whither Sacramento Vision Zero?

The City of Sacramento adopted Vision Zero in 2017, and developed a Vision Zero Action Plan in 2018. The plan identified five high injury corridors for projects to slow traffic and increase safety for walkers and bicyclists. The city then developed a plan for these five corridors in 2021. The city has obtained grants for some of these corridors, and will apply for more. The city lowered speed limits in a number of schools zones (though street design, drop-off/pick-up procedures, and motorist behavior are the issues in most school zones, not speeding). The city also developed a public outreach education program, though there is no evidence of such programs having any effect on driver behavior (NHTSA and California OTS have thousands of programs with no demonstrated success). So far, so good.

But…

  • The city has intentionally ignored high injury intersections, unless they are on one of these corridors. No grant applications have been made to fix intersections, though intersections are where most fatalities and severe injuries occur. No non-grant actions have been taken to fix high injury intersections.
  • The city has failed to set up a crash investigation team to determine causes and solutions for every fatality. The police department (or CHP if the crash occurs on a state highway) will do an investigation, and sometimes involve traffic engineers, but never involves planners, never involves experts in nonprofit organizations (who have as much if not more expertise than city staff), and never involves citizens who walk and bike.
  • The Vision Zero Task Force, which met in 2016 and 2017, has never met since. That means there is no community guidance for the Vision Zero program. City staff is making all the decisions on Vision Zero.
  • The city has ignored all the low cost options for reducing motor vehicle crashes. As just one example, the city has been asked to remove pedestrian beg buttons and create leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) at all signalized intersections, but did only a small beg button set to auto-recall on five crosswalks, and have not increased the number of LPIs in years.

Solutions?

  • The city should create an effective crash investigation team, composed of law enforcement, city traffic engineers, city planners, nonprofit experts, and citizens who walk and bike, and perhaps a representative of the neighborhood association in which the crash occurred. The team should never be led by law enforcement, which has an anti-walker and anti-bicyclist windshield bias. It has been suggested that streets where fatalities have occurred be shut down until the investigation and resulting fixes are in place, which is an idea worth considering.
  • The city should identify the top five high injury intersections, and commit to significant changes to eliminate crashes at those intersections, within three years. And then move on to the next five. The corridor projects and intersection projects should be considered co-equal in city funded projects or grant applications.
  • The city Active Transportation Commission should take on a strong leadership role in advising the council on the Vision Zero program. It may also be appropriate to re-convene the task force to provide more detailed guidance to staff.
  • The city should implement a Vision Zero project to change all traffic signals in the entire city to auto-recall (with removal of the physical beg buttons as staffing allows) and leading pedestrian intervals.
  • The city should undertake a review of peer cities that have reduced speed limits city-wide, to determine whether to implement this change and how to learn from the experiences of other cities. If the review indicates that speeds can be reduced by as little as 3 mph by a reduction from 25 mph to 20 mph, the city should implement it city-wide. Similarly for higher speed streets.

Sac Vision Zero intersections & red light cameras

I’ve written previously about Vision Zero high injury intersections in the City of Sacramento: Sac Vision Zero new intersections map, Sac Vision Zero top intersections all modes, Sac Vision Zero top ped intersections, Sac Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors and top intersections, and Sac Vision Zero flaws.

The City of Sacramento has red light cameras at the following locations:

  • Mack Road & La Mancha Way/Valley Hi Drive
  • El Camino Avenue & Evergreen Street
  • Howe Avenue & Fair Oaks Boulevard
  • Mack Road & Center Parkway
  • Exposition Boulevard & Ethan Way
  • Broadway & 21st Street
  • Folsom Boulevard & Howe Avenue/Power Inn Road
  • Arden Way & Challenge Way
  • 5th Street & I Street
  • 16th Street & W Street
  • Alhambra Boulevard & J Street

The top injury intersections are:

  • Stockton Blvd & Broadway
  • Stockton Blvd & Lemon Hill Ave
  • Stockton Blvd & 47th Ave & Elder Creek Rd
  • Watt Ave & Auburn Blvd
  • Del Paso Blvd & Evergreen St & Lampasas Ave
  • Julliard Dr & Kiefer Blvd & Folsom Blvd
  • Power Inn Rd & Fruitridge Rd
  • Freeport Blvd & Florin Rd
  • Center Pkwy & Cosumnes River Blvd
  • Bruceville Rd & Cosumnes River Blvd
  • Franklin Blvd & Mack Rd

Notice there is no overlap. One could optimistically say that the presence of red light cameras may be making drivers safer and reducing the crashes at these locations. But I doubt it. More likely, the city is just not prioritizing high injury intersections. Of course high injury intersections change over time, as traffic patterns change, and as the city redesigns intersections to be safer, so red light camera locations need not remain static.

I ask that the city install red light cameras at all the high injury intersections. I am not asking that the city move the existing cameras to the new locations. If someone thought a red light camera was necessary at an intersection, it probably still is, and should continue unless evidence indicates otherwise.

A lot of driver-apologists claim that red light cameras are not fair, that they are installed mostly to gain ticket revenue, and that they aren’t accurate anyway. Yes, some places have installed cameras for funding, but Sacramento is not one of them. Yes, sometimes the camera systems flag a vehicle that is not running a red light, but the photos are reviewed. Even if the city were making $1M a day on red light cameras, that would be just fine with me if it prevents one death. I value life more highly than do many drivers.

