Restaurant space update

There are now several more allocations of sidewalk and roadway space in Sacramento for restaurant outside dining, since my May 28 post (https://gettingaroundsac.blog/2020/05/28/restaurant-space/).

I have created an album on Flickr of my photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157715113286843. I am not claiming that I have an exhaustive archive, there may well be other locations that I have not run across. Let me know if you know of others.

Most of the installations have been done reasonably well. I feel that it is better to place dining space in the parking lane, or even travel lane, rather than the sidewalk, however, if done well, using sidewalk is OK. Yesterday I did run across a completely illegal diversion on R Street. It is not legal to simply put up sidewalk closed signs without providing an ADA accessible pathway.

R Street illegal closure

I reported it, and the city had removed it in less than 24 hours. Already underway though, were plans to close this section of street and allocate it to restaurant dining and pedestrians. Some bollard bases had already been installed, and more were being placed this morning. These bollards will allow the closure (to cars) of R Street between 15th and 14th, R Street between 14th St and 13th, 14th Street between R Street and Rice Alley (to the south). It may be that additional bollards bases will be placed to allow a more refined closure.

I assume that since bollard bases and bollards are being installed, rather than just construction/detour signs, it appears likely that the intent is that temporary closures will continue to be available past the pandemic.

There were contractor crews working this morning to set up tents for outdoor dining, in the section of R Street between 15th and 14th. It isn’t clear to me yet whether other sections of street are going to be closed (to cars) at this time, or if the bollard bases are just in preparation for future use.

R Street at 15th Street, bollards, tents in background

This work is apparently a cooperative project between the city and R Street Partnership, but I do not know the role of each.

restaurant space

Sacramento has implemented changes to the streets along 18th Street and along Capitol Avenue and L Street near the intersection of the three. There may be other locations in Sacramento, but I’m not aware of them.

L St at 18th St restaurant space

The first example, along L Street at 18th Street, is for Aïoli | Bodega Española. The sidewalk has been closed and an alternate sidewalk provided in what was the parking lane on the south side of the street. There are a few widely spaced tables.

18th St at Capitol Ave, restaurant space

The second example, along 18th Street just north of Capitol Avenue, is for Zocalo Restaurant. It could also be used for the adjacent business, but doesn’t seem to be. The sidewalk was retained (more or less, there is a slight narrowing), and the angled parking on the east side of the street was converted into seating area.

The ADA ramps which go around the sidewalk closures look sketchy to me, but I don’t have expertise in that aspect of ADA, so I’ll leave that to others who do.

I think this is a great use of street space to help restaurants meet the challenge of physical spacing while reopening. I prefer the situation where the outdoor seating in in the parking space, rather than the sidewalk being diverted to the parking space, but each situation is unique, and it should work for the business and the walking public.

Of course with any of the ‘temporary’ COVID-19 measures, the question is, should this be a permanent solution? I think this needs to be a negotiation between the city, the business owners, and the public, but I do think in many cases, the answer is yes.

non-essential driving

The last month has brought an awareness to many people about what essential is. I doubt if you asked people in January who the essential workers are, you would have gotten an answer that matched who turned out to be essential. I probably would have missed most of them. It is not the rich, or the techies, or the entertainers, or the politicians. It is the lower paid workers, the people who pick, harvest and prepare food, the people who staff grocery stores and pharmacies, teachers, and of course the medical profession. I am not in any of those categories, and the fact that I am not, and am still working and getting paid, means our society has been valuing the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

With our new understanding of essential, I am wondering how we apply this to driving. What is essential driving? Streetlight VMT Monitor indicates that driving in Sacramento County is down 66% (2020-04-14). What were those trips that were formerly being made? Well, some of them were commuting to work trips, but those would account for no more than 2 one-way trips per day, for some people. Nationally, commute trips are down below 25% of total trips. So that can’t explain a 66% decline, even if no one were going to work, which we know is not true. I suspect people who are doing what could be considered essential trips – to essential jobs, and to the grocery store and medical services – are about the same rate as before, so that doesn’t account for the decline either. The only conclusion I can come to is that a significant portion of those trips not now being made were non-essential.

I know that when I am out walking and bicycling for physical activity, I see a lot of people who are probably just driving for pleasure. Obviously those speeding egregiously, which is at least 20%, are driving for the pleasure of doing what they want on the mostly empty roads, other people be damned. And a lot of the other people do not seem to be heading towards or away from work, or the grocery store. A lot of people are just out driving around. If we eliminated these non-essential trips, I suspect VMT would be down at least 80%.

Even the grocery store is problematic. I see people coming out of grocery stores with a small purchase, an amount that could easily be carried on a bike, or even walking. Of course I don’t know how far these people are going, and what their specific situation is. It true that many, many people have chosen to live in places where the distance to a grocery store is not walkable or bikeable, the sprawling suburbs. Conversely, some people don’t have much choice about where they live, and end up in food deserts, because they can’t afford to live in places with grocery stores. And there are a few people whose only reasonable transportation mode is a car, due to physical disability, but those are very few in number. I am going to say that many trips to the grocery store also fall into the non-essential driving category. (Note: this was going on long before the pandemic, with Trader Joe’s being the poster child for people who drive to the store and leave with small amounts of groceries not requiring a multi-ton motorized vehicle to transport.)

