Kevin Dumler, a Sacramento area transportation and housing advocate, has posted on the Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan. I encourage you to read his great ideas and attention to detail.
It should be obvious, if you have been reading, that the City of Sacramento’s Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan is a failure of vision and possibility. How so?
The city removes from all planning efforts the possibility of reducing speed limits on streets that are reconstructed, usually complete streets projects. Whatever the speed limit is before the project will be the speed limit after the project. I’ve written about this before: lower speed limits on complete streets in Sac. I get that changing posted speed limits without changing roadway design has only limited effect in lowering speeds. But we are talking about reconstructing streets, the very design changes that are necessary to effectively lower motor vehicle speeds. Yet the city refuses to consider lowering speed limits when planning reconstructed roadways. Posted speed is like a rachet, it can only increase but never decrease. Some planners and engineers go so far as to claim that the law prevents lowering of speed limits on reconstructed streets. That is a lie.
The city also refuses to consider lane reductions (also called road diets, roadway reallocation, or right-sizing) when average daily traffic counts (ADT) are above certain thresholds. It will not consider that ADT is above what it should be because the city earlier widened roadways and induced the travel that is now resulting in high ADT. Again, lane counts are like a rachet that goes only one direction. You can increase lanes, but you can’t decrease lanes, except in situations where the roadway is so obviously overbuilt that it would be ridiculous to suggest maintaining that number of lanes.
The city has a responsibility to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the city, under state law, under SACOG guidance, and its own policy in the Mayor Climate Change Commission Report and Climate Emergency declaration. Yet in transportation planning, the city seems to be fully committed to maintaining the current levels of VMT by ensuring that the current levels of traffic are not reduced. This is climate arson.
Community input to the Freeport Blvd planning process provided high priorities: safety, economic vitality, and walkability. Yet the plan maintains motor vehicle capacity, ensuring that the community priorities will be only partially met. This is not a compromise between drivers and walkers and bicyclists. It is throwing crumbs to the walkers and bicyclists so that drivers may eat nearly the entire cake.
Freeport Blvd, today, is a suburban form. Uninviting streets, hostile walking and bicycling, many small businesses in strip malls and a few big box stores (some of them closed or failing). The built environment is an artifact of the time and way in which Sacramento grew in this direction. It is a fact. But the city, in its transportation plan, makes no effort to change or mitigate that fact. In no way does it even suggest transformation to a more vibrant and interesting place. At the simplest level, it just adds bike lanes and changes nothing else. I’m not against bike lanes, and certainly not against separated (protected) bikeways, but they are not transformative. What would be transformative is shifting Freeport towards a walking-first transportation corridor, a destination for people who live there and people who travel to there.
The city intends to add a number of new crosswalks to the corridor. That is good news, as distances between safe crossings are too great. The problem is, most of these will require extensive signalization to protect the people crossing there, because speed limits are such that a person hit by a motor vehicle will be seriously injured or killed. Lower speed limits, not just posted but enforced by design, would allow much less expensive crossings. Money matters. The city will put very little of its own funds toward these changes, depending mostly on regional, state and federal funds, which will always be too little and too slow.
This plan is only the first step in changing the roadway. Grants will be solicited for major project work. A few critical locations will be improved in the near term. But the plan as a whole is decades away from completion, particularly if the probably unnecessary section south of 35th St is included. The city has done pretty well obtaining grants for complete streets, but with an entire city full of streets needing improvement, Freeport Blvd can’t be and won’t be the only priority. Once the plan projects are complete, the street won’t likely be changed for 30 years. So 50 years from now, more or less, the roadway will look like what the city has planned today. Will it meet the needs of citizens at that time? Very, very unlikely. In the future, VMT will be and must be much lower than it is now. A much higher percentage of trips will be made by walking and bicycling. The built environment will densify, with more small businesses, though some stretches won’t make it and will fail. That’s OK. Properties with failed businesses are good candidates for infill housing, which will support those businesses remaining. But housing along a dangerous traffic sewer, as Freeport Blvd currently is and will largely remain under the city plan, is a disservice to everyone who lives there. Who wants to live on a busy arterials stroad, where you can’t let your kids outside because the risk of traffic violence is too great, and the air hazardous to breathe, and the noise of traffic is a constant psychological and health danger? Riding to the grocery store may be slightly more pleasant and somewhat more safe, but many people still won’t want to because they aren’t comfortable with regular bike lanes beside high speed traffic, and complicated intersections. People won’t want to walk during the summer because the city failed to plan for and install trees along the sidewalks.
