Sac permanently closes sidewalk

Note: updated 2020-03-28 to correct lane descriptions and add a photo of the lane shift.

On the south side of I Street, between 15th Street and 16th Street, the city has permanently closed the sidewalk. This was to construct a loading dock for Memorial Auditorium. I had noticed the construction going on there, the first phase of the city’s project for the convention center and community center theater, and just assumed things would be returned to normal when construction was complete. How wrong I was. I was flabbergasted when I saw this. The loading dock sticks quite a ways into what used to be the public right of way, erasing the sidewalk and two parking lanes (the general purpose lanes were shifted to the right). The loading dock is concrete, intended to be there forever. See the photos below.

If the loading area was really than important, and could not be provided anywhere else, the city could have set things up for easy temporary closure of some of the street so as to allow loading when needed. They did not, they made it permanent.

I have walked by here, on the sidewalk, when events were going on at the Memorial Auditorium and there were a lot of walkers using this sidewalk. I imagine for a lot of other uses as well.

Also note that the ‘ bike lane’ stripe does not meet standards for a bike lane because it is immediately adjacent to a hard barrier and fence, so requires shy distance not provided. So that means when there are eventually bike lanes on I Street, this will be a gap, permanently.

What the fuck were you thinking, City of Sacramento?

photo: I Street, south side, east of 15th Street
I Street, south side, east of 15th Street
photo: I Street, south side, east of 15th Street
I Street, south side, east of 15th Street
photo: I Street, south side, west of 16th Street
I Street, south side, west of 16th Street
photo: I Street, south side, west of 16th Street
I Street, south side, west of 16th Street
I Street westbound, lanes shifted right

update on I

"bicycles must turn right" sign, I Street between 6th and 5th
“bicycles must turn right” sign, I Street between 6th and 5th

I wrote previously about the The I Street Mess. A small change has taken place here, with a new sign that says “Bicycles Must Turn Right” on the bike lane midway between 6th and 5th. Basically, this is a warning to bicyclists who missed the “Thru Bikes Merge Left” sign at the beginning of the block that they are truly screwed. By this point, bicyclist will have a very hard time merging across four lanes of high speed traffic to reach the left side bike lane that takes one to Old Sacramento or 3rd Street. At a minimum, the warnings need to occur earlier, in the block between 7th and 6th. Better yet would be slowing the traffic on I Street so that a bicyclist could actually maneuver through the traffic lanes. Best would be an alternate route for bicyclists who don’t wish to ride vehicularly, that avoids the I Street Mess completely.

I Street into Old Sacramento

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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Gallery: I Street into Old Sacramento

These photos are of the I Street entrance to Old Sacramento, showing various problems and hazards that exist for pedestrians and bicyclists at this location. The crosswalks here are not really safe. All sorts of signing has been installed to try to make them safe, but that is a poor substitute for correct design. The […]

Floating bike lane on I Street

This is a follow-on to The I Street mess, and is another example of poor sharrow placement. Thank you, Elle, for reminding me to write about this.

On I Street between 7th and 6th streets, there is a floating bike lane on the north side. A floating bike lane, also called a part-time bike lane, is one that is designed to be a parking lane for part of the day and a motor vehicle travel lane for part of the day.

The first photo below is the lane when parking is prohibited, and it is a shared motor vehicle travel lane. The signing indicates that parking is prohibited from 4 to 6PM on weekdays. This is in order to provide more lanes for the flush of traffic heading to the freeway during the afternoon rush hour. There are sharrow markings at the beginning and near the end of the block, to reinforce the “bikes may use full lane” sign (MUTCD R4-11).

The next photo shows the same floating bike lane when parking is allowed, the rest of the time. As you can see, the sharrows are partly covered by parked cars. The remaining width of the lane, which forms a de-facto bike lane, is too narrow for a lane adjacent to parked cars and is unsafe. In this particular location in front of the county jail, it is doubly unsafe because frequent turnover in cars (one hour limit) and the type of people who park here, not the sort to be thinking of bicyclists before they open their car door. In fact, guidance on floating bike lanes recommends against their use in situations with high-turnover parking.

I Street floating bike lane during parking prohibition
I Street floating bike, parking prohibited

I Street floating bike lane, parking permitted (Elle Bustamante)
I Street floating bike lane, parking permitted (Elle Bustamante)

I never ride in this floating bike lane when there are parked cars, I always ride in the full travel lane to the left, but I often get honked at by drivers who think I should be in the “bike lane,” and don’t realize it is not a safe place to ride.

There is nothing inherently wrong with floating bike lanes. A number of cities use them in cases where they perceive a need to carry high volumes of motor vehicle traffic at certain times of day, but want to accommodate bicyclists at other times. They are always seen as a compromise that doesn’t make anyone completely happy. However, this is the only instance that I’m aware of in Sacramento, and it is not signed and marked in such a way as to communicate its purpose and use to either drivers or bicyclists. It needs to be crystal clear for everyone, or be removed. Maybe it is time for this floating bike lane to sink.

This section of I Street is the logical main access route for bicyclists to the train station. Rush hour for cars is also rush hour for bicyclists. What I see during this time of day (4-6PM) is a lot of bicyclists riding the wrong way, or on the light rail tracks, along H Street in order to access the train station. It is worrisome to me that that I Street was not designed with bicyclist safety in mind. Bicyclists feel that it is safer to ride against traffic on H Street than with traffic on I Street, despite the fact that wrong way riding is the leading cause of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes, or to risk spills getting caught in the light rail tracks, anything to avoid I Street. I have seen several bicyclists fall on the light rail tracks here.

I Street in this section could be made safe for bicyclists in two ways:

  1. Remove parking from the left side of I Street and shifting travel lanes to the south so that a full 6.5 foot bike lane could be installed. The sharrows would not then be needed. Or, 
  2. Make the right hand lane a full-time parking lane and move the sharrows into the next travel lane to the left.

Given that there are bike lanes both east and west of this block, option one is probably the best because it would create a continuous bike lane, but option two is workable.

The I Street mess

Thank you, Elle, for reminding me in your “transportation ‘planning’ downtown” that I wanted to write about I Street. Note: If you are looking at Google Maps, it does not show the current lane configuration on I Street since the repaving and re-striping project of last fall, nor the realignment of tracks and work on extending 5th and 6th streets over the tracks.

I Street from the 4th Street crosswalk
I Street from the 4th Street crosswalk; I have the walk signal but this is still scary

I Street in Sacramento approaching the train station is a mess. Starting with the confusing floating bike lane between 7th and 6th streets (subject of a future post), the street becomes worse and worse: five lanes wide, high speed, and completely unfriendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. For pedestrians, the crossing on the east side of the I/5th intersection is uncomfortable because westbound traffic is already moving at high speed and often runs the red light, and right turning cars from I to 5th often do not yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. The west side is so unsafe due to traffic turning left off 5th Street, it is signed against pedestrian crossing, even though this is a logical walking route from downtown to the train station. A crosswalk has been added on the east side of the I/4th intersection, but it has the same challenges that drivers are moving too fast and often run the run light. When I used this new crosswalk, I was very concerned, and I have a much higher tolerance for danger than most people do.

The right-most two travel lanes lead to the high-speed northbound I-5 freeway onramp, so drivers passing 6th Street are already accelerating to freeway speeds, many times going 55 mph as they cross through the I/5th intersection. The next two lanes lead to a medium speed onramp to the I Street bridge over the Sacramento river, and to the southbound I-5 onramp. For pedestrians, the only way to go westbound towards Old Sacramento is to go through the parking lot for the train station and under the onramps along an ugly, dark, poorly marked pedestrian way.

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