3rd St & J St construction: bad to worse

The intersection of 3rd Street and J Street is undergoing construction right now, most of it related to sewer line installation on 3rd Street, but perhaps related to other projects as well. Here is the Google image, not showing the current construction. I thought I had written about this intersection and its pedestrian hostility before, but I can’t find it searching, so it must have been one of those thoughts I never followed through on.

This has always been a problematic intersection. Two freeway off-ramps, coming from I-5 southbound and I-5 northbound, bring high speed drivers onto J Street without causing them to slow much from freeway speeds unless the lights happen to be red. 3rd Street is much calmers but has its own issues.

For a person walking north or south on the east side of 3rd Street, there are five crosswalks to navigate just to cross J Street. You can see in the photo that they are not well maintained, quite faded, low visibility crosswalks that many drivers would not even notice. Each crossing requires pushing a button, and since freeway off-ramp traffic is prioritized, each signal cycle is quite long. (For those counting, the reason I call this five crossings is that the crossing of 3rd Street on the south side had a short pedestrian cycle which was less than required by MUTCD and certainly less than should be available to walkers, so for most people, it had to be crossed in two stages, making for an even longer time to clear the intersection. Of course with no ped button on the median, one the second crossing just has to be done in a gap in traffic, against the signal.)

At this time, the intersection cannot be navigated at all. The northwest corner is under construction. Not sure why, as the ramps and curbs there were fairly new, but it is, which of course closes both the crossing of 3rd St and the crossing of the southbound off-ramp to J St. No signing and no barrier is in place on the northeast corner to indicate the closure. Notice that the pedestrian detour signs are still up on this route, even though it is not accessible. Notice also the very poorly designed curb ramp, with a detectable strip that sends walkers/rollers out into J St with its high speed traffic.

3rd St & J St, construction northwest corner, no warning

If on the other hand, you started into this mess on the south side of the intersection, there is no advance warning on the southeast corner that the crosswalk and sidewalk are closed ahead. But if somehow you approached the southwest corner, there is a sign placed in the ramp to prevent you from getting to or from the southwest corner. If there were a sign on this side, you would think there would be a sign and barrier on the southeast corner letting you know. You’d be be wrong.

3rd St & J St, southwest corner, sidewalk closed but no warning

What makes all of this particularly egregious is that pedestrian crossing on the east leg of the intersection is prohibited. See the prohibition signing and barricade on northeast and southeast corners, below.

3rd St & J St, northeast corner, crossing prohibition on east leg
3rd St & J St, southeast corner, crossing prohibition on east leg

So, solutions:

First, sign and barricades sidewalks and crosswalks properly. It is well known how to do this, and failure indicates intentional neglect on the part of the construction company, and of the city staff that permits these construction projects.

Second, install a crosswalk over J Street on the east side of the intersection, so that walkers can cross in one quick crossing rather than five slow crossings. Crossing prohibitions are more than 90% of the time an effort by traffic engineers to speed motor vehicle traffic. They rarely have anything to do with safety, and in this case, the prohibition is not there for safety.

This construction project is yet one more of the issue in Sacramento where the city requirements and construction company implementation do not meet ADA requirements, nor MUTCD requirements. These practices create a hostile environment for walkers and bicyclists, and this is no ‘accident’. It is intentional, and it is probably criminal.

Added: I missed a great argument for installing a crosswalk over J Street on the east side. There is no reason for there even to be crosswalks to the west side of 3rd Street, as there are no sidewalks on the west side, to the north or to the south. So if one new crosswalk is installed on the east side, four can be removed, including the ped signals. That should make the traffic engineers salivate!

and crossing prohibitions

To complete the story about crosswalks, the locations where crossing is prohibited must also largely be removed. These locations are marked with the ‘no crossing’ sign at right (MUTCD R9-3a). Some of these locations probably never had crosswalks, some had them but were removed when the street was ‘upgraded’. A few of these locations cannot be made safe without complete reconstruction of the street. Freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, of which Sacramento has too many because it has too many freeways and too many freeways designed around commuting instead of interstate commerce, are particularly problematic. However, most locations indicate a clear intent by traffic engineers to prioritize the movement and speed of motor vehicles over all other considerations, including safety. This bias must be ended.

Here are the solutions:

  1. The city should be required to perform a complete traffic study on each and every location with a prohibited crossing. The traffic studies should be completed within two years.
  2. If the traffic study indicates that the prohibition is necessary for safety, then the prohibition can remain, but a new traffic study must be completed every five years. If the traffic study indicates that the prohibition was not made for safety reasons and is not needed for safety reasons, the prohibition must be removed and a marked crosswalk installed.
  3. City staff will analyze each prohibited location that remains to determine what redesign would make the prohibition unnecessary, and bring to the city council a proposal to expend funds to fix the location.
  4. At all prohibited locations, the city would be required to post informational signing with distances to the nearest safe crossing, in both directions.

Though I am picking on the City of Sacramento here, these prohibited crossings are found in every city in the region, and in abundance in unincorporated areas. All should receive the same treatment.