the blind spot of roadway re-design

It has become popular these days to claim that the only real solution to traffic violence is re-design of roadways to prevent bad driver behavior, and to eliminate traffic enforcement as a solution to bad driver behavior. I’m not in disagreement with this. Re-design does prevent a lot of bad driver behavior. Traffic enforcement is very often a tool of oppression by law enforcement on people of color. All true.

But… There is also a blind spot. Roadway re-design does not force drivers to yield to walkers in the crosswalk. Sure, if traffic is going slower, it is less likely that collisions will be fatal to the walker, and perhaps slightly less likely to result in a collision at all, with more reaction time. But a driver that won’t yield at 35 mph is a driver that won’t yield at 25 mph. Failure to yield to someone in the crosswalk is sociopathic behavior, in that it intimidates people against walking, and it is psychopathic behavior in that it prioritizes driver convenience over the lives of others. These people are mentally ill, and they should be removed from our roadways. Not just ticketed, but their drivers license pulled and their vehicle confiscated.

No technology that I’m aware of will automatically enforce yielding behavior, or ticket failure to yield. Red light running cameras are legal in California, but are installed on only a tiny fraction of signalized intersections, and are not even used in many localities. Speed cameras are illegal in California (to protect the guilty). I have never heard of cameras focused on failure to yield.

Law enforcement has essentially stopped enforcing failure to yield. I’ve never seen someone stopped for this violation, and the traffic stop statistics say that it almost never happens. Law enforcement doesn’t care. It sees walkers as second class citizens. After all, they are often lower income and sometimes homeless, people that law enforcement feels obligated to oppress, not to serve. I myself have experienced law enforcement officers failing to yield to me in the crosswalk a number of times. CHP is the worst offender, but all the agencies are guilty.

What provoked this post? I was bicycling home along P Street from the store. A woman was crossing. The driver in the left hand land stopped for her, as did I. The driver in the right hand lane not only did not slow to see why, but blew through the crosswalk, very nearly hitting the woman. I caught up with the vehicle, and saw that both the driver and passenger were high-income, white, and young. When I tried to talk to them about their violation and nearly hitting the woman, they blew me off and implied that I was crazy for even caring about this. This is the drivers we share the road with.

Yes, let’s re-design the roadways. But in the meanwhile, lets enforce failure to yield with serious consequences. The lives of people walking are too valuable to sacrifice to drivers, for even one day. I realize there are equity implications of traffic enforcement, but my anecdotal observation says that the worse drivers are high-income white males. Hardly the oppressed class.

CVC 21950

Hmm. 16th St traffic calming

A new traffic calming feature has showed up on 16th Street approaching R Street in midtown Sacramento. Paint and flex posts have been placed between the travel lanes. Advance yield lines (‘sharks teeth’) were also painted, showing where drivers should stop when yielding to pedestrians.

16th St lane channelization

I’m not sure what to think of this. Certainly this is a problematic intersection. Cars stopped for the light rail gates between R Street and Q Street often stop throughout the intersection, blocking both the north and south crosswalks over 16th Street, as well as the intersection itself, preventing vehicles along R Street from proceeding while the traffic is stopped. As with all multilane streets, but particularly high speed, one-way arterials, drivers in one lane may stop for a walker while the others will not. I see this every day, and this intersection is worse than most. For reasons I don’t understand, traffic speeds on 16th Street northbound are noticeably higher than 15th Street southbound, even though the design of both streets in the same.

So, how’s it working. Well, I’ve so far only had the chance to observe it for 15 minutes. I’m not sure it is making much difference. About 10% of drivers stopped at or close to the advance yield lines. About 70% of drivers stopped at the forward edge of the flex posts, about 10% stopped over the crosswalk, and about 10% did not stop for people using the crosswalk. I saw three people nearly hit by drivers. This is not unusual, and it not worse than before, but it is not good.

Below is an example. The driver to the left stopped over the top of the crosswalk, even though it was clear that traffic ahead was stopped for the light rail gate, and there was no space to proceed into. The driver to the right stopped before the crosswalk, but not at the advance yield line. Not visible it the driver in the closest lane who did not stop at all because there was a space in that lane across the intersection.

walker using the crosswalk over 16th St at R St

While I appreciate the effort, I’m not sure if the results will be what is desired, which is the ability of walkers to safely cross the street.

