sections of L St and P St under the Business 80/Capital City freeway. There is no indication of sequencing of these conversions in documents available so far, but since the plan is a 20 year plan, I would hope that these conversion are prioritized for the next five years.

2040 Sacramento General Plan, Proposed Roadway Changes, excerpt

I’ve written a number of times about the safety hazards of one-way streets and recommendations for converting them in Sacramento: One-way streets, again; 5th Street mess at Sac Valley Station; more on conversion to two-way streets; street changes. When these additional conversions are implemented, the central city will be closer to my ideal of no one-way streets except when there is a separated (protected) bikeway on the street. An even this is questionable, as it increases safety for bicyclists but does little to increase safety for walkers.

Someone recently asked when the streets in the central city were converted to one-way, and I don’t know. Anyone out there have information?

pavement condition in Sac City, part 2

I started wondering about other variables that might affect pavement condition index (PCI) in the council districts, so here is a little more exploration. See the previous post: pavement condition in Sac City.

First, the council district map, for those who may not be familiar with boundaries.

I wondered about the relationship between population density (people per square mile) and PCI. There isn’t any correlation, though again, the district 1 and 8 outliers may be interesting. I did not realize that district 8 has the highest population density of the districts.

I wondered about the relationship between lanes miles and PCI. There is a weak correlation.

And finally, here is my current data table, in case you want to play with data or suggest insights. Note that the population of each district is roughly the same, as it should be. The unfunded column is the amount (millions of dollars) of backlog, to bring roadways up to PCI 75, but it does not include the ongoing yearly expense of maintaining them at that level.

pavement condition in Sac City

In the search for other information, I came across the City of Sacramento Pavement Condition Report, dated March 2020, and it has some interesting things to ponder. The city has 3000 lane miles of streets. The county reports road miles instead of lane miles, so I can’t directly compare the city and county, but the city does say it has the fifth largest roadways network in California.

The report has maps for each council district, showing the PCI for each (PCI = pavement condition index, a measure of how well the roadway has been maintained, higher is better). I wondered whether the PCI correlated with income, as many things do, so I plotted 2020 median household income of each district against PCI, table and chart below.

There is not a strong correlation between income and PCI, R = .42, but district 1 and 2 are clear outliers, with 1 being the highest income and highest PCI, and 2 being the lowest income and lowest PCI. The city report says that the reason district 1 has a high PCI is that the roads there are newer, but I’m a little doubtful this explains it all, since many of the roads in that area are now old enough to need maintenance.

The target score for ‘roads in good condition’ is at least PCI 75, so Sacramento is falling far short of that because it is not spending enough on roadway maintenance. Part of the reason for this is that money is spent on building new roadways and widening roadways instead of maintaining roadways. But the underlying reason is that the city has allowed to be constructed, and then taken on maintenance responsibility for, roadways which it does not have the income to maintain. In new developments, construction of internal roadways is paid by the developer, but arterials and collectors, which often must be upgraded to handle increased traffic, and the interchanges with freeways, are largely paid by the city, or grants, and are maintained by the city. But low density development, of which the city was formerly very fond and still has some attachment to, cannot ever generate enough income in property or sales taxes to maintain the roadways. This is one of the great suburban subsidies that so hurts our cities and counties.

The report lays out three funding level scenarios:

  1. current funding levels: The PCI will deteriorate over 10 years to 42, which is rated ‘poor’, and if ever corrected, would cost about ten times as much to correct as it would to maintain. I doubt that most people in the city would find this in any way acceptable.
  2. maintain current conditions: To keep the PCI level at 60, the city would need to spend $35.7 million per year, but it is currently only spending $9.7 million per year. This is 3.7 times current expenditures. Though the PCI would be stable, there would be a continuous increasing backlog of maintenance because the PCI would not be improved to the desired 75.
  3. improve conditions to state of good repair: To bring PCI to 75 would cost $58.5 million per year. This is 6.0 times current expenditures.

