pavement condition in Sac City

In the search for other information, I came across the City of Sacramento Pavement Condition Report, dated March 2020, and it has some interesting things to ponder. The city has 3000 lane miles of streets. The county reports road miles instead of lane miles, so I can’t directly compare the city and county, but the city does say it has the fifth largest roadways network in California.

The report has maps for each council district, showing the PCI for each (PCI = pavement condition index, a measure of how well the roadway has been maintained, higher is better). I wondered whether the PCI correlated with income, as many things do, so I plotted 2020 median household income of each district against PCI, table and chart below.

There is not a strong correlation between income and PCI, R = .42, but district 1 and 2 are clear outliers, with 1 being the highest income and highest PCI, and 2 being the lowest income and lowest PCI. The city report says that the reason district 1 has a high PCI is that the roads there are newer, but I’m a little doubtful this explains it all, since many of the roads in that area are now old enough to need maintenance.

The target score for ‘roads in good condition’ is at least PCI 75, so Sacramento is falling far short of that because it is not spending enough on roadway maintenance. Part of the reason for this is that money is spent on building new roadways and widening roadways instead of maintaining roadways. But the underlying reason is that the city has allowed to be constructed, and then taken on maintenance responsibility for, roadways which it does not have the income to maintain. In new developments, construction of internal roadways is paid by the developer, but arterials and collectors, which often must be upgraded to handle increased traffic, and the interchanges with freeways, are largely paid by the city, or grants, and are maintained by the city. But low density development, of which the city was formerly very fond and still has some attachment to, cannot ever generate enough income in property or sales taxes to maintain the roadways. This is one of the great suburban subsidies that so hurts our cities and counties.

The report lays out three funding level scenarios:

  1. current funding levels: The PCI will deteriorate over 10 years to 42, which is rated ‘poor’, and if ever corrected, would cost about ten times as much to correct as it would to maintain. I doubt that most people in the city would find this in any way acceptable.
  2. maintain current conditions: To keep the PCI level at 60, the city would need to spend $35.7 million per year, but it is currently only spending $9.7 million per year. This is 3.7 times current expenditures. Though the PCI would be stable, there would be a continuous increasing backlog of maintenance because the PCI would not be improved to the desired 75.
  3. improve conditions to state of good repair: To bring PCI to 75 would cost $58.5 million per year. This is 6.0 times current expenditures.

What to do? I’m sure if the city knew, it might never have gotten into this bind. This is a pattern with nearly all cities, that they cannot under any reasonable current taxation scheme hope to maintain their infrastructure. This post is about roadways, but the same is true of water supply and sewer and electric and gas. And services such as fire and police, for that matter. And it doesn’t even touch on the need for sidewalk maintenance, which is only addressed in terms of adding ADA structures at intersections. For much greater insight on the problem and possible solutions, I refer you to Strong Towns and the book Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity (from your local bookstore or library).

But I will suggest some things:

  • a moratorium on accepting any new roadways into the city, until the city has identified a mechanism for maintaining them, which would probably entail the developer paying into a trust fund for maintenance
  • paving of parking lanes to a lower level of maintenance than travel lanes; adjacent areas do not need the load bearing capacity of travel lanes nor receive as much wear and tear; the city has already done this in a few locations
  • reducing excess travel lanes; for most roadways in the city, three travel lanes per direction are excess capacity, rarely needed except for brief periods of time or in uncommon circumstances; though re-allocation to bike lanes, separated bikeways, or sidewalks (or in a few cases, parking) should be the ultimate fate of these excess areas, in the meanwhile they can just be blocked off from use and therefore remove the need for maintenance; in many cases two lanes per direction are also excess
  • evaluate whether a lower PCI than 75 might be just fine for residential streets and collector streets; after all, poor pavement does have a traffic calming effect, and we need traffic calming everywhere, so maybe PCI 60 is OK for many roadways

I believe that funding to maintain local streets, most of which are residential streets, and probably collector streets, should come from the city or county level, not from the state or federal government. The closer to the roadway the funding is, the more likely the city or county is to make rational and sustainable decisions about roadway maintenance responsibilities and funding. I think an argument could be made that arterial maintenance should be funded by the state since these roadways serve traffic beyond the city and county boundaries.

