prudent drivers as traffic calming

Now, on to why I brought up the topic of prudent drivers. A prudent driver on a two lane (one lane in each direction) roadway largely controls the behavior of irresponsible drivers. On wider roads, with two lanes or more in a direction, whether a one-way or two-way, the irresponsible driver can do as they wish, violating laws and endangering others. On the narrower roadway, the irresponsible drivers get irritated, and honk and cuss, but there isn’t much they can do about it. This difference in large part explains why fatality and severe injury crashes are rare on residential streets within neighborhoods, and are common on arterial streets with multiple lanes. It also explains why rural roads have such high crash rates, because the prudent driver there can’t really control other drivers. On two lane streets, prudent drivers set the tone; on multiple lane streets, irresponsible drivers set the tone.

We have proven, over the history of motor vehicle use in the US, that is is not possible to significantly change the behavior of drivers. Education doesn’t do it, enforcement (even when that used to be more common) doesn’t do it. Nearly all of the improvement in roadway deaths has been due to safer cars, not to safer drivers or safer roads, and now that improvement is reversing itself as more and more walkers and bicyclists are killed by irresponsible drivers.

I am not against education, if it is directed at the most dangerous behaviors, which it is not, and I am not against enforcement, if it is done in an unbiased manner, which it is not. Each state has an agency, usually called the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), whose mission is to obscure the real causes of crashes and to blame walkers and bicyclist for their death and injury, and at the federal level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fulfills this function admirably. In this, they are often aided and abetted by the law enforcement agencies. The reason CHP is California is so opposed to automatic speed enforcement is because it would remove the mis-focus and bias that they otherwise rely upon.

Driver behavior must be controlled by roadway design. That is why I strongly believe that all multiple lane roads must be reduced. Two lane one-way streets must be converted to two-ways streets with only one lane in each direction (and any other lanes converted to pedestrian, bicyclist or transit use). Two-way roadways with two or more lanes in the same direction must be reallocated to other uses. Again, excess capacity would be converted to pedestrian, bicyclist, or transit use, or even to development as overly wide streets shrink to fit the real need.

I have no illusions about the huge change in traffic flow. Those drivers who have gotten used to having plenty of space for themselves (their cars) would have to figure out how to use less: fewer trips, shorter trips, slower trips. People would make different decisions about where they live, where they work, where they shop and recreate. As far as I am concerned, this is all to the good.

Our freeways are designed by the ‘best and brightest’ engineers to be as safe as possible, allowing errant vehicles extra space, protecting hard objects with guard rails and impact attenuators (crash barriers), and using ridiculously wide travel lanes, yet still have very high crash rates. Spending more money apparently doesn’t make freeways safer, and the explanation for this is risk compensation, the proven effect that irresponsible drivers will increase their unsafe behavior to maintain the same level of risk. Think about the daily news items about crashes that close freeways for significant periods of time, and how often they happen. None of these need to happen, and I’d argue that an irresponsible drivers is the primary cause of each and every one of them. This post is about local streets, not freeways, but it is worth remembering that irresponsible drivers are everywhere.

I don’t believe that one single death or severe injury for a walker or bicyclist is worth any amount of convenience for motor vehicle drivers. Not one.

So, I ask every transportation agency in the Sacramento region to:

  • cease widening roads, forever
  • analyze all one-way roads with three or more lanes to determine the most dangerous ones, and convert these within two years
  • analyze all two-way streets with more than one lane per direction for the most dangerous ones, and convert these within five years
  • analyze the remaining roads that are not one lane per direction, for the most dangerous ones, and convert these within ten years
  • complete conversion of all roads within twenty years
  • stop victim blaming

one-lane one-way SLO

As you may have read here before, I am opposed to one-way streets, and feel that all or nearly all should be converted back into two-way streets. One way streets exist to speed the flow of car traffic. They do not exist to promote walkability or safety, and in fact are a significant detriment. Multiple-lane one-way streets encourage the multi-lane threat, where a driver in one lane stops, the pedestrian proceeds, and is hit by a driver in the other lane(s) who does not stop. I think one-way streets in Sacramento should be converted. Ironically, so does the city, but it has been reluctant to do so for fear of blowback from the cars-first commuters that use the one-way streets as traffic sewers to and from the freeways.

When there is discussion of one-way streets on the Internet, someone always puts up an example of a one-lane one-way street, either accidentally or purposively not understanding that it is multiple-lane one-way streets that are being talked about. But there are examples of one-way streets that work, if they are one-lane.

