wide lanes on Freeport

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.

J Street Safety Improvments

The City of Sacramento is going to use street rehabilitation funds (from SB-1) to create a separated bikeway on J Street between 19th and 30th, starting this summer. The city held a public meeting last night (January 25) to gather public comments on the design elements, which have not been finalized.

I like the proposal, and see it as a significant improvement over what is there now. The general purpose travel lanes would be reduced by one, from three to two, while bike facilities would be increased from zero to one. The separated bikeway, also called a cycle track or protected bike lane (separated bikeway is the correct term in California) would be installed along the right side of the one-way street. The project will improve pedestrians safety by shortening the crossing distance over general purpose lanes, but this is more a traffic calming and bike facility project than a pedestrian project. This project is intended to be a “paint only” project that fits with the funds available. Improvements needing concrete would come later, if at all. The separated bikeways would be “protected” with flexible delineator posts between the parking lane and the bikeway, which provides increased safety but not full protection.

Though the diagrams shown last night indicate that bus stops would be at the existing curb, and the bikeway with green paint would swing around the bus stop to the left, it appears that the city is rethinking that and will use a shared bus/bike lane for the length of the bus stop. There is talk of moving bus stops to better locations, and perhaps reducing the number of stops for better service times. The only bus currently using J Street is SacRT Route 30, which has a 15 minute frequency on weekday day times, 30 minute evenings and Saturdays, and 60 minute Sundays. This is a route whose ridership probably justifies 10 minute frequency day times.

The intersections will be daylighted by removing the parking spaces that currently are right up against the crosswalks and reduce visibility between drivers and pedestrians. I completely support that and feel that the safety benefits make the loss of a few parking spaces worthwhile. I’m not against on-street parking, in fact I like it because it slows traffic, but safety is even more important.

I would like to recommend some improvements to the project as presented:

  • Reduce lane widths from 11 feet to 10 feet. This is the most important action that could be taken to enhance safety. The best action for pedestrian and bicyclist safety is to #SlowTheCars (@StrongTowns). The narrower the lanes, the slower the traffic, and the slower the traffic, the less severe collisions that do occur, and the less collisions. The city currently has an 11 foot standard they don’t seem ready to change, but what better time than now to create a significant project with narrower lanes, so we can directly experience the safety benefits.
  • Reduce the speed limit to 20 mph, and stripe the street in a way that encourages this actual speed. Again, the city is reluctant to go below 25, but there is a growing national movement to 20 mph in urban areas. Goes hand-in-hand with the lane width reduction, and is very inexpensive to implement.
  • Stripe the separated bikeway and street in such a way that the shared bus/bike lane at bus stops can be converted to floating bus islands with the bike lane at the curb. This configuration keeps the bus in the flow of traffic, which greatly speeds bus times as they don’t have to wait for a gap in traffic to continue. I do not know how wide the islands need to be to accommodate bus shelters, but am looking into that and will report. Another advantage of the lane width narrowing is that it would provide another two feet for the islands. The separated bikeway “lane” is seven feet, and that seems fine to me. Since this is a “paint only” project, concrete bus islands would delay it for additional finding, which I don’t want to see, but the design should be ready for bus islands as soon as they can be funded.
  • Reduce the number of bus stops to one every three or four blocks. The increase in service speed makes the greater walking distance worthwhile, and since the walking environment will be more appealing and safer, this is a good trade-off.

The meeting last night was the only formal opportunity to have input to this project, but I encourage you to email Jennifer Donlon-Wyant with support for the project, for these improvements I’ve presented, or you own ideas. You can also comment here, but emailing Jennifer is the first step.