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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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.

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William Burg started a wonderful conversation on Facebook about removing Business 80 from B Street to Hwy 50, returning the traffic to surface streets. The post is now up to 115 comments, and still going after two weeks. I believe that you have to be a member of Facebook to view this thread, but don’t need to be friends with William Burg (though you should). I agree with Jared that this topic should be amplified for Sacramento Press.

Some people think that this is crazy thinking, it will never happen. I think it will. Why? Not because it is a good idea, though it is, but because we will not be able to continue to keep these freeways open and in decent condition with future transportation funding. Caltrans and others have just spent or are spending $202 million on Hwy 50, basically just to keep in it usable condition. Not to improve it in any significant way, but just to keep it working. Where is the money going to come from to maintain Hwy 50, Interstate 80, Interstate 5, and Business 80 (Capital City Expressway)?

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Synchronously today, Terry Preston (WALKSacramento) and SABA (Jim Brown) posted to Facebook with a link to an article “Is it time to start dismantling downtown freeways?” I encourage you to follow and join in those discussions: Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates and Terry Preston. I am glad to see this being discussed. I posted on this blog about the same topic, “and the freeways” back in March.

SF-FerryBuilding_Embarcadero

San Francisco Ferry Building, with and without the Embarcadero Freeway

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I-5 separating Old Town from downtown Sacramento

I-5 separating Old Town from downtown Sacramento

Sometimes I catch a ride from a friend or take an Amtrak bus, and am on freeways in the Sacramento area, which most of the time I never see. I wonder why there are so many lanes for so few cars, so much expanse of empty concrete and expensive bridges. Of course I know the answer, the freeways have been built for two rush hours, morning and afternoon, on five days a week, perhaps 13 hours per week out of 168 hours in the week. Oh, and the Friday up to the snow or Tahoe and Sunday back home, that weekly migration of bay area people. The rest of the time they are largely empty.

Yet freeways take up a huge amount of space, have a huge carbon footprint for construction and maintenance even before fuel consumption comes into play, spew pollution into neighborhoods, and suck up the largest portion of our transportation funds. As an example of cost, the nine miles of the six-lane Capitol City Freeway (Business I-80) from Interstate 80 to Highway 50 is 54 lane-miles. Though the cost to construct a lane-mile varies widely, from $2M to $80 million, lets take a very conservative number of $5M and say that this section of freeway cost a quarter of a billion dollars. And this is not even an expensive highway, with its simple interchanges. Pretty amazing, huh? What else could we have done with that money?

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