What City of Sacramento ISN’T doing

The City of Sacramento, that bastion of doing the least amount possible, has failed to notice that progressive cities in the US and worldwide are making changes to their environment to make is safer for people who walk and bicycle, and more efficient and welcoming for people outside of cars.

What the city is NOT doing, that it could:

  • Accept responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, as an integral part of the transportation network. The city continues to shirk its responsibility, spending funds on motor vehicle infrastructure instead of maintaining walker infrastructure.
  • Installing leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) at every traffic signal in the city. The same eleven have been in place for years; none have been added. The recent legislation, AB 2264, only applies to state highways; it is up to cities and counties to implement on other roadways.
  • Daylighting intersections. This means removing parking from within 15-20 feet of the crosswalk or stop bar, either by painting and enforcing red curbs, or building curb extensions (bulb-outs) at every intersection. Upstream, approaching the intersection, is the big safety feature, downstream, leaving the intersection is much less important. There are interim solutions here, such as painting curb extensions and using soft-hit posts (vertical delineators).
  • Implementing construction zone requirements that accommodate walkers and bicyclists. The current city policy is to provide safe bypasses only if it does not in any way inconvenience drivers. The public has asked that a policy be developed along the lines of the Oakland construction policy, but the city has stonewalled against that.
  • Making transportation improvements that benefit walkers and bicyclists, except with county, state or federal grants. The city simply will not spend any of its general funds on improving transportation safety.
  • Waiting until a roadway is completely repaved to reallocate roadway width to bicycle lanes or separated bikeways, or transit. Compounding this issue is that the city doesn’t share with the public the repaving projects that it intends to do, so the public has no chance to comment beforehand.
  • Lowering speed limits citywide. While it is true that spot reductions have little effect on travel speeds, there are a growing number of cities that have lowered speed limits citywide, with a significant reduction in speed.
  • Enforce traffic laws. The Sacramento Police Department has essentially stopped enforcing laws related to the safety of walkers and bicyclists. This of course is also true in many other places. Police don’t see traffic safety as an issue worthy of concern. Of course so much of law enforcement is used as pretext to oppress, and I’m not in favor of any of that, but if the police won’t even enforce failure to yield to people in the crosswalk, what use are they? We would all be much safer if traffic law enforcement were removed from the police, largely automated, and the money saved diverted to real community needs. Yes, defund the police.
  • Painting marked crosswalks at every intersection. Yes, I know that unmarked crosswalks are legal crossings, but most drivers either don’t know or don’t care, so marking crosswalks is critical.
  • Remove beg buttons. These buttons, which sometimes a walker must press to get a walk sign, and sometimes don’t need to press (this is called auto-recall) are a direct attempt to discriminate against people walking. The city, after much pressure from the public at the beginning of the pandemic, set five crossings to auto-recall, out of the thousands. Of course they didn’t change the signing, so people walking don’t know this. The city it being intentionally obstinate in its defense of this outmoded requirement.
  • Remove pedestrian prohibition signs unless that is a demonstrable safety reason for the prohibition. There are numerous signs all over the city that were placed solely to preference motor vehicle drivers over people walking. The default should be that every one is removed unless the city wishes to do a traffic study to justify them.
  • Install traffic diverters (mode filters) all over the city. These diverters, which allow bicyclists free travel but turn motor vehicle drivers aside, are the single most effective safety measure that city could implement. But the city has decided to take these off the menu of solutions, for no reason that it has ever been made public. The few that exist are in the central city, almost none in other neighborhoods. Another example of privileging the already privileged over lower income neighborhoods.
  • Charge for parking, eveCavrywhere. Residential neighborhoods, where there is usually open parking space, would be charged through permits for the cost of maintaining that portion of the street. Any place where parking is in short supply, market rates for parking should be charged. Giving away free parking is subsidizing drivers and throwing your tax money in the trash.

I could go on with this list for pages. In fact, I have: walking policies for SacCity, and many related posts. But the city is still not taking meaningful action on any of these items, so I will keep reposting. For as long as it takes. And it will probably take quite some while before the city gets over its culture of doing the least amount possible.