Enough said for now. I may write some more or post others if people point out important issues that I have not addressed. Otherwise, the next post will be just before the plan goes to city council, in hopes that citizens will urge the council to reject this plan as too flawed for use. I was very disappointed that the City of Sacramento Active Transportation Commission rubber-stamped the plan and passed it along to council, but that is water under the bridge.
The city can do better, but only if a significant number of citizens press their council members to set a higher standard for transportation planning than is exhibited in the final draft plan.
The city has proposed a roundabout for the intersection of Freeport Blvd and Sutterville Rd E. This is a good location for a roundabout, in part because there is so much space here already that a roundabout would not encroach on other uses.
Notes: I am calling the section of Sutterville Rd to the east of Freeport ‘Sutterville Rd E’ and the section to the west of Freeport ‘Sutterville Rd W’, but these names do not reflect street addresses, since this is all East Sutterville Rd. This post introduces the idea of protected intersections along Freeport, which apparently were not considered by the city in their planning process. For more information on this design, see protected intersections and Davis protected intersection.
First, what it looks like today. As you can see, there is a huge area of wasted space in the intersection
Second, the roundabout proposed in the plan.
This is a multi-lane roundabout. These roundabout designs are significantly less safe, for all modes of transportation (walking, bicycling, driving) than single lane roundabouts, and current roundabout practice is to only use multi-land roundabouts where they are absolutely necessary for the ADT (average daily traffic) to be designed for. Not the existing traffic, but the desired traffic. Not being a roundabout designer, I can’t say for certain whether a multi-lane roundabout is desired here. It is true that this intersection, and the stretch of roadway between Sutterville E and Sutterville W, combines traffic from both Freeport Blvd and Sutterville Rd. In the traffic counts diagram in the plan, this segment is shown as having the highest ADT of any section of Freeport, at 28,000 ADT. This does not mean the intersection needs to be planned for this volume, but it is an issue to be considered.
The possibly congested traffic flow is westbound from Sutterville E, south on Freeport, and then west on Sutterville W, or conversely, eastbound on Sutterville W, north on Freeport, and then east on Sutterville E.
So, yes to a roundabout at this location.
However, there are several potential improvements to the roundabout design.
- Traffic north of the intersection does not need two lanes northbound or southbound. Freeport to the north is only two lanes (mostly at 3/2 design with center turn lane). It makes no sense to have the segment to the north with unneeded capacity.
- There is 1060 feet of roadway south of the roundabout for southbound traffic to merge right for a turn to Sutterville to the west, or left to continue south on Freeport. Merges do no need to happen within the roundabout. That means the west side of the roundabout need only be one lane. Or, the west side right hand lane can be a bypass lane, with no interaction with the other lane providing the roundabout function.
- Similarly, there is ample space northbound for merging, so the lane that goes from Freeport northbound to Sutterville to the east can be a separated or bypass lane, with no interaction with the other lane providing the roundabout.
- Proposing something way outside the box, traffic from Sutterville E with Sutterville W could be routed through the park, rejoining Sutterville to the west of the Freeport – Sutterville W intersection
So, why is roundabout in the post title potentially plural? Because I think either roundabouts or protected intersections should be considered for the intersection of Freeport with Sutterville W, and Freeport with Fruitridge.
First, what Freeport – Sutterville W intersection looks like today.