I worked in Citrus Heights for several years, which has a much higher percentage of traffic signals complemented by red light cameras. My perception is that it really did make a difference. I saw very little red light running in Citrus Heights. Other violations, sure, but not red light running.

photo from City of Sacramento Red Light Running Program page

red light cameras

The City of Sacramento has 11 red light camera locations: Red Light Running Program. Of these, some are at high-injury intersections, but most are not. These locations are cross-referenced with high injury intersections shown in the post Sac Vision Zero new intersections map.

LocationTop allTop pedTop bike
Mack Rd & La Mancha Way/Valley Hi Drnonono
El Camino Ave & Evergreen Stnonono
Howe Ave & Fair Oaks Blvdnonono
Mack Rd & Center Parkwaynonono
Exposition Blvd & Ethan Waynonono
Broadway & 21st Stnonono
Folsom Blvd & Howe Ave/Power Inn Rdnonono
Arden Way & Challenge Waynonono
5th St & I Stnonono
16th St & W Stnonono
Alhambra Blvd & J Stnonono

My first thought is that the city was putting these cameras in the wrong location. But then I thought, what if the presence of red light cameras is making these locations safer and therefore dropping them out of the highest injury intersection list. I don’t have the information to answer that question, which would take analysis of crashes at the intersections, and before/after data.

What I do know is that many more red light cameras are needed to counteract the pandemic of red light running: pandemic of red light running. I spend time around the edges of Fremont Park, close to where I live, which includes the intersection of arterial streets P, Q, 15th, and 16th, and one of the things I do is watch traffic in the intersections. It has now become rare for a signal cycle for 16th St northbound at P St to not see an incidence of red light running. The other intersections are not quite as bad, but the pattern is there. And this is happening everywhere in Sacramento that I go; these are not likely to even be the worst intersections.

I believe that most of the red light running is by egregious violators, people who routinely and continuously violate traffic law for their own convenience or thrill seeking. This is true of most traffic violations, but red light running is the one most likely to result in fatality and serious injury, for people in all modes of travel. So having a more widespread set of red light cameras would serve to catch these red light violators. Of course the follow-up is necessary, to revoke the licenses and confiscate the vehicles of these repeat offenders. The longer the city looks the other way on this issue, the more people will come to see it as normal behavior, and the less safe our streets will be.

The standard response by cars-first entitled drivers is that tickets are just a money-making scheme by the government. The purpose of red light cameras is to make streets safer, and if that results in some income, so be it. I’m more than happy to have these sociopathic drivers hit in the pocketbook, and the money can be used to make our streets safer, such as by installing more red light cameras. Red light tickets, with photos, are part of the documentation needed to revoke licenses and confiscate vehicles.

Sac Vision Zero new intersections map

Thinking about the intersections maps and what they show (Sac Vision Zero top intersections all modes, Sac Vision Zero top ped intersections, Sac Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors and top intersections), I thought it might be interesting to present the data in a different way. The two maps below show all of the top intersections identified in the all-modes, pedestrian, and bicycle data. They are divided into a north section and a south section so that the intersections and their labels are visible. The maps are available as pdfs (north, south).

legend for intersections on maps below
Sacramento top collision intersections, north section
Sacramento top collision intersections, south section

The intersection data is in the table below.

What’s next? I’ll take a closer look at some of these intersections. For people who follow traffic engineering, it will probably be immediately obvious why these intersections are dangerous. A detailed analysis requires looking at each collision record individually, which I don’t have time to do. The city did make use of incident reports, which contain more information than the data in SWITRS, in developing the Vision Zero Plan.

Sac Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors and top intersections

As promised in my previous post, Sac Vision Zero flaws, here is a limited analysis of high injury network intersections in Sacramento. I used bicycle crashes for 2014 through 2018 from the SWITRS crash database, and matched these to intersections of arterials and collectors in the city. It is known that most crashes occur at or near intersections, not in between. Of the 1112 crashes in this time period, 763 occurred at intersections, or 69% (for all crash types, the city said it is 78%). I selected eight intersections to highlight, which had 4, 5, or 7 crashes at the intersection or within 120 feet of the intersection, meaning on the approach or departure from the intersection. The other 590 intersections had 3, 2, 1, or no crashes. I did not analyze the crashes for fatality or serious injury, but that would be a useful.

The map below shows the Sacramento Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors, in red, and the top eight crash intersections with a bicycle symbol. The number to the right is crashes, and the location is labeled with cross streets. This is also available as a pdf.

Of the eight intersections, one is part of the Florin corridor, at 24th Street and Florin Road. The other seven are not.

I ask that the city revise its Vision Zero program to include high injury intersections. The number might be as many as 10, and selection should include the same equity criteria used to select the corridors. That means that the three central city locations might not be selected, or might be lower on the priority list, and that is good. The challenge of the Stockton Blvd & Fruitridge Road intersection is that it is on the city/county boundary, so complete treatment of the intersection would require some cooperation with the county. But with seven bicycle crashes in the time period, it is a very important intersection.

A strong advantage to giving high injury intersections recognition and attention is that they could receive near-term safety improvements that require only reallocation of roadway width and new paint. Full safety improvements probably would require redesign of the intersection.

Again, I fully support the city’s Vision Zero efforts, and want to see them be the best they can be. That means including high injury intersections.

Addition 2021-03-02: Someone asked how the bicycle collision locations relate to disadvantaged communities. Below, a map with CalEnviroScreen 3 2018-06 (CES) layer, with red end being higher pollution, green being lower, and weighted with income. CES is not the only measure of disadvantage, but it is one commonly used.