Caveat: The city has disinvested in lower income and high minority neighborhoods, probably for its entire history. The first steps should be taken in these neighborhoods, with input from the residents, of course, and not in higher income and non-minority neighborhoods which have always gotten more than their share.

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.

walking policies for SacCity

Where two previous posts come together (Reset for SacATC and don’t forget the little things) is suggested policies for the City of Sacramento that support walking for many reasons: to protect vulnerable users from drivers, to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and thereby greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), to create a walking-first city where everyone feels safe to walk, and to support infill housing that is the next most important action to reduce GHGs. I’ll make a brief suggestion for a policy that would implement each walking idea.

These are the policies that the Sacramento Active Transportation Commission (SacATC) should be addressing, and then making recommendations to the city council. I’ll be blunt: if SacATC is not addressing these issues, then why does it exist?

The ideas presented are, not in any priority order (numbers for reference only):

1. Mark crosswalks at every intersection. Except in purely residential neighborhoods, these should be zebra design.
Policy: The city will mark (paint) every crosswalk in the city. The standard will be zebra or continental markings (the solid bars), but parallel lines are acceptable at purely residential intersections. Implementation within one year.
Considerations: Yes, this will be expensive to install and to maintain. But the safety benefit makes this a great investment. Since the DMV fails to ensure that drivers understand that every intersection has crosswalks whether marked or not, it is incumbent on the city to mark crosswalks.

2. Daylight intersections by removing parking from within 15 feet of every crosswalk, at least on the near side (far side is a lesser safety benefit)
Policy: Marked parking spots will be removed from within 20 feet of an intersection on the near side. Unmarked parking will be converted to no parking with red curb offsets of 20 feet. The resulting area may be used for shared rideables parking. Where a curb extension is present, parking need not be removed. Implementation within two years.
Considerations: This increases visibility at every intersection by making walkers more visible to motorists (and bicyclists), and making vehicles more visible to people walking. Near side means the first crosswalk at every intersection in the direction of travel. Removal of parking on the far side confers little safety benefit.

3. Re-program traffic signals to create leading pedestrian intervals, everywhere.
Policy: Every traffic signal with a pedestrian signal head will be programmed to offer a leading pedestrian interval (LPI) of at least three seconds. Implementation within one year.
Considerations: The greatest risk walkers face at intersections is right-turning drivers who do not yield to people in the crosswalk. The LPI gives walkers a head start so that they are visible to drivers while the traffic light is still red. State law will soon be changed to allow bicyclists to also use the LPI.

4. Remove or properly label every pedestrian push button. Don’t make walkers play the guessing game. Except at very low use intersections, pedestrian signals should be on auto-recall.
Policy: Every pedestrian push button will either be removed or labeled with its function. Implementation within one year.
Considerations: The presence of push buttons without indication of whether they are necessary to push is a case of clear discrimination against people walking. The city has refused to change signage to indicate whether the push button activates a signal change, triggers an audible warning only, or does nothing at all. In the long run, all pedestrian signals everywhere should be on auto-recall, meaning no push is needed, but this correctly labeling the button is the first step.

5. Remove pedestrian prohibitions which serve traffic flow rather than safety of walkers. This is the majority of them.
Policy: The city will study every instance of a pedestrian prohibition to determine if the prohibition is necessary to ensure safety for people walking. Traffic flow will not be used to justify a prohibition. Each location where the study determines there is no safety benefit for walkers will be removed, crosswalks marked, and appropriate pedestrian signal heads installed. Implementation within three years.
Considerations: Most, though not all, of these pedestrian prohibitions were installed to promote the flow of traffic, not to protect walkers. Studies will result in the removal of most.