In the long run, the reallocation of roadway on 16th Street to reduce the general purpose lanes from three to two will help this location a great deal, but I don’t know when that will happen. It could be years away.

With the new businesses on R Street to the east, and the street dining area on R Street to the west of 15th Street, this intersection has become quite busy with walkers, bicyclists, scooters, and motor vehicles. It does deserve attention.

crosswalk barriers done right

And now, before going on to all the examples of failure to accommodate walkers and bicyclists, some examples of crosswalk/sidewalk barriers that are done right. These barriers are for the state office building being constructed on the north side of O Street between 11th Street and 10th Street. It is also the light rail alignment, and one of the busier light rail borderings is across the street at Archives Plaza.

These barriers are some of the few ADA compliant barriers in the entire city. These are hard barriers, not construction tape or plastic barricade poles that can be walked through without notice be a vision impaired person. They have a base plate which is detectable by canes. They are anchored to the sidewalk, so that they can’t be knocked over intentionally or accidentally. The signing is clear, that the sidewalk/crosswalk is closed, and that the route goes left, crossing O Street.

11th Street at O Street, northeast corner

At the opposite corner of the project, on 10th Street southbound, there is clear signing, even wayfinding signing for the State Museum. Though the sidewalk is open for half the block, the barriers and signing make clear that a crossing of 10th Street is the appropriate action. Again, these are ADA compliant barriers.

10th Street east side, southbound from N Street

On 11th Street northbound, there is ‘share the lane’ signing, which is not ideal but serves acceptably in this situation with narrow street width. On 10th Street northbound, the bicycle lane has been carried through by shifting travel lanes to the left (west) and removing parking (no photo, but I will add one later). This is a good solution to accommodating bicyclists.

11th Street northbound

The remaining photos below show the other barriers and signing for this construction project. I don’t know why this one was done correctly, when most of the others are not. Was it the construction company that insisted on doing it right? Was it the state? Was it the city?

10th Street at O Street, northwest corner, crosswalk barricade
O Street at 10th Street, southeast corner, barricade and signing
O Street at 11th Street, southwest corner, barricade and signing

J & 13th needs a pedestrian scramble

Following the post yesterday, Morse-Cottage pedestrian scramble, here is my first suggestion for a pedestrian scramble in Sacramento. J Street and 13th Street would be a great location for one. It has high pedestrian traffic, it has pedestrian attractors on three corners (convention center, Sheraton Grand Hotel, and a parking garage), and many people cross more than one direction. I am not sure that it is the highest volume intersection, but it is quite possible the highest visitor location where people are less likely to be paying attention or to understand our signal system

Most importantly, the pedestrian signalization here is seriously screwed up, and it needs to be changed. On the west leg, the pedestrian phase is short. On the east leg,there is a ‘leading vehicle interval’ that allows southbound left turning vehicles to start before the pedestrian walk comes on, so almost every cycle creates pedestrian-vehicle conflicts. All the crossings require button pushes, none are on automatic recall that is standard at intersections in urban areas with heavy pedestrian flow. And the whole intersection cycle is much too long, giving preference to drivers on J Street over walkers, right here in the heart of a place where so many people walk. The cycle also sometimes skips the west leg completely, making pedestrians wait through two cycles of J Street traffic, which is a long, long time.

In addition to the exclusive phase, diagonal crosswalks should be marked to make it clear how the intersection works.

Let’s make this the first of many pedestrian scrambles in the central city.

Morse-Cottage pedestrian scramble

At the intersection of Morse Ave and Cottage Way in the Arden-Arcade community of Sacramento county, there is a pedestrian scramble. What this men’s is that the pedestrian signal is on, for walk, in all the directions at once. They are also called Barnes Dance, for Henry Barnes, the traffic engineer who popularized them, and exclusive pedestrian phases.

Sometimes these intersections have marked diagonal crosswalks, as a reminder that diagonal crossings are permitted, and sometimes they do not, but a pedestrian may cross diagonally whether the marked crosswalk is there or not.

