Sacramento transportation decision time

The City of Sacramento is holding a city council workshop on Tuesday, February 8, 5:00PM. The purpose of the workshop is to gather input to help the city realign its transportation policies and project with its climate change objectives (they are far, far from in alignment now).

Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates (SABA) with partners has created a petition you can sign to support a more effective and equitable transportation system. The petition and background information are at https://sites.google.com/sacbike.org/cleansac/home.

In its final report, the Mayors’ Commission on Climate Change recommended that to achieve its climate goals, Sacramento must prioritize the use of active transportation, public transit, and shared mobility services, and then electrify remaining vehicles. Reducing vehicle miles traveled by prioritizing walking, biking, rolling, and transit is the most effective way to reduce emissions in Sacramento.

We are asking the Sacramento City Council to:

1. Build a Comprehensive Active Transportation Network.
Commit to and take action to build a seamless, low-stress network of active transportation corridors, for the central city and connections into and out of the city. An infrastructure that supports safe walking, biking and rolling should include the following elements: separated bikeways, secure bicycle parking, adequate lighting, widened sidewalks, traffic calming, and other speed reduction measures.

2. Commit Funding.
Prioritize and set aside funding within the city budget for an active transportation program. Set aside the necessary matching funds to qualify for the federal and state infrastructure programs this year and in future years. Deliberately seek additional funding and financing through grants, state and federal programs, and other revenue sources.

3. Adopt Policy Guidance to Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled.
All land use decisions should require consideration of reducing vehicle miles traveled when new projects and modifications to existing projects are evaluated by staff and reviewed and approved by City Commissions and Council.

4. Focus on Equity.
Prioritize a consistent focus on equity for project timing and funding.

5. Engage the Community.
Engage the community and regional experts in developing an active transportation program that works for everyone.

6. Ensure Adequate Staffing.
Ensure adequate staffing and resources to develop and administer the program, including the funding/financing aspect.

I’ll comment first on the petition. It is good, but does not go far enough in my opinion. Two improvements I would make:

1. Build a Comprehensive Active Transportation Network. Add short-term bicycle parking everywhere, and secure long-term bicycle parking at all retail and job centers. Recognize bike share as an integral part of the transportation system, including funding it in low-income neighborhoods.

2. Commit Funding. The city should pursue grants and other funding sources, but must also invest significant budget resources to transportation. The city provides the required match for grants, but almost no other funding. The result is that city funds are spent as a match on large projects, and small projects that could otherwise use the funding and have an immediate impact on safety and equity, are neglected. It is rare for cities to rely almost entirely on grant funding, as the Sacramento does for it active transportation and complete streets projects. Sacramento is an outlier.

The city’s page is at http://www.cityofsacramento.org/Public-Works/Transportation/Planning-Projects/Climate-and-Transportation. The major graphic is below, though note that the workshop date has been changed to February 8, 5:00pm.

One of the major programs being proposed to council is a network of bikeway superhighways, shown on the map below. The concept of bicycle superhighways comes recently from Milan, though other European cities have long had such facilities.

The bikeway superhighways part of the proposal seems to be the flagship of the program, so I’ll make a few comments on that.

In the north, the Niños Parkway must be extended over Interstate 80 into the commercial centers to the north. Otherwise, it fails to connect residents to jobs, and falls short at mitigating the major barrier to travel represented by the freeway.

In the south, the 24th St and MLK corridors must be extended south at least to Florin Rd, if not further. Otherwise the residential areas north and south of Florin Rd are isolated from the job opportunities to the north.

Within the bikeways superhighways portion of the city page, there is a statement: 6. Complete the existing bikeway network within 4 miles of the Central City by closing gaps in the network and calming traffic. I do not deny that this might have the greatest impact in reducing VMT (vehicle miles traveled), and since I live in the central city, I’d be a beneficiary. However, this conflicts with the equity goals stated on this page, and throughout city policy. This is the area that has always received the greatest city investment, in infrastructure and in maintenance. The rest of the city to the north and south has largely been neglected. In my view, it is time to turn this on its head. Only projects and investments in low-income areas, or which demonstrably serve to connect low-income neighborhoods to jobs and regional amenities, should be funded. Period. We have a century of disinvestment in low-income areas, greatly accelerated by the urban renewal fiasco of the 1950-1970s. Now is the time to start undoing that damage.

The term ‘congestion relief’ should be removed from the city page, and city documents. Congestion relief is always taken to mean making it easier to drive. Congestion in fact is always a natural check on overuse of motor vehicles, and by reducing traffic speeds, makes it safer for bicyclists. And probably walkers as well, but the research on that is not as clear.