6. Install traffic diverters (modal filters) on about one-quarter of all streets, at no less than 1/8 mile intervals. This discourages through-traffic on most streets, and discourages longer driving trips, while being permeable to bicyclists and walkers.
Policy: At every location in the city where a grid street system or alternate travel streets are available, the city will install traffic diverters (modal filters) which require motor vehicles to turn off current street. The interval should be no less than 1/8 mile. This will not apply to designated collector or arterial streets. Implementation within for years.
Considerations: Diverters discourage drivers from traveling long distances on streets which should be low traffic, and they also slow traffic. Diverters are the most effective traffic calming device available. Despite the clear effectiveness of the existing diverters, the city has decided not to install any more. This policy would reverse that unofficial policy. Where a grid street system exists, diverters are completely appropriate. Unfortunately the winding streets and lack of connectivity in the sprawling parts of the city make these impractical.

7. Charge for all street parking, everywhere, even in residential neighborhoods.
Policy: End all free street parking. Charge residents a reasonable fee for a parking permit that covers the cost of maintaining the portion of the street that contains the parking. Set fees for paid parking in such a way that there is always at least one open parking spot on every block. Implement within one year.
Considerations: The city has done much better at managing paid parking, raising rates to more closely reflect (though not fully cover) the actual costs to the city. But outside of paid parking areas, drivers are getting a free ride, which encourages ownership and use of vehicles, contributing to VMT. In residential areas, it is not unusual for a single residence to own multiple vehicles, some of which are rarely used and just take up space that could better be used for other purposes.

8. Reduce speed limits to 20 mph, citywide and all at once, on every street that is not an arterial or collector street.
Policy: The speed limit on all streets that are not collectors or arterials will be reduced to 20 mph. Implementation within six months.
Considerations: The benefits to walkers and bicyclists (and drivers) of lower speeds are well known, reducing the severity of crashes and reducing the likelihood of crashes due to more reaction time. The ’20 is plenty’ movement is becoming widespread. Some argue that changing speed limits without changing roadway design is pointless, but my philosophy is “Yes, and…” – we should be redesigning roadways, but while that work is in progress, we can save lives now by reducing speed limits. It will take some while to change speed limit signs, so simply blocking out the existing 25 number would be acceptable in the interim.

9. Ensure that every construction project that reconstructs sidewalks also installs curb extensions (bulb-outs) where there is a parking lane present. This is not uniformly happening.
Policy: Curb extensions will be required on every corner which is reconstructed for any purpose. Street faces on corners where a bicycle lane is present but parking lane is not present will be excepted. Curb extensions will be designed so as to not interfere with bicycle lanes, and existing or planned separated bikeways. Implementation immediately.

Considerations: Curb extensions, also called bulb-outs, significantly increase safety by shortening crossing distances and by increasing visibility between walkers and drivers. The entity making the change to the sidewalk/corner would be responsible to the extension, though where drainage issues exist, the city might help with partial funding to move or enhance drainage. There are many instances in the city where curb extensions should be installed as part of construction projects, but are not being.

10. Create interim curb extensions with paint and flexible posts.
Policy: At any intersection where a pedestrian fatality or severe injury has occurred within the last ten years, temporary curb extensions created with paint and vertical delineators will be installed. Implementation within one year. Temporary curb extensions will be replaced by permanent concrete curb extensions within ten years.
Considerations: This policy would allow the ‘quick fix’ of curb extensions at relatively low cost, but eventually create curb extensions at all hazardous intersections, city-wide.

11. Take on responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, since they are an integral part of the transportation network.
Policy: The city accepts maintenance responsibility for all sidewalks that are within the public right-of-way. The city will develop a plan for bringing all sidewalks to a state of good repair, with implementation first in low-income neighborhoods.
Considerations: State law allows the city to shirk its responsibility for maintaining sidewalks by shifting the burden unfairly onto adjacent property owners. The result is poorly maintained sidewalks that do not serve the needs of anyone waking or rolling, but particularly discriminate against people with mobility limitations. Some sidewalks are not within the public right-of-way, but this is uncommon.

12. Buy every employee of Public Works and Community Development a copy of Walkable City Rules (Jeff Speck), and hold sessions to develop a new city mission that prioritizes walkers (and bicyclists and transit riders) over private vehicles.
Policy: Buy the books! Implementation immediately. Hold sessions within six months. Develop new mission within one year.
Considerations: Every city employee should be responsible for doing their part to make the city a walkable place where people are safe and welcomed on every street. City employees and politicians have in the past created a car-dominated city where it is unsafe to walk and bicycle, and now is the time to set a new vision and way forward. Note that this does not address the issue that people don’t feel safe walking in some locations, and this is a critically important issue that the city should also address.