I am most familiar with these from Reno (I lived in Carson City for some years), which has several along Virginia Street in downtown. I’ve seen them other places, but don’t recall exactly where right now. At every location where I’ve seen them, right turns are prohibited on red, by signing, so when pedestrians are crossing, no cars are moving at all, and there is no issue with drivers failing to yield to pedestrians using the crosswalk.

I think that every intersection that has heavy pedestrian traffic, particularly where many of the pedestrians are crossing one street and then the other, should have pedestrian scrambles. Yes, they slow traffic a bit, but they increase pedestrian safety and comfort, a great trade-off in my opinion. Many scrambled that existed in the past were removed by traffic engineers who wanted to prioritize vehicle flow over all other considerations, including safety, but it is time to bring them back, at least in select locations. See Governing Magazine, Cities Revive an Old Idea to Become More Pedestrian-Friendly, or search the Internet for pedestrian scramble for both recent and old installations.

The county had this to say about the intersection:

  1. The all-ways crossing, also known as a pedestrian scramble, at Cottage and Morse was in place/operation prior to the 2016 Cottage Way modification project. After doing some researched, we discovered it has been in place since the signal was installed in 1969.
  2. The pedestrian scramble operates 24 hours a day.
  3. The configuration of this intersection is unusual for the County. The scramble works for this location given the layout and right of way constraints that result in some of the corners only having one pedestrian push button to serve two directions.
  4. We currently do not have any plans to add diagonal crossings at this location.
  5. This is currently the only location in the County that has a pedestrian scramble.

removal of crosswalks

In today’s SacBee, an article on the City of Sacramento’s removal of crosswalks (Why Sacramento erased 23 crosswalks, including one where a grandmother died after removal), which has contributed to at least one fatality, had the following information from Ryan Moore, the City Traffic Engineer.

“To send the message via crosswalk that this is a good place to cross the road is a false message,” Moore said of the Oregon Drive intersection. “Our standards dictated that we remove the crosswalk or build safety enhancements.” The city would have kept the crosswalk marking in place, he said, if it would have been able to install a traffic light there. But the money – in the $500,00 plus range wasn’t available. Instead, traffic engineers hope that by removing some crosswalks, pedestrians will instinctively choose to cross at a safer, nearby intersection, Moore said.

This is definitely the engineer perspective that says lives don’t matter as long as policy was being followed, and the windshield perspective that it is OK to make pedestrians walk out of their way so long as drivers are not inconvenienced.

Freeport-Oregon.pngAs you can see to the right, at the intersection of Freeport and Oregon, there are residences to the west and businesses to the right. There are signalized crosswalks about 700 feet to the north and about 700 feet to the south, but walking to either of these adds a one-quarter mile walk. Is this reasonable or not? It could be argued either way, but to discount it as Mr. Moore did demonstrates bias against pedestrians. The Google Map photo is from before the removal of the crosswalk.

The suggestion that nearby intersections are safer is also questionable. At the intersections of arterial roads, which Freeport and Fruitridge to the south are, drivers routinely fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk on right turns. That is in fact why many walkers prefer to cross away from major intersections.

Common estimates of the expense of a HAWK signal (High-intensity Activated crossWalK) are $100,000, not $500,000. $500,000 is the cost of a fully signalized intersection. So Mr. Moore’s $500,000 number is a straw man meant to deflect criticism by saying the solution is more expensive than it really is.

There are solutions to this particular problem, and to the removal of crosswalks in general:

  1. The city should be required to perform a complete traffic study before removing any crosswalk. The city is always saying that they have to do traffic studies before anything can be done to change traffic flow, so I would presume that doing a traffic study in this situation would be a no-brainer.
  2. If the traffic study indicates that the crosswalk is unsafe, then the next step is to design a solution or options, with a funding estimate, and then go to city council with a request for the funding.
  3. The city council would have to hold a hearing, either as part of the regular city council meeting or as a separate meeting, to gather public input on the removal. If the city council then makes a decision not to expend the funds to create a safe crossing, the crosswalk can be removed.
  4. If a crosswalk is removed, the city would be required to post informational signing at that location with distances to the nearest safe crossing in both directions, so that pedestrians can make informed decisions. The signing would have to stay in place for at least two years.

Anything short of these actions makes the city engineers both morally and legally responsible for any fatalities or severe injuries that occur at the site of a removed crosswalk.