What to do? I’m sure if the city knew, it might never have gotten into this bind. This is a pattern with nearly all cities, that they cannot under any reasonable current taxation scheme hope to maintain their infrastructure. This post is about roadways, but the same is true of water supply and sewer and electric and gas. And services such as fire and police, for that matter. And it doesn’t even touch on the need for sidewalk maintenance, which is only addressed in terms of adding ADA structures at intersections. For much greater insight on the problem and possible solutions, I refer you to Strong Towns and the book Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity (from your local bookstore or library).

But I will suggest some things:

  • a moratorium on accepting any new roadways into the city, until the city has identified a mechanism for maintaining them, which would probably entail the developer paying into a trust fund for maintenance
  • paving of parking lanes to a lower level of maintenance than travel lanes; adjacent areas do not need the load bearing capacity of travel lanes nor receive as much wear and tear; the city has already done this in a few locations
  • reducing excess travel lanes; for most roadways in the city, three travel lanes per direction are excess capacity, rarely needed except for brief periods of time or in uncommon circumstances; though re-allocation to bike lanes, separated bikeways, or sidewalks (or in a few cases, parking) should be the ultimate fate of these excess areas, in the meanwhile they can just be blocked off from use and therefore remove the need for maintenance; in many cases two lanes per direction are also excess
  • evaluate whether a lower PCI than 75 might be just fine for residential streets and collector streets; after all, poor pavement does have a traffic calming effect, and we need traffic calming everywhere, so maybe PCI 60 is OK for many roadways

I believe that funding to maintain local streets, most of which are residential streets, and probably collector streets, should come from the city or county level, not from the state or federal government. The closer to the roadway the funding is, the more likely the city or county is to make rational and sustainable decisions about roadway maintenance responsibilities and funding. I think an argument could be made that arterial maintenance should be funded by the state since these roadways serve traffic beyond the city and county boundaries.

As a car-free person, you might assume that I don’t care much about pavement condition, but buses and bikes operate on the same streets as private motor vehicles and commercial vehicles, so acceptable pavement condition is important to me as well.

BikeLink in Sacramento

The City of Sacramento has installed some BikeLink bike storage lockers in parking garages. These are the first city-sponsored lockers, though Sacramento Valley Station (Capitol Corridor) has an extensive locker installation, Folsom has had lockers at the three light rail stations for several years, and Roseville has a few locations.

The new city locations are mostly parking garages: Memorial Garage, 805 14th St, City Hall Garage, 1000 I St, Capitol Garage, 1126 11th St, and Tower Bridge Garage, 135 Neasham Cir, with one additional location in the K St pedestrian tunnel to Old Town Sacramento/Sacramento Riverfront. I’m not overly fond of parking garage locations, as they are out of sight and not a place most bicyclists would think of to seek out bike parking, but they are certainly better than nothing, and people will eventually discover and use them.

BikeLink lockers in Sacramento Memorial Garage

I hope that the next set of BikeLink lockers in Sacramento are located centrally and visibly at high bicyclist traffic areas, for example DoCo, and the new convention center and community center. They are particularly important where bicycles will be parked for longer time periods, such as attending events, and where parking is needed at night. For short-term, day-time parking, regular bike racks will serve most users. However, employees who bike to work often do not have safe storage, I see a lot of bikes parked out behind buildings, locked to whatever can be found, and I suspect most of these are low-income employees of service businesses, who deserve better security for their bikes. So high retail locations like restaurant areas and malls should also have them, for the use of employees if not others.

I wrote about BikeLink in earlier posts: BikeLink, on-demand bike lockers at Sacramento Valley Station, and bike storage at light rail (note that the Folsom Pedal Stop is no longer there, but there are still 8 lockers at the Historic Folsom light rail station adjacent).

9th St blocked by construction

Thank you, Ali Doerr Westbrook, for flagging the latest violation of walker and bicyclist accommodation on a construction project in Sacramento.

The east side of 9th St between L St and the alley is blocked by a construction project. Both the sidewalk and bike lane are blocked. There is no advance signing at 9th and K for southbound walkers and bicyclists, as required by ADA. There is no signing on the construction fencing, as required by ADA. Construction fencing is not an acceptable detectable warning, as required by ADA. Note that this construction project, the conversion of Capitol Park Hotel into supportive housing, is a city project, so not only is the city responsible for a traffic plan that accommodates walkers and bicyclists, but field checking that the plan is being followed, and enforcing it when it is not.

