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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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 […]