I was in San Luis Obispo (SLO) this last weekend for contra dancing, and had a chance to look again at many of the traffic calming features of that town. SLO has several one-lane one-way streets. Below is Pismo Street, which has a general purpose lane, a bike lane, and parking lanes on each side. The width is probably 28 feet, though I did not have a tape measure with me. I watched this street, a residential street, off and on over a period of three days. I did not ever seen anyone speeding on this street. When crossing the street walking, I had to only look in one direction, not two, and not multiple lanes. Judging from the pavement paint, and my memory of the last 10 years or so, I think this configuration has been in place for some while.

Pismo St, San Luis Obispo; one-lane one-way

This street configuration does not exist in the Sacramento region, so far as I know. The street width of 28 feet is also somewhat unusual. Most streets range upward from 32 feet.

SLO has also recently implemented a traffic calming one-lane one-way on Garden Street. This is a much fancier installation, involving decorative pavement, curb extensions, wider sidewalks, and other features. The drainage channel with different pavement does clearly separate travel from parking, and the handicapped spot is extra wide for loading and unloading from either side. I did not observe this street over a long period of time, but I did not see any speeding. Though the street does not have a posted speed limit, other than the general 25 mph, most vehicles were going well below that. I also saw people comfortably crossing the street mid-block, and drivers yielding to them. This is clearly a street that says ‘slow down’ and ‘stop to enjoy the restaurants and other businesses’, as it should, given the location in the walkable, destination-rich downtown area.

Garden St, San Luis Obispo; one-lane one-way

San Luis Obispo is not a walking paradise. There are multiple-lane one-way streets in the same area, where speeding does occur (note the one-way Marsh Street in the photo above, where speeding certainly does occur on a two-lane one-way street). Once out of the central city and old neighborhoods, it looks just like any place else in California, with wide residential streets and super-wide arterial roads. But it is a good model for the traffic calming that it has done well.

N Street bike route to cycle track

Unknown, or unnoticed, by many people, there is a bike route along N Street on the sidewalks. The route is well-signed from 8th St, where it crosses over from the south side to the north side of N Street, to 12th Street. The route extends east along Capitol Park to 15th Street, and I believe it also extends west to 3rd Street, though it is not well signed at these ends. On the City of Sacramento bikeways map, the route is shown on both sides of N Street, as “Existing Off-street (wide sidewalk).”

The bike route allows bi-directional travel along N Street, which would otherwise not be possible. The city has recognized that N Street is a significant barrier to east-west bicycling.

Continue reading “N Street bike route to cycle track”

One-way streets, again

I’m glad to see the idea of converting one-way streets to two-way streets to improve livability and safety is back in the news: More than one way (Sacramento News & Review 2014-11-27).

The reasons given, by Chris Morfas, William Burg, Jim Brown, Dave Saalsaa, and Emily Baime Michaels are all good, strong reasons for conversion.

The comments by Sparky Harris are a little disingenuous. The city already has a plan to convert one-way to two-way, documented in the 2006 Central City Two-Way Conversion Study Final Environmental Impact Statement (no long available on the city’s website, but I have a copy of this large document if you want it). It is interesting that it is not longer on the website. Eight years ago the changes in driving and living habit were starting to become obvious, and even at that time, it was clear that there were considerable benefits from conversion. Except for a very few streets that were converted when they were resurfaced, nothing has been done. Now another study? I’d rather see more action and less study. Yes, some conversions will not have benefits that are as strong, and some will be controversial, but converting many of the streets is “low-hanging” fruit, something that should already be underway and not awaiting more study.

I’ve written about this idea in several posts:

Sacramento and the 12 strategies

Several Sacramento area people have referenced the article “12 Strategies That Will Transform Your City’s Downtown” on the UrbanScale blog by John Karras. I’d like to look a little more closely at some of the strategies. If you have information or thoughts about any of these, please contribute.

#1 Turn one-way streets into two-way streets. Sacramento, and specifically downtown/midtown, has most of the one-way streets in the region. The city does have a policy to convert some of these streets, but the effort stalled, and no one seems to know why or be willing to admit why. Several streets have been resurfaced recently without being converted, though this would be the perfect time to do it. These include H, I, 9th, and 10th. There are some costs to conversion, turning signals around or installing new signals in some cases, the the reward in walkability and retail success is worth it. The post says “One-way streets are great if your only goal is to channel traffic through your downtown, but they are bad for pedestrian activity and retail opportunities.  Two-way streets create a more comfortable pedestrian environment and have been shown to increase property values.” J Street in Sacramento is a classic example of how one-way streets reduce retail business. All those thousands of cars streaming by the most dense retail street in the region, and only small bubbles of successful retail to show for it. I’m glad Karras has this one on the top, because it is one of my strongest desires, with many blog posts: Two-waying streets in SFNew bike lanes, diets and sharrows downtownstreet changesmore on conversion to two-way streets, and Choosing streets to walk.