 

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.

ElCamino-eb
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.

no-ped-crossing in the grid

no pedestrian crossing means three crossings
no pedestrian crossing means three crossings

As mentioned in my recommendations for improving walkability in midtown/downtown, in response to the Sacramento Grid 2.0 program, I’ve developed more information including a map (at bottom) about the locations in the grid that are signed against pedestrian crossing. The signs at these locations may be the modern MUTCD R9-3a sign, shown at right, or the older text sign, shown below, or variety of non-standard signs. Update 2015-07-27: 37 locations.

5th-St-I-St_no-ped-crossingThere are a large number of other locations where crossing is discouraged by the lack of sidewalks, curb ramps, and crosswalks, but is not specifically prohibited.

As can be seen from the map below, the majority of the no pedestrian crossing locations are along the Capitol Expressway (Business 80) and US 50 freeways. These freeways, designed and constructed by Caltrans, are barriers to pedestrian use. In fact, they are a barrier to all use and livability because many of the grid streets do no continue under the freeways, making access more difficult for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicle drivers. In many cases there are no sidewalks on the freeway side of the adjacent surface street, so whether or not there is a safe or marked crossing doesn’t mean much without a sidewalk to connect to.

Continue reading “no-ped-crossing in the grid”

crossing guard for DMV on 24th

crossing guard for DMV on 24th Street
crossing guard for DMV on 24th Street

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has facilities on both side of 24th Street to the south of Broadway. Employees must go back and forth between the two facilities, but DMV does not think that it is safe for their employees to use the mid-block crosswalk without the extra protection of a crossing guard.

What are they being protected against? Well, drivers that have been licensed by DMV. Drivers who either do not know the law on yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, or who choose not to follow it. Drivers who are distracted by cell phones. Drivers who drive over the speed limit. Drivers who are inattentive to their surroundings. You would think that maybe this hazard would cause DMV to reconsider their lackadaisical method of licensing motor vehicle drivers. Maybe drivers should be relicensed on a regular basis instead of receiving what is essentially a life-time license. Maybe drivers should have to demonstrate safe driving skills, knowledge of the law, and pro-social attitudes. Maybe. But DMV doesn’t seem interested in improving the safety of all roadways, but would rather solve a specific problem by using a crossing guard.

Another issue is that the street has been striped with a wide median in the center (not a physical median) to provide a place for the R1-6 Yield to Pedestrian signs and a refuge for pedestrians and the crossing guard. Normally this would be a good thing, but the wide painted median pushed the travel lanes to the side and pinches out the shoulder that is used by bicyclists. So in making things safer for pedestrians, the city has made things less safe for bicyclists. An appropriate trade-off if it were the only choice, but it is not the only choice. There is no logical reason for this section of 24th Street to be four lanes. To the north, it is two lanes, to the south it is two lanes. So the obvious solution is to road-diet the street so that it is two lanes or two lanes plus a center turn lane, if necessary and appropriate. The rest of the road width can be used for wide bicycle lanes.

 

I Street into Old Sacramento

The City of Sacramento sponsored Envision Sacramento website seeks input from the public on a number of issues. One of the topics was “What are your ideas on improving the Old Sacramento connection from downtown Sacramento via I Street?” You can view the comments, just below the survey, but to comment yourself you must create an account.

I Street entrance to Old Sacramento, from Envision Sacramento
I Street entrance to Old Sacramento, from Envision Sacramento

The topic uses the photo at right to illustrate the question. What you can’t see in the photo is that behind the photographer and across 3rd Street (to the left), pedestrian access is on the south side, but to the west, it is on the north side.

Comments include a number about the aesthetics of this entrance to Old Sacramento, including the having a dark freeway under crossing as the main route into the one of the highlights of Sacramento, with poor signing for motor vehicle drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. A surprising (to me) number of comments, though, were about the transportation aspects, that it is really not safe for bicyclists or pedestrians to use this entrance, even if they know it is there, and the paucity of other options. I think it is clear that the commenters agreed that the way in which Interstate 5 severed the connections between downtown and Old Sacramento is a major issue.

A gallery of photos shows some of the specific problems at this location.

Continue reading “I Street into Old Sacramento”