Freeport Blvd as a failure of vision and possibility

Another post on the Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan. See the category Freeport Blvd for other posts.

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.

I & 12th crashes

The city has installed substantial bollards on the southwest corner of I Street and 12th Street in an effort to protect the Bangkok@12 Thai Restaurant there.

There were at least two major injury crashes into the restaurant in 2019, and the location has a history of crashes (see https://www.sacbee.com/article235349392.html for one example). There were 26 collisions at this intersection in the five year period 2015-2019. This is the most for any intersection in the central city, with the next closest being 19th Street and X Street, at 17.

2019-09-20 crash (photo from SacBee)

Why? Well, the primary reason is that this is the intersection of two 3-lane, one-way arterials, both of which are known to have a history of speeding. The city installed a speed display sign on 12th Street approaching I Street, but has not done so for I Street approaching 12th Street. I had not noticed this sign before yesterday, so I don’t know how long it has been there. Even a brief watch of it indicated that many drivers are exceeding the speed limit, some egregiously so, at more than 10 mph over the speed limit. And then, of course, there are the bollards pictured above. These are not solutions.

The city has identified the section of I Street east of 12th for a reduction in travel lanes from three to two, and that will help. But to the west, no reduction, so drivers will likely be speeding up through the intersection to spread out into the increased capacity. For 12th Street, a reduction from four (!) to three lanes will occur north of H Street, which may reduce speeds approaching here, but in the section between H Street and J Street, it will remain three lanes.

I strongly feel that all roadways of three or more lanes must be reduced to two lanes. Drivers simply cannot be trusted to behave properly on 3-lane roads. It doesn’t matter how much signing we add, or bollards we add, drivers will still speed and will endanger walkers, pedestrians, people in other vehicles, and people sitting down to eat a meal at restaurants.

Solution? The reduction in lanes on I Street must continue westward at least to 10th Street (I would continue it all the way to the freeway, but that is another issue). 12th Street must be reduced from three lanes to two lanes in the section between H Street and J Street (I would reduce it from C Street south). Most of the traffic on 12th Street turns left onto J Street, only a portion continuing south, so having one through lane and one left turn lane would not significantly reduce capacity, but would make things a great deal safer. A bonus would be that the left hand travel lane can be allocated to the exclusive use of the southbound light rail tracks. Currently, the southbound lane is shared between motor vehicles and light rail, and the light rail train is often delayed by congestion and by left turning vehicles. Two birds with one stone, as the saying goes.

The city’s Vision Zero effort focuses on corridors, stretches of street with a high crash rate, and this is not a bad focus, given that most of these corridors are in disadvantaged/disinvested communities. It does not focus on intersections, not even on very high crash rate intersections. San Francisco’s Vision Zero program, one of the leading in the country, identifies the top five corridors, AND the top five intersections. There has been significant though not necessarily complete infrastructure work on each of these. I would like to see the I Street and 12th Street intersection be prioritized for Sacramento.