Second, the plan proposal. It is very much like the present configuration, the differences being the the southbound bike lane is merged across the right hand turn lane rather than being dropped, the bike lanes are partially separated bikeways (meaning at least vertical delineator ‘protection’ and perhaps curb protection), and parking is removed from Freeport south of the intersection. There are some safety benefits to these changes, but nowhere near as much as a roundabout or protected intersection would offer. Is there space for a roundabout here? Possibly. It would require using some of what is private land on the southwest corner and the east side, but there are no buildings, only parking lots, in the area needed.
And now, the Freeport – Fruitridge intersection. I’ve already made comments on this in the photo essay, but to repeat and look more closely… This is what it looks like today. There are intersections like this along every arterial in the south Sacramento, both city and county. A vast area of pavement, flared out at the intersection in favor of right and left turn lanes, designed to promote the flow of motor vehicle traffic, and designed with little thought to walkers and bicyclists. Of course volumes of bicyclists are new since these were built, but volumes of walkers are not new, they have always been here but were intentionally ignored by the planners and engineers.
And the intersection proposed by the plan. Other than being rotated 90 degrees, there is no significant difference. Green bicycle markings through the intersection? For what purpose? The purpose of green paint is to signify conflict zones, but the green in the intersection is not a conflict zone. Courageous bicyclists are not going to be encouraged nor protected by this green paint, and other bicyclists are just going to pray.
Every dedicated right turn lane is still there. Every dedicated left turn lane is still there, including the hazardous and unnecessary double left from Freeport southbound to Fruitridge eastbound.
Have median islands wide enough to be, and designed to be, pedestrian refuge islands on these long crossings, been added? No.
There is enough space here for a roundabout. Or maybe a protected intersection would be better. I’m not sure, but what I do know is that the intersection design proposed by the city is just plain unacceptable. The community asked for safety, walkability, and economic vitality. This intersection design offers none of those things.
So, given the need for trees to shade sidewalks along Freeport, where do they go? The answer is in the sidewalk buffer or planting strip. At one existing location along Freeport, there is an example of street trees in a sidewalk buffer, where the new Raley’s shopping center is. The photo below is from the photo essay. I don’t know whether the city required the developer to put in sidewalk buffers and wider sidewalks, or whether the developer knew this was the right thing to do and did it on their own. In any case, this is the only part of Freeport that has them, other than a short section along the airport north of Blair Ave.
The one situation in which sidewalk buffers may not be appropriate is where buildings come to the curb in dense retail areas. But there are virtually no instances of this along Freeport. Almost all buildings are set back from the sidewalk a little, or a lot. In several cases there are massive parking lots adjacent to the sidewalk, creating the kind of place where no one wants to be. So buffers and trees at least mitigate the blandness to some degree.
As with any post, I look for example photos and diagrams. So I searched Google for ‘sidewalk buffer’. Lo and behold, the second item is my own post about this! It is experiences like this that make me realize the value of this blog, when other people are using my advocacy work in their advocacy work.
So, so rather than re-write the post, I’ll link to it here: sidewalk buffers. I encourage you to take a read. Trees, and the sidewalk buffers that would allow them, are probably the most important aspect of Freeport Blvd, and the most important topic that the city has neglected.
If you take a look at the Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan, including Appendix F Design Layout, you will see that most of the existing trees are preserved. But there is no information about new trees, not in the diagrams, not in the text. In fact, the only text mention of trees, other than existing trees, is in the Community Vision (page 20, 23 in the pdf), where it says “4 IMPROVE SHADE AND COMFORT: Enhance the walking and bicycling experience along the corridor by integrating street trees to provide shade and comfort from the sun and rain”. Certainly, that is the community’s vision, but it does not seem to be the city’s vision. If it were, the plan would have addressed trees.
Given that a major objective of the plan is to make Freeport Blvd more walkable, the lack of trees and mention of trees is concerning, to say the least. When questioned about trees at the January 18 Active Transportation Commission meeting, city staff said two things: 1) we aren’t the experts in trees, so we didn’t include them, and 2) tree information will come later in the design process.
This is a classic case of planning and engineering gaslighting. The story beforehand is always, well, it’s too early in the planning process to consider that. The story later is that it is too late to consider that element of the plan, we’re already past that, the decisions have been made. Every plan goes that way. It is true that this plan is only the first step in design, and there will be more detailed design to come, but when you don’t plan for trees from the beginning, you get a roadway with too few trees. Or no trees.
