No more pure office buildings downtown

The state is building several new office buildings downtown. Close to where I live, the former building at O St and 12th is gone, and will be replaced with a modern office building, and the block between O and P and 7th and 8th is seeing a new building. There are others planned, and there is a plethora of state-owned surface parking lots (a travesty of land use if ever there was one) that could be developed.

It is good, in a sense, to see the state aggregating scattered offices into more centralized locations. But what is not good is that the state is not building any housing to go with the offices. So most employees will still be driving in from the suburbs, creating air pollution and rush hour congestion in the process, while contributing nothing to life in the central city. Almost every new building, whether public or private, has some retail, at least a corner and sometimes the whole ground floor. But integrated housing and office is rare.

So, my modest proposal (in the Swiftian sense) is that every office building of one-quarter block or larger include housing for at least one-quarter of the employees of the building. Not just the daytime office drones, but the maintenance staff as well. Some percentage should be required affordable, probably 20% to cover the lower income maintenance and clerical staff. I am not saying the the residences should be limited to employees of the building, I’d leave it up to each building manager how they wanted to allocate housing.

I have mixed feelings about whether this should be required of private developments. Certainly there should be codes and city support for accomplishing the same objective in private development, but requirements, not so sure. But state owned buildings, yes, absolutely, every one of them.

I lived in midtown, close to the downtown boarder, for seven years, and have now lived in downtown, near the midtown border, for just under a year. I moved all of five blocks. These two places might as well be in different cities. Downtown is dead, dead, dead at night and on weekends, whereas midtown is alive weekdays, evenings, and weekends. The difference? I think it is primarily the lack of housing in downtown. Office towers do not make for a livable, walkable place.

Sacramento and the 12 strategies

Several Sacramento area people have referenced the article “12 Strategies That Will Transform Your City’s Downtown” on the UrbanScale blog by John Karras. I’d like to look a little more closely at some of the strategies. If you have information or thoughts about any of these, please contribute.

#1 Turn one-way streets into two-way streets. Sacramento, and specifically downtown/midtown, has most of the one-way streets in the region. The city does have a policy to convert some of these streets, but the effort stalled, and no one seems to know why or be willing to admit why. Several streets have been resurfaced recently without being converted, though this would be the perfect time to do it. These include H, I, 9th, and 10th. There are some costs to conversion, turning signals around or installing new signals in some cases, the the reward in walkability and retail success is worth it. The post says “One-way streets are great if your only goal is to channel traffic through your downtown, but they are bad for pedestrian activity and retail opportunities.  Two-way streets create a more comfortable pedestrian environment and have been shown to increase property values.” J Street in Sacramento is a classic example of how one-way streets reduce retail business. All those thousands of cars streaming by the most dense retail street in the region, and only small bubbles of successful retail to show for it. I’m glad Karras has this one on the top, because it is one of my strongest desires, with many blog posts: Two-waying streets in SFNew bike lanes, diets and sharrows downtownstreet changesmore on conversion to two-way streets, and Choosing streets to walk.

Continue reading “Sacramento and the 12 strategies”

trenching and decking Interstate 5

Interstate 5 is a Berlin Wall through the heart of Sacramento, severing the connections between downtown and Old Sacramento. It was a product of a time when cars ruled the world, and no other values were of importance. Those times are over, and now it is time to tear down the wall and re-unify Sacramento. A map showing the general idea follows the break, but here are the highlights:

  • the current Interstate 5 elevated freeway would be torn down, and replaced by a trenched and decked section
  • I Street, J Street, L Street, and N Street would be reconnected over the freeway as regular streets; K Street would be reconnected over (not under) the freeway as a pedestrian and bicyclist street, the main grand entrance to Old Sacramento for tourists and many locals
  • Old Sacramento would not only be easily accessible from downtown, but visible from downtown
  • other adjustments would be made to the streets and circulation in this area

This will certainly not be my last post on these ideas, and I will explore the why and how of the pedestrian and bicyclist streets shown.