LPIs and bicyclists

Following on to the benefits of leading pedestrian interval (LPI) signals for walkers, more LPIs, these signals can also benefit bicyclists.

I routinely see bicyclists proceeding on the pedestrian signal, before the traffic signal has turned green, at every location with a LPI. And that’s what I do. Technically it is not legal to do so, so I would like to see state law changed so that it clearly is legal. Even though unlikely to be enforced, there is no reason to give law enforcement a pretext to harass bicyclists.

The permission should be for bicyclists proceeding straight, not for bicyclists turning. Though a turning bicyclist presents a tiny fraction of the danger to walkers of a motor vehicle driver, I still don’t want to see walkers using the LPI to feel intimidated by bicyclists.

When the stop as yield at stop signs, and the stop and proceed when safe at stop lights, is eventually passed in California (this is called the Idaho stop law, though it is now in several other states and being considered in more), this proceed on LPI will become moot. However, being somewhat cynical (or very), I suspect that CHP will succeed in deep-sixing any such change in law for a number of years.

The simpler step forward of permitted bicyclists to proceed straight on LPI should not be controversial with anyone, and could be passed and implemented this this legislative session.

more LPIs

I wrote some while ago about leading pedestrian indicator (LPI) signals, which give the pedestrian a head start of a few seconds before the parallel traffic light turns green. So far as I know, Sacramento has not added any locations to the list of eleven.

But the city should. In fact, I’d argue that any traffic signal where there are a significant number of walkers, and a significant number of turning drivers, should have an LPI. Drivers often fail to yield to people in the crosswalk when turning, or cut in right behind them, and the more chance the walker has to get out into the crosswalk and visible, the better. Of course nothing about the LPI prevents the driver from turning on red, unless turns on red are prohibited. Prohibiting turns on red has been much discussed lately, but I don’t think that treatment is the most important that can happen at intersections.

I live a few blocks from Fremont Park, which is the block between 15th Street and 16th Street, and P Street and Q Street. In fact, many of the parks in the central city are located between pairs of one-way streets, called couplets. 16th is one of the busiest streets in the central city, and the other two are moderately busy, and these four intersections see a lot of turning vehicles. Since I walk nearly every day to and around the park, I get plenty of chance to see how drivers interact with walkers in the crosswalk. I’ve never seen anybody hit, but I often see conflicts, the driver trying to intimidate the walker, trying to beat them to the crosswalk, stopping just short of hitting them, or cutting in close behind them.

P Street and Q Street are two-lane arterials, while 15th Street and 16th Street are three-lane arterials, with higher traffic volumes and vehicle speeds. 16th was a state highway.

So, I’m asking the city to install LPI signals for the south crosswalk at 15th & P, the east crosswalk at 15th & Q, the north crosswalk at 16th & Q, and the west crosswalk at 16th & P. The photos below show the intersection of 15th & P from pedestrian level, and overhead. The video shows two pedestrians crossing, and mostly through the crosswalk before the driver encroaches. This was a low traffic time with only one turning vehicle. When I have a chance to capture a heavier traffic time with pedestrians, I’ll replace it.

P Street westbound, showing crosswalk over 15th St ahead
15th Street & P Street, south crosswalk
crosswalk over 15th Street at P Street

I often write about the Sacramento central city because that is where I live, and I have ample opportunity to observe transportation infrastructure and driver, walker and bicyclist behavior. However, I’d like to state that I DO NOT think that central city issues should be solved first. These issues occur in many places in Sacramento, where the traffic is higher speed, facilities are poorer, and neighborhoods have been disinvested. Drivers in the central city are just as bad as drivers elsewhere, in fact most of them are from elsewhere, the suburbs, but they have grown somewhat accustomed to seeing walkers and bicyclists, and are more careful around them.

Next: LPIs and bicyclists