9th St at K St, no advance warning of closure ahead for walkers or bicyclists

This blockage would in itself be bad, but it is made worse by the blockage of the sidewalk on the west side of 9th St, between K and the alley. This private project is also not properly signed and barricaded. Between these two projects, there is NO walker access on 9th St between K St and L St. None. None. None. Of course one could cross at the alley between one side and the other, but then the city conveniently has a walker-hostile code that crossing streets at alleys is illegal. Got the bases covered, Sacramento!

Though the most egregious, this incident is just the latest in a series of offences in the central city. I have posted on some of these here (tag: construction zone), and on Twitter. I’ve also reported a large number of them to the city’s 311 app. Of these 311 reports, about half are closed without anything being done. Making the same report multiple times increases the likelihood, but doesn’t guarantee it.

The worst of the violations are on city projects. The renewal of Memorial Auditorium had issues. Though now finished, it resulted in the permanent closure of the sidewalk on the south side of I Street. The next worse offense is the ongoing city project called 3C, the convention center and community auditorium construction project. Though some of the issues have been resolved here, several remain, particularly on the 15th St side. And this Capitol Park Hotel project is also a city project. There have been other city project problems, but I don’t have time today to go back through my records and photos to identify all of them.

In response to the concerns from myself and many others, the city had said that it would come up with a construction accommodation policy. After a year, nothing has happened. The city, at least the part of the city responsible for construction zone traffic plans, just does not care. Walkers and bicyclists are routinely ignored or actively discriminated against, in favor of motor vehicle drivers. The city is in violation of its ADA consent decree in allowing these issues to occur and to continue.

bike share before re-opening

JUMP unceremoniously pulled out of Sacramento (the Sacramento region program that included West Sacramento and Davis) in the very early days of the pandemic. The bike and scooters disappeared, except for those few that are still out there, abandoned and never picked up. Though the company claimed that the devices weren’t being used, that is not true. Despite people not commuting to work (the stay at home was not yet clearly defined), they were still getting used, at perhaps half the rate as before. I’ve suspected that Uber/JUMP was already planning a pull-out, and saw the pandemic as a convenient excuse. Sacramento had been the most successful JUMP system in the US, in terms of rides per bike per day. Some argue that means they would not have pulled out unless they had to. But I see exactly the opposite reason, that they pulled the bikes and scooters because they were so successfully competing with what Uber considers (and has now demonstrated) to be its core business, ride hailing.

Lime also had scooters here for a while, but they disappeared as well. Spin had a program based on the campus of Sacramento State, and I saw a few of the scooters off campus, but they were never widespread. I’ve heard rumors of other scooter companies, but never saw any of the scooters. There were also some short-lived or planned but not implemented bike and scooter share programs in other cities around the region.

JUMP is now out of the bike and scooter business altogether. They sold the business, and apparently some of the bikes, to Lime. There are stories on the Internet from locations all around the US about Uber recycling the batteries and scrapping the bikes, so this is apparently widespread, and either already has or will shortly erase most of the bike fleet from existence.

Lime had an electric bike share bike for a while, though never in Sacramento. I saw them but never rode one, as the places they were available had alternative vendors that I was already using. The reviews I read said they were much better than the pedal bikes Lime was famous/infamous for, but nowhere near as good as JUMP bikes.

Apparently Lime is restarting bike share in the Denver area, using the JUMP bike model, starting this Friday. I have not heard any rumors of a restart any place else.

So, what does this have to do with re-opening from the pandemic? I have not heard anything from any of the agencies involved in the bike share program about how bike share can be brought back. SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments), the original sponsor of the Tower Bridge pilot program (remember the white SoBi bikes?), SMAQMD (Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District), which provided some of the start-up funds, the City of Sacramento, the City of West Sacramento, and the City of Davis. Not a peep. There may be discussions going on, just not public, or there may not be.