Almost all the existing trees are in median strips at a few locations along the roadway. Trees in medians have some value. They make the road look prettier, they slow traffic to a slight degree, they shade pavement and slightly reduce the heat island effect. But they are not even as remotely useful as trees along sidewalks. What Freeport Blvd needs is trees adjacent to sidewalks, not median trees. But the city has nowhere reserved space for them. So they won’t be there.
Next post is about where to put the trees, adjacent to sidewalks.
The plan states, page Appendix A-9, “Fruitridge Road: The left turn from Freeport Boulevard to Fruitridge Road includes two left turn lanes, which may not be needed given the turn volumes. U-turns are moderately used at this location.” Despite this statement, the plan for this intersection is to leave it essentially unchanged. The diagram from Appendix F Design Layout is below.
The same seven lanes across for the north side of the intersection (to the right in the diagram), 86 feet for a person using the crosswalk, with no pedestrian refuge in the middle. Long crosswalks like this require a long pedestrian signal to meet federal standards, which of course slows all other movements in the intersection. In an effort to ease motor vehicle traffic by maintaining unneeded lanes, the city is actually slowing down everyone at the intersection, and making traffic worse rather than better.
The same dedicated double left turn lanes southbound (from the left). The same dedicated right turn lanes which require right turning traffic to conflict with the bike lane as they merge (out of the diagram left and right). The same free-right, high-speed slip lane from Fruitridge westbound to Freeport northbound which presents a tremendous hazard to walkers, bicyclists, and drivers traveling on Freeport.
Again, the city has released a final draft plan which fails to meet the needs of the community, fails to calm traffic, and fails to keep people (walking, bicycling, and driving) safe.
I rode Freeport Blvd today to refresh my memory of the roadway and surrounding, and to take photos to illustrate points I want to make. Photos to come.
What was clear to me is that the part of Freeport Blvd from Claudia Dr to Blair Ave is completely different in character from the rest of the ‘south’ segment identified in the Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan. Starting just south of Fruitridge Rd, the east side is the Sacramento Executive Airport, a long stretch of chainlink fence all the way to almost Blair Way. The west side is a mix of businesses and empty lots, but about half of the businesses are closed. The Sacramento Safety Center, just south of Claudia Dr, offices for police and fire, is a one-story building surrounded by a sea of parking, the worst sort of suburban form that doesn’t even generate any property or sales tax. Nor, I’m pretty sure, does it generate any walkers or bicyclists.
Freeport Blvd south of Fruitridge is a different sort of roadway that deserves to be treated as such in the plan. But it is not. This section also has a significantly lower ADT (average daily traffic) count that much of the rest of the plan area.
Yet another flaw in the plan that should be corrected before it is adopted.
Another post to criticize the City of Sacramento’s Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan. See Freeport Blvd category for earlier posts.
The city has designed Freeport with four lanes, each 11-feet wide. NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) and FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) recommends 10-foot lanes for urban areas. The city says 11-feet is necessary for buses and commercial vehicles, and insists on that width in all designs for arterials and collector streets (otherwise known as stroads), or which Freeport is one.
The diagram below, from the plan document, shows the 11-foot lanes. Even if one assumes that the outside lane (called number 2 lane in engineering parlance) needs 11 feet to handle buses and commercial vehicles, the inside lane (called number 1) does not need to be any more than 10 feet, and in fact could probably be 9 feet. The widest common vehicles are 6.5 feet wide, and most 6 feet, so 9-10 feet is plenty. The city is wasting two to four feet of roadway width on extra-wide lanes. That wasted width could instead be used for sidewalks and trees shading sidewalks.