Let me say up front that I have no data to back up what I’m going to say. But it does fit the data about VMT reduction, and what we know about travel modes, and what I observe on the street.

At least half the car trips formerly being made were non-essential. Probably much more.

So what? Well, we know, unless we are ideologically opposed to knowing, that motor vehicle travel is 40% of all carbon emissions in California, and it is the portion of our emissions that we have made no progress in reducing. So, every non-essential car trip is a crime against the climate, a crime against people’s health, a crime against livability of cities.

I am not sure how to best eliminate all these non-essential trips. Pricing fuel, or travel, or parking, is part of the solution. This is often called congestion pricing, but the point is not to reduce congestion but to eliminate unnecessary travel. We need to stop subsidizing non-essential travel, we need to make it hard for people to make this choice. Obviously the controls cannot be primarily economic, as that would hurt the people the most, who have the least choice. But it must be in part economic, because middle and upper income people make choices based on money.

Some suggestions:

  • Convert areas of the city that are and look urban (downtown, primarily, but other areas as well) into superblock areas, a la Barcelona, where many of the streets become car-free or car-light. This is easiest to do where there is a grid street network, harder but not impossible to do other places.
  • Reduce street parking significantly, starting with streets where the right-of-way is needed for other purposes, such as sidewalks, sidewalk buffers, and bicycle facilities. I am not against street parking, as it does serve somewhat to slow traffic, but where the space has a higher use, it should be eliminated and reallocated. At the same time, we should never build another structured parking deck (parking garage). These structures NEVER pay for themselves in parking revenue, and so they are a subsidy from everyone to drivers (whether they are public or private, makes no difference, they are an inefficient use of capital). I would suggest we eliminate 10% of all parking in the central city, within one year, and then evaluate the impact on non-essential travel. If it has not decreased significantly, then eliminate another 10%, and on until non-essential travel becomes rare.
  • Charge the real cost of parking, on street and decks. The city only charges enough, roughly, to cover the cost of the program, meaning enforcement and administration. The land used by parking comes free, as a subsidy to those parking. The cost of repaving the parking lane (which we should not be doing anyway) comes free, another subsidy. The difficulty the city has in converting parking space to other uses, such as bike corrals, parklets, delivery zones, and drop-off/pick-up areas, which are often higher uses than parking, is another give-away to drivers, and residents and businesses who think they own the parking spaces.
  • Shift transportation expenditures away from private vehicle transportation, in favor of necessary freight, transit, walking and bicycling. That means #NoNewRoads and #NoNewLaneMiles. We maintain what we have but we don’t build any more. We stop paving parking lanes to the same standards as streets, and let them deteriorate. And we let low-traffic streets that serve very few people (cul-de-sacs, primarily, though some semi-rural roads, as well) go back to a natural surface, unless the users of that street want to pay the full, unsubsidized, cost of paving.

There are a lot of reforms that must happen at the state and federal level, and I’m not addressing those here. These are ideas that can be implemented locally, at the city and county level.

Sac Grid 2.0 additions

The Sac Grid 2.0 plan is a good one which I mostly support, but I have had, and do, and will have, some suggestions that I think would improved it.

Access to and from the Sacramento Valley Station (Amtrak) is of critical importance for walkers, bicyclists, and transit users. Bicycling and walking are handicapped by the one-way streets, high-volume and high-speed streets, and prohibited pedestrian crossings. It is not clear from the maps presented, and the projects may not have been clearly enough defined, to know whether these issues will be completely or only partially solved by the Sac Grid 2.0 plan and resulting projects. Two key issues are: 1) exactly how I Street will be modified to improve access, and 2) whether access will be provided to the train platforms from the Class IV separated bikeway through the railyards that connects F Street in the east to Jibboom St and the Sacramento River Bike Trail on the west.

There are locations where pedestrian space is already so constrained and pedestrian use is so high that some roadway must be reallocated to sidewalks. Two examples are 16th Street between P and O Streets on the east side, where the restaurant seating leaves far to little pedestrian space, and J Street between 21st and 22nd Streets on the north side, with the same issue. As more and more properties are redeveloped and the pedestrian realm activated along 16th Street and J Street, these issues will become more profound. The city is already proposing some reallocation in both these locations, but I am concerned that the reallocation will be to bicyclists and not to pedestrians. Despite myself being primarily a bicyclist, I believe that pedestrians are more important than bicyclists to making a place livable, walkable, and economically successful. So I hope that in cases where a limited amount of road space must be reallocated to one or the other, pedestrians will receive preference.

The Chicago complete streets mode priority diagram, which I’ve shared before, visually summarizes my feelings about transportation in the grid, and beyond. I’d like to see the city adopt this diagram to express priorities. I know some in the bicyclist advocacy community would like to see bicycle in position one or two, but I think the indicated priorities will lead to the most livable place, and therefore the happiest environment for everyone.

ChicagoCompleteStreets

The city has said that the element maps will be posted to the Sac Grid website soon, and when that happens, I can point out some additional areas of concern.