Measure 2022: ‘complete streets’

This post is a follow up to (in)complete streets and streets – stroads – roads, and will make more sense if you read those first.

The proposed sales tax measure Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP) for Sacramento County has 20 occurences of the term ‘complete streets’. The first is this phrase: “complete streets with or without capacity expansion”. This alone should make everyone uncomfortable – the sponsors are perfectly happy with expanding roadway capacity so long as all modes are accommodated in some way. The roadway could be 20 lanes wide, and that would be fine so long as there is some facility for walking and bicycling. Within the ‘Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements’ section, Citrus Heights lists 15 possible projects, and within the ‘Local Projects of Regional Significance’ section no projects. The table below shows the complete streets summary (note that Isleton is an insignificant portion of the measure and is not listed). Only County of Sacramento specifically calls out that 15 of the projects will include road capacity expansion, but many of the other projects in all of the locations might also include expansion.

In the lead implementation section, paragraph H, ‘complete streets’ are sort of defined:

Complete Streets. Transportation projects provide opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all users of streets, roads, and highways in Sacramento County and recognizes bicycle, pedestrian, vehicle, and transit modes as integral elements of the transportation system. The term “Complete Streets” describes a comprehensive, integrated transportation network with roadways designed and operated to enable safe and convenient travel for users of all abilities, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, persons with disabilities, seniors, children, movers of commercial goods, operators of public transportation, public transportation users, and emergency responders, in a balanced manner that is compatible with an urban, suburban, or rural context.

Transportation Expenditure Plan, I. Implementation, H. Complete Streets

Sounds OK, but it is so vague as to allow practically anything, based on the preference and judgement of city or county. No reference is made to state or federal definitions or guidelines.

The TEP does require the cities and counties to adopt a ‘complete streets’ policy. So far as I’m able to determine, only the City of Sacramento has a policy at this time. That is good. But again, no guidelines as to what a good policy would address. No reference to the National Complete Streets Coalition model, or state or federal guidelines. All of the General Plans address complete streets to some degree. It is not clear whether these existing aspirations constitute a policy.

Within one year following the implementation of this Measure, each local jurisdiction in Sacramento County receiving Measure funds shall adopt or maintain an existing “complete streets” policy or a similar document that incorporates design guidelines and standards promoting safe and convenient travel for all users including bicyclists and pedestrians when considering any construction, reconstruction, retrofit, or alteration of streets, roads, highways, bridges, and other elements of the transportation system.

Transportation Expenditure Plan, I. Implementation, H. Complete Streets

And lastly, the TEP says that projects should be consistent with policy. But again, the language is vague. What does consistency mean? Always, or only when it doesn’t impact traffic flow? No performance measures for the jurisdictions to achieve, or against which to judge their success.

Planning and design of projects affecting the transportation system shall be consistent with any local bicycle, pedestrian, transit, multimodal, and other relevant plans and/or the local complete streets policy to ensure that all transportation types and users are considered in the expenditure of Measure funds.

Transportation Expenditure Plan, I. Implementation, H. Complete Streets

So, does use of ‘complete streets’ and identifying projects as complete streets mean anything. No, not really. It is up to each transportation department to determine for themselves whether the project is complete streets, and what it would have to do to ensure that.

Even if the project does produce a ‘complete street’, it still won’t address frequent safe crossings of the corridor for walkers, nor the need to significantly reduce motor vehicles speeds to create comfortable walking and bicycling streets.

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

Complete Streets aren’t

The Complete Streets movement, now 13 years old and with a newly released criteria for evaluating policies, is considered by some to be a success. Not by me.

There are two gaping flaws in the complete streets concept, that after all this time have not been addressed:

  • Who is responsible for sidewalks?
  • How close should safe crossings be?

Sidewalks: On the first issue, responsibility for sidewalks, most cities and counties (not all) have code that makes sidewalk maintenance the responsibility of the adjacent landowner. This includes repair and snow removal. Most cities have some money set aside to repair sidewalks, but only a tiny fraction of what is needed for the huge backlog of deteriorated sidewalks. A very few cities also clear sidewalks after snow. Sidewalks are every bit as much of the transportation network as travel lanes and bike facilities, but most places wash their hands of this reality and this responsibility, pushing it off to others. It has been pointed out that few cities and counties have the funds to also take care of sidewalks, but that is exactly the point. If we allow cities and counties to prioritize cars over walking, they will continue to do so.