The center median is 20 feet wide, for unknown reasons. Maybe to accommodate left hand turn lanes, perhaps pedestrian refuge medians, or trees. Trees certainly need 8 plus feet, but not 20 feet. But even an 11-foot lane plus 6 feet for a refuge median is only 17 feet, but the city has designed 20 feet. Maybe to accommodate the double left hand turn lanes southbound at Fruitridge Rd? Double left hand turn lanes have no place in an urban setting like Freeport, they just increase the crosswalk distance and engender greater hazards for everyone, including drivers. It is almost as though the city is trying to waste roadways width.
Note that the sidewalks would be as narrow as 5 feet in some locations, and never wider than 9 feet or 11 feet. Note that there are no trees adjacent to the sidewalk. The next post will be about trees.
The city’s blockheaded insistence on 11-foot lanes means that they have designed a roadway which will encourage higher speeds, which are hazardous to everyone, walkers, bicyclists, and drivers. Why? Because the city’s primary design criteria is to maintain vehicle volume (VMT) and speed. This is not what the community wants, as is made clear in the workshops and surveys the city did. The city ignored community input because it did not match their preconceived notions about what kind of roadway they wanted.
“We are designing for the traffic we have, not for the traffic we want.”Ali Doerr Westbrook, Chair of Sacramento Active Transportation Commission
I could stop at that, but perhaps you’d like some more detail. This comment was made during the Sacramento Active Transportation Commission (SacATC) meeting on January 18, 2023. The context was the admission by the two city planners, Leslie Mancebo and Jennifer Donlon Wyant, that the city eliminated the possibility of a road diet (roadway reallocation) before even starting planning for Freeport Blvd. The reason expressed is that the ADT (Average Daily Traffic count) is above 20,000 for Freeport, and that requires more than two lanes (one each direction). Interestingly, ADT counts for various locations along Freeport are nowhere to be found in the plan or appendices. In a different location on the City of Sacramento website, Traffic Counts, the ADT for various locations along Freeport Blvd, rarely exceed 20,000, and have not exceeded 20,000 since 2011. There is no indication that the city even did new traffic counts in preparation for this planning effort. So far as can be determined, they just decided to not consider a road diet from four lanes to two lanes, or two+one lanes, 3/2 configuration) because they wanted to prioritize motor vehicle traffic over all other uses of the roadway.
The city planners also acknowledged that a road diet was a prominent request of the community during the planning process. But, community input be damned, the city is going to serve car drivers before anyone else.
A reduction of lanes from four to two is the single most important traffic calming effort that can be made on a roadway. That does not mean it is the appropriate solution for Freeport Blvd, or for all of Freeport Blvd in the planning area. What is does mean is the that city should have considered it in the planning process.
Back to Ali’s comment. The city is planning for a roadway configuration that should have already been in place years ago, before the city over-widened the roadway, and in several cases narrowed sidewalks to accommodate the widening. They are not planning for a roadway which would reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or increase safety and access for those outside cars. The city’s responsibility, under the Mayors Commission on Climate Change report, is to reduce VMT in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), not to maintain VMT at current levels. But this Freeport plan is a plan to guarantee current VMT for at least 30 years in the future, which is about the length of time before the city will be able to reconstruct the roadway again, and correct the mistakes they made this time around.
The intent of the city in this plan is made very clear in the common design principles: “10. Maintained necessary travel lanes, turn lanes, and parking: Maintaining travel lanes and turn lanes ensures that drivers traveling along the corridor will not be compromised, and preserving parking spaces where 5 the utilization is higher so it serves better adjoining businesses.” Though this is the last item in the list of ten, it is clear that this is the highest priority for the city.
The refusal to consider a road diet/lane reduction/roadway reallocation is a fatal flaw in this plan. The effort should be sent back to staff to re-do. It should not be adopted by city council. If the city council does not reject this kind of flawed planning, city staff will continue to make the same mistake, again and again and again.
I’ll post on some of the other flaws in the plan, but this is the most important, not just because it misses the best opportunity for traffic calming, but because it retains roadway width for the exclusive use of motor vehicles that could be better used for walking, bicycling, trees, and even parking for businesses.
Added graphic below, which I had not noticed in the plan, that documents vehicular counts on sections of Freeport Blvd. Is it suspicious that half of the plan area is ‘just’ over the city’s criteria of 20,000 ADT? Remember, the plan itself and the city’s traffic counts website do not indicate this level of ADT.