I hope you’ll get involved. SacMoves, the coalition of transportation and air quality advocacy groups, will be discussing the city proposal in depth, and there may be more information to share before the city workshop.

Katie’s Mid-Year Budget Request Sign-On

Katie Valenzuela, Sacramento councilmember for District 4, posted a request for people to sign on to ideas for a mid-year budget adjustment to include several transportation and livability issues, at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc2klsRgKrTcY4Ndoh7OWpz9CdwS_-Vb5rZvrrqG9Td75Z1Ig/viewform.


“In the year I’ve been in office, I’ve heard from thousands of people regarding their concerns and ideas about needed improvements in their neighborhoods. When I bring these community concerns to staff, I hear a lot of support and empathy for the issues raised, but it is often followed by a somber realization: there isn’t a sufficient budget to provide these services.

While I understand the limitations of the City budget, I also believe there are basic services any City should provide:

  • Streetlights, particularly in older neighborhoods that lack sufficient lighting to promote safety for all road users.
  • Sidewalk repair, the costs for which we put onto property owners during the 2008 recession. Sidewalks are a public good everyone uses and should be maintained by the City.
  • Public Restrooms to serve everyone in our city, particularly at parks. This should also include porta potties near large encampments.
  • Road and traffic safety improvements, particularly targeting streets and intersections where there are repeated collisions or injuries.
  • Public garbage cans and collection to help mitigate litter.

These needs aren’t unique to District 4, but are issues I’ve also observed citywide. As we approach the midyear and future budgets, I urge you to join me in asking that we consider the quality-of-life improvements the community is asking for and appropriate funds for these purposes.”


These five items are all transportation issues to some degree or another.

Streetlights: Many people will not walk at night when there is insufficient lighting. They feel unsafe. Many intersections are poorly lit for people walking, providing light for drivers but not for people in crosswalks.

Sidewalk repair: The lower the income level of a neighborhood, which is strongly but not complete correlated with people of color, the poorer the sidewalks. This is an ongoing problem in north Sacramento and south Sacramento, but exists other places. When the city claims it has not responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, but does maintain roadways, it is sending a clear message that drivers are more important than walkers. This must change. The first step is not to start fixing sidewalks, but to change city code so that the city is responsible for maintaining sidewalks, not adjacent property owners. There may be situations in which a tree on private property damages a public sidewalk, but most of the damage from trees occurs by city owned trees in the sidewalk buffer area. In fact, the worst sidewalks are often adjacent to city-owned property, where the ordinance requiring property owner repair apparently doesn’t apply. (In the interests of transparency, if one wishes to see truly horrible sidewalks, visit the City of Los Angeles. Makes Sacramento look like a walking paradise.)

broken sidewalk on V Street, Sacramento

Public restrooms: Any person who is walking is likely to be making a slower trip than a driver, and more likely to need to use a restroom during their trip. Walkers are also more likely to chain destinations, and therefore need a restroom during a longer trip, while drivers often make shorter individual trips to single destinations. The city has resisted making public restrooms available, partially in an effort to make unhoused people unwelcome. One new restroom was built in Cesar Chavez Plaza, and some parks have restrooms available for some hours, but many park restrooms remain locked. For example, the one in Fremont Park has been locked up for two years now.

Traffic safety improvements: This one is obvious. What is not obvious is that the city has an unwritten policy that it will only make major street changes with federal, state, and regional grants, not out of the general budget. A few things are done as part of routine maintenance, when a street is repaved and re-striped, but this is a tiny fraction of what is needed. Improvements to high-injury intersections and corridors should be a funded part of the city budget, not dependent upon grants from outside.

Public garbage cans: Again, people walking are likely to generate things that need to be trashed or recycled. For example, walk to your local coffee shop and then continue on your journey, you end up with an empty cup to dispose of. People driving simply throw it on the floor, or out the window in many cases. And if they throw it on the floor, it is likely to be thrown on the ground the next time the vehicle is parked. I know this because this is the pattern for people who commute in from the suburbs and park in the central city. I’ve observed it hundreds of times. It is true that in areas with active business improvement districts, there are more public garbage cans, but that leaves many areas of the city out, which are just as deserving of the service.

The city discriminates against people walking (and bicycling). These budget items would be a first step towards redressing that.

I will say that the greatest need for these improvements is not in District 4, which has often received more attention from the city than any district other than District 1. Sacramento has had and continues to have a serious equity failing, spending more money on repair and improvements in higher income areas.

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.