As a car-free person, you might assume that I don’t care much about pavement condition, but buses and bikes operate on the same streets as private motor vehicles and commercial vehicles, so acceptable pavement condition is important to me as well.

access to parks, and walking space

I have long been interested in access to parks, what the availability of parks is to people, and wanted to map this. It is just today that I was finally able to start doing this. I acknowledge the support of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) GIS staff, without which I could not have done this, as my ArcGIS skills are limited, though growing, and my access to the needed data is also limited.

This issue of access to parks, always important, is suddenly critical under the pandemic, with people needing places to walk where they can achieve physical activity with appropriate physical distancing. With many neighborhoods in Sacramento not having sidewalks, or having narrow sidewalks (six feet at best, often five feet, sometimes four feet or three feet; yes, three feet!), and some of those who are still driving doing so very recklessly, sidewalks in and of themselves don’t make it for large areas of Sacramento.

Advocates all over the US, and the world for that matter, have asked that cities and counties open up streets for walking and bicycling, sometimes by prohibiting drivers and their motor vehicles, sometime allowing only local access. In the US, Oakland has become the leader in this (Oakland Slow Streets), though many other cities have implemented programs as well. The City of Sacramento is also considering this, with staff working on a proposal, though it is not known yet what it will look like, or if it will be adopted. A number of people have made suggestions for streets to ‘close’ (meaning open to walkers and bicyclists), but the nature of advocacy is that many of these suggestions have been for areas that have sidewalks, and that have parks, because these are the areas where many advocates live. I’m not saying they are wrong, but I want to do my part to see that open streets occur in the areas that most need them, which is almost always the low-income, disinvested areas of north Sacramento/Del Paso Heights and south Sacramento.

So, I picked two zip codes to map. One is 95814, the central city downtown, and the other is 95824, an area of south Sacramento (which includes both City of Sacramento and unincorporated Sacramento County).

The maps shows the park locations (from the SACOG Regional Parks & Open Spaces 2018 data), and the 10-minute walking area around these parks. The reason I picked 10 minutes is the initiative by the National Parks and Recreation Association (NPRA) and partners: “We’re inspiring and enabling action to create a world in which 100% of people in U.S. cities—LARGE AND SMALL—have safe access to a quality park or green space within a 10-minute walk of home by 2050.” I’ve also included the Median Household Income for census tracts (ACS Median Household Income S1903 2013-2017). On the 95824 map, you can see that the entire zip code is less than 80% of California MHI ($67,169), a disadvantaged community. On the 95814 map, the 10-minute walking area covers up the MHI, but nearly the entire area is also below 80%.

Please note that there are many ways of mapping park access. In this case, I used park centroids (the geographic center of the park), which makes sense for smaller parks, but doesn’t work as well for large parks, and parks which are contiguous but named differently. There are also many ways of looking at disadvantaged community status, and at demographic characteristics. I chose ones that I had worked with before, and other criteria would yield different results. I’ve used zip codes here, though I think that if the cities and county actually analyze the data for need, census tracts are the better polygon size. Census tracts are less familiar to people than zip codes, but census tracts often more accurately represent what people think of as their neighborhood.

So, now with the maps. The first is 95814, downtown Sacramento, and the second 95824, south Sacramento. Clicking on the graphic map will bring up the option to download a pdf.

98814 zip code
95824 zip code

As you can see, the entire 95814 zip code has access to a park within a 10-minute walk. The 95824 zip code, however, only about half the area has access. Very different places! Therefore, I would recommend that the 95824 zip code, for example, needs open streets, now, and the 95814 zip code does not.

I welcome your feedback on these maps. What would you like to see? What data should I be considering? Do you see issues of access and space for social distancing in this way, or another way? What areas do you want to know about?