This region, not just the area covered by the JUMP program, must have a bike share program. I am less certain that scooters must be part of the program, but I’m sure many feel they should. As people who were using transit but are not willing to right now, for an unknown but hopefully not too long period of time, search for alternatives, the choice to drive, and often to purchase a vehicle in order to drive, would be disastrous for the region. Our air quality has been wonderful for three months, but has already returned to the ‘unhealthy for sensitive individuals’ level even with only a fraction of the pre-pandemic traffic levels. If 80% of those who were using transit now drive, air quality will likely be in the ‘unhealthy’ for all category for much of the summer, and jump into the ‘very unhealthy’ category from time to time. We can’t let this happen. We must provide alternatives for people who cannot and will not drive, and that must include bike share. Of course the impact of motor vehicles, more than 40% of carbon emissions in the state, go far beyond current air quality to civilization-changing climate change, but my biggest concern right now is the short term impact on air quality.

Beyond air quality and climate, there are equity concerns about how we re-open. Yes, I know the JUMP system was not perfect. Even after expansion, it covered only part of the low income communities in Sacramento. JUMP had a low income uer discount program, but it was almost a state secret, and they never solved the issue for unbanked people.

We know that most transit users right now are essential workers and people who have no other way of getting to essential destinations. Those who can have been driving, but many can’t. They are not of a driving age (too old or too young), the have valid reasons they are unable to drive, and they simply do not want to be a part of the planet-destroying car obsession. What are we doing to do for these people? Are we going to put all our transportation eggs (funding and projects) into the cars-first basket, as we have done for too long, or are we going to change our futile ways and provide real alternatives? Are we going to commit low income people to a descending spiral of debt as they try to keep old cars running, or buy cars that barely run, just so they can get where they need to go?

The solution is bike share. Here is what I think needs to happen:

  • Equity concerns must be predominant in rolling out the new bike share system. Who really needs this option? How can we make sure it works for them? As one of my favorite people, Tamika Butler (and many others) has said, we don’t want to return to normal, because normal was never acceptable. High income state office workers are not the people the new system should be designed for, though certainly it should work for them too.
  • We must discard the idea that a privately owned and operated system can work to meet the transportation needs of the region. It could be a public system, or it could be a public/private system, but it cannot ever again be solely private.
  • Bike share is identified as a critical transportation service, and as a logical part of the transit system. This does not mean that it is operated by transit agencies, though it could be, but that transit agencies are a core partner in the program.
  • Major traffic attractors will not reopen until a bike share system is in place to handle the additional car traffic that might otherwise be generated. This most definitely includes shopping malls, and probably includes government offices in downtown Sacramento. Universities and colleges are not an issue, for now, as they will be online and not the trip generators they usually are.
  • Funding for bike share infrastructure (bikes and bike racks) will be diverted from road building projects. If the emergency powers of the state and county have any meaning at all, this is well within their power to do. When transportation agencies talk about the ‘color of money’, what they generally mean is that they don’t want to make the effort to justify different uses, and they are happy with the current mode share. Time to end that malfeasance.

Temporary Traffic Control (TTC) references

The City of Sacramento is not taking the failures of its construction zone signing and maintenance seriously. I have forwarded a number of issues to the city, both via email and via the 311 service. Nothing seems to have come of any of this. I have not seen a single location corrected. The 311 requests are being closed without being corrected. It is not clear to me whether the city staff are incompetent, or simply don’t care, but I’m going to list some resources I’ve found useful. These may be useful to readers, so that you can recognize failures and report them as well.

The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) addresses construction zones in Part 6: Temporary Traffic Control Devices. California has its own version, similar but not identical, the CA-MUTCD Part 6. Don’t misunderstand me, the MUTCD/CA-MUTCD is very weak on pedestrian and bicyclist accommodation. If you randomly threw a dart at the manual, 999 times out of 1000, you would see text or signs or diagrams that assume that pedestrians and bicyclists don’t exist. Nevertheless, the manual has the force of law, for any agency that uses federal funding, and it is what most agencies use as the gospel.

pedestrian barricade, with detectable edge (National Work Zone Safety Info Clearinghouse)

Note that the MUTCD prohibits the use of tape, rope, or plastic chain strung between devices because they are not detectable and do not comply with the design standards in the ADAAG; therefore, they may not be used as a control for pedestrian movements (MUTCD 6D.01).

National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse