whither Sacramento Vision Zero?

The City of Sacramento adopted Vision Zero in 2017, and developed a Vision Zero Action Plan in 2018. The plan identified five high injury corridors for projects to slow traffic and increase safety for walkers and bicyclists. The city then developed a plan for these five corridors in 2021. The city has obtained grants for some of these corridors, and will apply for more. The city lowered speed limits in a number of schools zones (though street design, drop-off/pick-up procedures, and motorist behavior are the issues in most school zones, not speeding). The city also developed a public outreach education program, though there is no evidence of such programs having any effect on driver behavior (NHTSA and California OTS have thousands of programs with no demonstrated success). So far, so good.

But…

  • The city has intentionally ignored high injury intersections, unless they are on one of these corridors. No grant applications have been made to fix intersections, though intersections are where most fatalities and severe injuries occur. No non-grant actions have been taken to fix high injury intersections.
  • The city has failed to set up a crash investigation team to determine causes and solutions for every fatality. The police department (or CHP if the crash occurs on a state highway) will do an investigation, and sometimes involve traffic engineers, but never involves planners, never involves experts in nonprofit organizations (who have as much if not more expertise than city staff), and never involves citizens who walk and bike.
  • The Vision Zero Task Force, which met in 2016 and 2017, has never met since. That means there is no community guidance for the Vision Zero program. City staff is making all the decisions on Vision Zero.
  • The city has ignored all the low cost options for reducing motor vehicle crashes. As just one example, the city has been asked to remove pedestrian beg buttons and create leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) at all signalized intersections, but did only a small beg button set to auto-recall on five crosswalks, and have not increased the number of LPIs in years.

Solutions?

  • The city should create an effective crash investigation team, composed of law enforcement, city traffic engineers, city planners, nonprofit experts, and citizens who walk and bike, and perhaps a representative of the neighborhood association in which the crash occurred. The team should never be led by law enforcement, which has an anti-walker and anti-bicyclist windshield bias. It has been suggested that streets where fatalities have occurred be shut down until the investigation and resulting fixes are in place, which is an idea worth considering.
  • The city should identify the top five high injury intersections, and commit to significant changes to eliminate crashes at those intersections, within three years. And then move on to the next five. The corridor projects and intersection projects should be considered co-equal in city funded projects or grant applications.
  • The city Active Transportation Commission should take on a strong leadership role in advising the council on the Vision Zero program. It may also be appropriate to re-convene the task force to provide more detailed guidance to staff.
  • The city should implement a Vision Zero project to change all traffic signals in the entire city to auto-recall (with removal of the physical beg buttons as staffing allows) and leading pedestrian intervals.
  • The city should undertake a review of peer cities that have reduced speed limits city-wide, to determine whether to implement this change and how to learn from the experiences of other cities. If the review indicates that speeds can be reduced by as little as 3 mph by a reduction from 25 mph to 20 mph, the city should implement it city-wide. Similarly for higher speed streets.

thoughts on Sac TPP

Some further thoughts to update my Sac Transportation Priorities Plan update.

I don’t think the five categories should be weighted equally. If the city were starting with a blank slate, it would make sense, but the slate is not blank. Out existing transportation system is profoundly racist and classist, so the city must overcome past harms by focusing improvements on low income and communities of color. Rather than being 20% of the scoring, ‘Provide Equitable Investment’ should be 40%.

I’ve also come to understand this this is a technical document, not a policy document. The only real policy here is that criteria will be used to select projects, not whim. This is acknowledged to be an immense improvement. But it is only one of many needed policies.

What is a policy? A statement that controls how the city designs and operates the transportation network. An existing policy is the goal that all streets will have a pavement condition index (PCI) or at least 72. Examples of new policies:

  • All sidewalks will be maintained in a state of good repair by the city. Adjacent property owners will be responsible only when a tree on private property, not in the sidewalk buffer, creates root heaves, or when construction activity damages the sidewalk.
  • Every crash resulting in a fatality or severe injury will be investigated by a team including a traffic engineer, a planner, a representative of a walking or bicycling advocacy organization (Civic Thread and/or SABA), and a citizen who lives in the neighborhood and regularly walks and/or bicycles. A recommendation for changes will be made, and at least one recommendation implemented. ‘No change’ will not be acceptable.

What is a project? In the city’s understanding, a project is something big, a project that requires a federal, state or SACOG grant, a project that will involve concrete and/or asphalt, and constructors to install it. What is not seen as a project is lower cost changes, many of which could be accomplished with staff time and small expenditures. Examples of lower cost projects:

  • Change every pedestrian signal in the city to have at least a 3 second leading pedestrian interval (LPI) in which the walker gets a head start into the crosswalk. Staff time costs, no materials costs.
  • Remove pedestrian beg buttons from all signals in the city. Leave buttons which trigger ADA audible signals, but label them with that function. Staff time costs, some materials costs (for the new signs).
  • Install temporary curb extensions at the top five fatality or severe injury intersections, every year. Observe usage and transit to refine the design for permanent curb extensions some staff time, some materials costs (paint and posts).

A lot more could be said about each of these policies and projects, and I will, but for now the caution is that the TPP will only be effective if additional policies are implemented, and projects broadly defined to include the small, lower cost stuff, not just big projects.