Note on terms: “cut and cover” is often used for underground transit and rail lines, but the term seems less commonly used for freeways, so I’ve used “trench and deck”; “the big dig” is also often used, after the project in Boston, which went way over budget and took years longer than intended, but apparently has had a very positive affect on the city

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re-gridding Sacramento

J Street, from Old Sac - you can't get there from here!
J Street – you can’t get there from here! *

Traffic circulation, for everyone, is handicapped or prevented by an incomplete grid system in downtown and midtown Sacramento. Three recent posts have addressed this issue, I’m thinking about several more, and several posts over the last year were also on the same topic. So I created a new category for the Getting Around Sacramento blog, re-gridding Sacramento.

Re-gridding is an awkward phrase, but I haven’t come up with a better one yet, so I’ll use it for now.

Continue reading “re-gridding Sacramento”

additional street changes

Note: I’ve updated this post to add some detail to the descriptions and photos to illustrate the treatments. I will be adding separate detailed posts on some of these treatments.

Following on my earlier posts about changing streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento, here are additional street changes that might be used in some places:

  • r2-1_20Reduce speed limit: Reduce speed limits throughout downtown/midtown to 20 mph. Of course simply reducing speed limits does not ensure that actual speeds go down, unless other measures are taken. The removal of three-lane and one-way streets will help a great deal, since these are the streets that most encourage speeding. Other changes suggested below will also slow traffic. I think, however, that the primary change will be a change in attitude, in cultural values. Once a place becomes more livable, people will focus more on being there instead of going through there to somewhere else. I see the whole pace of life in downtown/midtown as being slower, living at the pace of a walker, or even the pace of a casual conversation, rather than at the unnatural pace of a motor vehicle.

Continue reading “additional street changes”

less commuting, more livability

Q-St-10th-St_SaratogaTownhomesIn my previous post, I suggested two major changes to the street grid in downtown/midtown Sacramento, one to eliminate one-way streets, and the second to convert all three-lane streets to two-lane streets. Of course there is an overlap between these changes, as all of the three-lane streets are also one-way streets.

The goal of these changes is to make it harder to commute to and from downtown Sacramento by car. Yes, that is my intention.

By way of explanation, I go back to Williams Burg’s documentation of the intentional de-population of downtown, and to a smaller degree, of midtown. There is an insufficient housing stock of all types in the downtown area, and in the midtown area there is a lack of some kinds of housing, primarily single family housing. I’m not talking here about separate housing, the suburban model of isolated houses on isolated lots in isolated communities, but of housing designed for families to live in that are not like apartments with shared facilities. Tapestri Square on 20th St is one example of this kind of single family housing, but there are many more both new and older. And of course there are Victorians still available which have not been subdivided into spaces too small for a family.  Housing is gradually being added back into midtown. Where I live at 16th & O, there are two new mixed-use buildings going up, retail below and apartments above. There are others in midtown, and even a few in downtown.

Continue reading “less commuting, more livability”

street changes

The maps I posted the last two days were preliminary to this post. I would like to see two significant changes to the streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento that will make these areas more livable, more walkable, more bikeable, and safer. I am proposing the complete elimination of traffic sewers from downtown/midtown Sacramento. What is a traffic sewer? It is a street designed to move large volumes of vehicles at high speed in and out of work areas during morning and afternoon commute times. In Sacramento, the main work area is the state buildings downtown, though there are certainly other employers and other areas, including midtown.

3 to 2 conversion, 10th Street northbound
3 to 2 conversion, 10th Street northbound

1. Convert all three-lane streets into two-lane streets. The map showing these streets in the downtown/midtown area is linked from my Sac 3-lane Streets post.

These three-lane streets are, of course, also one-way streets. In many cases the lane removed would be used to provide bike lanes or protected bikeways, but in some cases the space might be best used to create wider sidewalks or diagonal parking where additional parking is needed. Though in some cities the three-lane to two-lane conversion is used to create a turning lane, I don’t believe that these are necessary in downtown/midtown, nor do I feel that this is a good investment of right-of-way.

This conversion would remove some traffic capacity, though unfortunately, not as much as one might wish. Studies show only a slight reduction in capacity from this treatment, which is sometimes referred to as a road diet, though I like the term rightsizing. Continue reading “street changes”

1-way streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento

1-way streets in downtown/midtown
1-way streets in downtown/midtown

At right is the second map of downtown/midtown Sacramento, showing the 1-way streets. This map was created using Google maps and memory, and has not yet been field checked.