The City of Sacramento has released the final draft Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan. Appendix F Design Layouts is a key part of the document. This post reflects my original comments (Freeport Boulevard Emerging Design Concepts) and the new plan. The city’s plan page is at http://www.cityofsacramento.org/Public-Works/Transportation/Planning-Projects/Freeport-Blvd-Corridor. The plan is on the Active Transportation Commission agenda for January 20, 2023, and will go to the city council within the next two months.
The ten common design elements on page 21 (24 of the pdf) include: “10. Maintained necessary travel lanes, turn lanes, and parking: Maintaining travel lanes and turn lanes ensures that drivers traveling along the corridor will not be compromised, and preserving parking spaces where 5 the utilization is higher so it serves better adjoining businesses.” This is statement is contrary to all walkability, bikeability and vision zero goals. It should be removed from the document, and removed from planning goals. It is offensive. It means that no matter what other improvements to the corridor will be made, cars and motor vehicle drivers will be preferenced over all others.
The ten common design elements do not mention trees. Trees are an integral part of the walking experience, as well as providing climate and heat island benefits. They should be prominently recognized throughout the document, but they are not. The phrase ‘existing trees’ occurs many time in the document, but nowhere are ‘proposed trees’ identified.
Frequent driveways along much of this section present hazards to walkers and bicyclists, and handicap the design of safe streets. It is clear that the city did not consider reduction or narrowing of driveways to address this hazard. If you look at the design layouts (Appendix F), the number of gaps in the bikeway, shown as dashed green, is remarkable. Each of these is a driveway. Again, this is a clear indication that the city intended to maintain the car-dominated character of this street.
All crosswalks at intersections should contain all three or four legs (three for T-intersections). The design leaves many intersections with only one crosswalk over Freeport Blvd, meaning pedestrians must cross three streets in order to reach some destinations, rather than just one. Though not mentioned in the plan, this often means installing pedestrian crossing prohibition signs and barriers. These should be outlawed, not encouraged.
pages 25-26 (28-29 in the pdf)
The intersection of Sutterville Road to the east with Freeport Blvd is shown with a two-lane roundabout. Two lane roundabouts have almost none of the traffic calming and safety benefits of one lane roundabouts, in fact they should not even be called roundabouts, with the implication that they have safety benefits. This roundabout should be redesigned to a single-lane. Traffic levels on Freeport to the north certainly do not justify two lanes, in fact Freeport become single lane each direction a short distance to the north at 13th Avenue.
The dedicated right turn lane on Freeport Blvd southbound at Sutterville Road to the west is not needed and presents an unnecessary hazard to bicyclists. Dedicated right turn lanes should be eliminated from this plan, and from all city roadways. They are rarely justified by traffic volume, create conflicts for bicyclists, and widen roadways and therefore crossing distances for walkers. They also encourage drivers to make right hand turns without looking for people walking.
There should be a crosswalk on the north side of the Freeport-Sutterville intersection. There is no justification for leaving it out, unless an attempt to discourage walkers from accessing the park.
pages 27-31 (30-34 in the pdf)
The offset crosswalks with median refuge at Oregon Drive and Potrero Way/Virginia Way are a good design, but there is no reason to not provide crosswalks on the other leg of the intersection.
The median gap at Arica Way, with dedicated left turn lanes, is not needed. Arica Way is a low volume street that is a good candidate for right in/right out treatment. The shopping center access can be provided for northbound traffic.
At the intersection of Fruitridge Blvd and Freeport, there should be no dedicated right turn lanes. They create a hazard for bicyclists, that cannot be mitigated by pavement marking, and they lengthen the crossing distance for walkers. In this location, where center refuge medians are not proposed, this is particularly egregious. The dual left turn lanes southbound on Freeport are a hazard to bicyclists and motor vehicles, and should be reduced to a single left turn lane. This intersection, due to long crossing distances, should provide center refuge medians on both the north and south crosswalks.