Continue reading “Sacramento and the 12 strategies”

5th Street mess at Sac Valley Station

With this post, I’ve added a new category to my blog: re-gridding Sacramento. I’ll have more to say about that category, and many more posts, in the near future.

Sac Valley Station exit, forced right
Sac Valley Station exit, forced right

5th St to I St, forced right turn
5th St to I St, forced right turn


Let’s say one was driving and wanted to leave the Sacramento Valley Station (Amtrak and Capitol Corridor) to head southbound or eastbound. Tough luck. The exit at the east end of the parking lot forces you to turn right, to the south, onto 5th Street. I often see people turning across the double yellow line to go northbound on 5th Street, and to be honest, I don’t blame them, because this is the logical though illegal way to go south or east.

Continue reading “5th Street mess at Sac Valley Station”

Choosing streets to walk

business on a two-way, two-lane street (Capitol at 18th)
business on a two-way, two-lane street (Capitol at 18th)

I walk a lot in midtown, going to and from various destinations such as the train station, nonprofits and agencies I work with, grocery stores, theatres, farmers markets, breweries, etc. I was thinking last night as I walked to and from Capital Stage about what streets I choose to walk on.

Almost all the time I choose to walk on two-way, two-lane streets. I rarely choose to walk on the multi-lane streets and the one-way streets, except for short distances as I zigzag to my destination. The two-way, two-lane streets are usually quieter, less traffic and traffic moving more slowly. I can relax more with the quiet, and I can look around more, paying more attention to everything around me and not just traffic.

Why is this significant?

Continue reading “Choosing streets to walk”

more on conversion to two-way streets

A friend suggested that my streets change ideas were hardly new, and that is quite true. Some streets were converted in the past, some were identified for conversion but not completed, and many more have been suggested but not adopted by the city. Here are some additional references.

Some news articles about past and planned conversions in Sacramento:

References on past and planned conversions in Sacramento:

Articles and references on the one-way to two-conversion concept:

Note: There are a number of contrarian views available from the cars-first crowd. You can search for the Internet for “two-way conversion” if you want to find them.

street changes

The maps I posted the last two days were preliminary to this post. I would like to see two significant changes to the streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento that will make these areas more livable, more walkable, more bikeable, and safer. I am proposing the complete elimination of traffic sewers from downtown/midtown Sacramento. What is a traffic sewer? It is a street designed to move large volumes of vehicles at high speed in and out of work areas during morning and afternoon commute times. In Sacramento, the main work area is the state buildings downtown, though there are certainly other employers and other areas, including midtown.

3 to 2 conversion, 10th Street northbound
3 to 2 conversion, 10th Street northbound

1. Convert all three-lane streets into two-lane streets. The map showing these streets in the downtown/midtown area is linked from my Sac 3-lane Streets post.

These three-lane streets are, of course, also one-way streets. In many cases the lane removed would be used to provide bike lanes or protected bikeways, but in some cases the space might be best used to create wider sidewalks or diagonal parking where additional parking is needed. Though in some cities the three-lane to two-lane conversion is used to create a turning lane, I don’t believe that these are necessary in downtown/midtown, nor do I feel that this is a good investment of right-of-way.

This conversion would remove some traffic capacity, though unfortunately, not as much as one might wish. Studies show only a slight reduction in capacity from this treatment, which is sometimes referred to as a road diet, though I like the term rightsizing. Continue reading “street changes”

1-way streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento

1-way streets in downtown/midtown
1-way streets in downtown/midtown

At right is the second map of downtown/midtown Sacramento, showing the 1-way streets. This map was created using Google maps and memory, and has not yet been field checked.

These streets total about 32.6 miles.

The map graphic links to the map data in Google Maps, from which you can zoom in on areas and turn on or off satellite view. The reason that this is not a map view graphic is that the online browser version of Google Maps starts paging after about 18 entries, so it is not possible to view all of the segments at the same time. This image is instead from Google Earth, via KML export and import.

The map provides background for an upcoming post about transforming transportation and livability in downtown/midtown.