These streets total about 32.6 miles.

The map graphic links to the map data in Google Maps, from which you can zoom in on areas and turn on or off satellite view. The reason that this is not a map view graphic is that the online browser version of Google Maps starts paging after about 18 entries, so it is not possible to view all of the segments at the same time. This image is instead from Google Earth, via KML export and import.

The map provides background for an upcoming post about transforming transportation and livability in downtown/midtown.

3-lane streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento

3-lane streets
3-lane streets

At right is a map of the 3-lane (or more) streets in the downtown/midtown section of Sacramento. All of these streets are also one-way streets. Many people call this the grid, but others define the grid as a larger area including areas east of Alhambra Blvd and south of Broadway. This map was created using Google maps and memory, and has not yet been field checked.

These streets total about 25.4 miles.

The map graphic links to the map data in Google Maps, from which you can zoom in on areas and turn on or off satellite view.

The map provides background for an upcoming post about transforming transportation and livability in downtown/midtown.

New bike lanes, diets and sharrows downtown

10th Street northbound at Roosevelt Park, three lanes reduced to two

As part of a recent repaving project, now mostly complete, bike lanes were added to several streets in the downtown area, sometimes by converting three travel lanes to two, and sometimes just by narrowing the travel lanes. As an example, 9th Street (one-way southbound) and 10th Street (one-way northbound) were converted from three lanes to two, which freed up space for bike lanes. 10th Street is shown at right. A reduction in the number of travel lanes is sometimes referred to as a road diet. However, the amount of right of way is the same, it has just been shifted to serve all modes of travel more effectively. The reduction in motor vehicle lanes reduces the motor vehicle road capacity slightly, but far less than many people think it will. In fact, with more space for bicycles, more people will bicycle and the motor vehicle traffic drops somewhat, lessening congestion for everyone.

I Street westbound just past 7th St; sharrow in time restricted lane

Sharrows (shared lane markings) were also used liberally throughout, particularly on east-west streets. Along I Street westbound, bike lanes are present in some blocks and sharrows in others. The photo at right shows the sharrows placed within a time restricted travel lane in front of the courthouse on I Street. When parking is allowed, the sharrows form a defacto bike lane adjacent to parked cars. This lane is a bit wider than it was before. During no-parking times, the sharrows define their usual meaning, that “Bikes Can Use Full Lane”. The MUTCD R4-11 sign is used at times to provide the same indication. Sharrows are placed in lanes which are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to share side by side, which is less than 14 feet. In any lane narrower than 14 feet, the bicycle not only can be should occupy the middle of the lane to prevent motor vehicles from passing too closely.

Some criticisms of the project:

  1. Sharrows are placed inconsistently within the travel lanes. They should always be centered in the travel lane, but it looks like in some cases they were placed a certain distance out from the curb. Placement too far to the right encourages motor vehicle drivers to try to squeeze by, which is what creates the hazard.
  2. The alternating of bike lanes when there is space with sharrows when there is not space is an understandable effort to create the best solution to a challenging situation, but in my mind, it fails. Regular bicyclists often take the travel lane anyway, in order to create the necessary distance from parking cars and their dooring hazard, to bypass slow traffic, and to prepare for left turns. It is the less confident bicyclists who would benefit most from the new bike lanes, but I think they will be quite confused with the change back and forth between bike lanes and sharrows.
  3. I think that all three lane streets in downtown should be converted to two lanes. Three lane streets encourage high vehicle speeds. It is not unusual during non-congested times to see vehicles going 40 mph on these streets, where the posted speed limit is 25. An opportunity was missed to make these conversions.
  4. I also think that one-way streets should be converted to two-way streets. Again, one-way streets encourage high vehicle speeds, and in fact they are designed to do this, to flush cars in and out of downtown twice a day. They are called traffic sewers for a reason. Two-way streets create an environment where drivers are much less likely to speed. Of course once a street has been road dieted to two travel lanes, a conversion to two-way is much easier.

Despite these criticisms, though, I am pleased to see the new bike lanes freshly painted. I suspect this project has doubled the number of sharrows in Sacramento, and as people see them used more and more, they will become more effective. It was a pleasure riding on Sunday from my residence in midtown south to the farmers marked on 9th Street, and then back north on 10th Street.