How does complete streets play into this? It doesn’t. Complete Streets set no expectation that cities and counties will maintain their sidewalks. In the new policy rating documents, the word sidewalk only shows up twice, neither in this context. Even a search of the Complete Streets website only mentions sidewalks in relation to case studies and model projects. Fortunately, a few places do much better than just have a policy, but the Complete Streets movement does nothing to encourage this.

El Camino complete street, 0.3 miles to the next safe crossing

Crossings: the second great weakness of the complete streets movement and Complete Streets documents is the lack of attention to frequent safe crossings. The new criteria does not mention crosswalks or crossings. The illustrations of a complete street often show an intersection with high visibility crosswalks and sometimes curb extensions to increase visibility and shorten crossing distance. But other illustrations show long distances along a “complete” street, with the next safe crossing often not visible.

In the Sacramento region, every complete street project along arterials has added sidewalks and bike lanes, but none of them have added safe crossings. In fact, several of them have removed crossings. If a busy street is hard for walkers to cross, they won’t cross it. They will either drive, or just avoid the other side of the street. So that fancy complete streets project, with the wonderful looking wide sidewalks, does not serve the very people it is claimed to serve. People need to be able to cross any land all Streets in a safe crossing at an interval of no more than 1/8 mile. The grid in downtown Sacramento is 1/12 of a mile. Few places in the suburbs are less than 1/4 mile, and many are 1/2 mile. To me, this is unacceptable. I would think a complete streets policy would address this distance between safe crossings issue as being key to walkability. Again, the Complete Streets movement ignores this issue.

55% threshold for transportation maintenance

State Senator Scott Wiener has introduced SCA 6, a constitutional amendment that would change the threshold for transportation measures from 2/3 (67%) to 55%. While I understand the desire to make funding of transportation easier, I am also scared by possible outcomes. The Sacramento County Measure B would have passed under this new threshold, but it failed with 65% when 67% was required. Measure B was chock full of bad projects, including Capital Southeast Connector (a new freeway), widening of Capital City Freeway, new interchanges throughout the county (mostly to serve new and planned greenfield developments), and additional road widening and extension. It also had some good things, such as fix-it-first and light rail car replacement with low-floor/level boarding cars.

I am concerned that if this amendment were adopted, there would just be more and more investment in the same old infrastructure solutions that got us into this mess in the first place, and still less dedicated to what we really need for the time being, which is maintenance.

Continue reading “55% threshold for transportation maintenance”

tomorrow on Broadway Corridor

art bike rack at New Helvetia Brewing
art bike rack at New Helvetia Brewing

The City of Sacramento is soliciting input on changes to be made on the Broadway Corridor to accommodate pedestrian and bicyclist use.

Broadway, as currently designed, is definitely a motor vehicle world, where pedestrians cross at considerable risk and bicyclists riding in traffic are routinely honked at (or worse). Some years ago an attempt was made to calm traffic by installing bulb-outs or curb extensions at some pedestrian crossings. But these did little to slow traffic and much to make bicycling more difficult. As one of the main business streets of Sacramento, and one that is considerably more diverse than many, the corridor, and the businesses along it, and the people who use it, deserve better. Please be a part of making that change happen.

“Broadway has many exciting destinations, but as an auto dominated arterial it is an unfriendly place to walk or ride a bike,” explained Sparky Harris, City of Sacramento Project Manager. “The goal of this project is to better connect sidewalks and bike lanes, enhance pedestrian crossings, and make the corridor an inviting destination for anyone attempting to travel without a car.” (from City Express)

Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 19 there are several mobile workshops along the corridor where people can find out more about the proposals and provide input. Check the City Express post City looking at improvements for Broadway Corridor for times and locations.

Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates (SABA) is hosting a bike ride from Capitol Park that will end at the mobile workshop at New Helvetia Brewing on Broadway at 18th. The event is on Facebook: