a safe and effective transportation system

Many organizations and individuals are deciding to oppose the transportation sales tax measure being proposed for the November 2022 ballot in Sacramento County. The reasons for opposition are many, but previous posts here (Measure 2022) cover significant ones. If the measure does not qualify for the ballot, or does qualify and fails, what then are we to do for transportation? Below are some ideas for a safe and effective transportation system. They are not yet well organized or prioritized.

I acknowledge the contribution of Walkable City Rules by Jeff Speck to this list. If you haven’t read it, please do. I don’t agree with everything he says, but it is the best prescription for correcting our transportation system and healing our cities that I know of. See also Measure 2022: the path not taken.

The realities of climate change and social justice demand a radical redesign of our existing transportation system and radical shift in transportation policies and investments. More of the same, with slight improvements, as the sales tax measure suggests, will not serve our needs now or in the future. See also our racist and classist transportation system.

General

  • all projects must contribute to or be neutral in reaching regional (SACOG) and state goals for reducing VMT and GHG (vehicle miles traveled, greenhouse gas emissions)
  • travel modes will be prioritized as: 1) active transportation (walking and bicycling), 2) transit, and 3) motor vehicles

Equity

  • sales taxes are regressive, and will not be the default mechanism for funding transportation projects
  • travel needs of people who don’t or can’t drive (children, elderly, disabled, choice) will receive at least the same concern and investment as those who do drive
  • at least 60% of transportation investments must serve formerly underinvested communities
  • transportation projects will be selected and designed to meet community needs previously expressed through community engagement; projects will not be selected by transportation agencies or employees
  • anti-displacement measures will be included in all transportation projects
  • no investments will be made in transitioning motor vehicles from fossil fuels to electric or hydrogen, except where formerly underinvested communities need supporting infrastructure; transitioning vehicles away from fossil fuels merely maintains motor vehicle dominance of our transportation system
  • all projects over $10M will require a health impact analysis
  • agencies will educate the public about H+T (housing and transportation) costs as a measure of housing affordability

Policies

  • roadways will be maintained in a state of good repair to serve all travel modes
  • transportation planning will be integrated with land use planning
  • only agencies that acknowledge and plan around induced travel demand will receive transportation funding
  • all transportation agencies must implement a robust complete streets policy which includes frequent, safe crossings of roadways and speed reductions
  • congestion pricing will be considered as a solution in all dense urban areas, to reduce motor vehicle travel and to fund transportation projects; pricing will be based at least in part on vehicle weight, value or emissions
  • cities and counties will not accept responsibility for maintaining local roadways in new developments; therefore, new development must establish reserve accounts to cover ongoing maintenance

Vision Zero

  • all transportation agencies must establish and implement Vision Zero policies in which redesign of roadways is a preferred action
  • at least 25% of transportation funds must be spent on Vision Zero projects
  • all roadway fatalities will be analyzed using a safe systems approach, with required change to the roadway design or use to prevent future fatalities

Roadway Design

  • implement 10-foot or less travel lanes whenever a roadway is repaved; remove striping from local streets
  • all new developments will require a grid street system of one-eighth mile so that the need for arterials and collectors is reduced
  • consider all right-turn-only and left-turn-only lanes for elimination
  • eliminate slip lanes everywhere
  • require signal cycles to be 90 seconds or less
  • eliminate level-of-service (LOS) in transportation planning
  • conversions of one-way streets to two-way streets will be funded; one-way one-lane streets will be considered an acceptable design for local streets and central cities
  • overly wide roadways will be reduced, with unneeded right-of-way returned to adjacent property owners or sold for infill housing
  • rougher pavements such as brick will be considered whenever slower traffic speeds are desired (but crosswalks will be smoother than the pavement)

Traffic Enforcement

  • wherever possible, automated enforcement will be used to enforce vehicle code that protects vulnerable users, rather than direct enforcement by law enforcement officers
  • violations which to do not threaten the safety of other roadway users will be de-prioritized or removed, with reduced fees if maintained
  • temporary or permanent vehicle confiscation will be used for egregious violators of vehicle codes
  • cities and county shall have the authority to do city-wide and county-wide reductions of posted speed limits, with or without corresponding changes to roadway design; redesign is of course preferred

Parking

  • all on-street motor vehicle parking in urban areas will be charged, either through curb metering or though flat fees
  • parking fees will be used to:
    • cover the cost of providing on-street parking construction and maintenance, and parking enforcement
    • improve transportation and economic vitality within the neighborhood that generates them, and therefore will not go into the general fund
  • parking minimums will be eliminated
  • de-couple parking from rent so that car-free renters are not subsidizing renters with cars
  • parking will be managed to maintain a level of availability on every block (similar to the Shoup 85% rule)
  • removal of on-street parking for higher uses such as active transportation, dining, and community spaces will be supported; however, removal of a travel lane rather than removal of parking is preferred
  • remove parking upstream of intersection corners to ensure visibility (daylighting); not needed when curb extensions provide the visibility
  • parking lanes/areas will be maintained to a reduced and less expensive level than roadways

Freeways

  • freeway removal, reduction, or decking will be considered for all freeways
  • new interchanges must be 100% paid for by private development
  • in urban areas, reconnect street networks over or under freeways at no less than one-half mile intervals, and provide pedestrian and bicyclist connections at no less than one-quarter mile intervals
  • managed lanes must be converted from general purpose lanes, not created through capacity expansion

Transit

  • transit performance measures will be developed, with a tentative goal that 80% of the population is served by 15 minute or better frequency bus or rail service, within one-half mile, for at least 15 hours per day on weekdays and 12 hours per day on weekends
  • transit will not be used as a mitigation for roadway expansion or induced motor vehicle travel; transit is a desirable mode in and of itself
  • transit will be funded to at least the equivalent of one-half cent of sales tax
  • dedicated bus lanes or bus rapid transit (BRT) design will be implemented on all high ridership bus routes
  • transit agencies will have flexibility to allocate funds between capital, maintenance, and operations, based on established criteria
  • metered freeway on-ramps serving four or more regular (non-commute) buses per hour will have bus bypass lanes

Sidewalks and Crosswalks

  • sidewalks will be considered an integral part of the transportation network, and therefore maintained by transportation agencies rather than property owners, except where trees or work on private property impacts the sidewalk; buffer strips in which trees are planted will be considered public responsibility
  • sidewalk infill will be considered a primary use of transportation funds, with at least 60% going to formerly underinvested neighborhoods
  • sidewalks with driveway ramps that slope the sidewalk crosswise will be replaced with continuous flat sidewalks, or the driveway eliminated
  • all traffic signals that have a pedestrian signal head will be programmed with a leading pedestrian interval (LPI) of at least 3 seconds
  • required pedestrian-activation will be eliminated (buttons to trigger audible information are acceptable); pedestrian auto-detection will be considered
  • raised crosswalks or raised intersections will be the default design for all reconstructed intersections
  • all crosswalks will be marked, with the possible exception of purely residential areas
  • pedestrian crossing prohibitions will be analyzed and eliminated where not strictly necessary for safety
  • curb extensions, the width of parking lanes and designed to not interfere with bicycling, will be installed whenever intersections are modified or reconstructed

Bicycle Facilities

  • bike facilities on any roadway with a posted speed limit over 30mph must be separated (protected) bikeways
  • bike facilities on any roadway with a posted speed limit over 40 mph must be separated from the roadway
  • roadway design will be used to make bicycle facilities unnecessary on low speed streets
  • design and implement low-stress bicycle networks
  • prioritize filling gaps in the bicycle network
  • re-stripe or re-design roadways so that bike lanes or separated bikeways are not dropped at intersections
  • bike share, and possibly scooter share, will be supported with transportation funds
  • secure, on-demand bicycle parking will be provided at common destinations; bicycle racks will be provided at common destinations and on every block in urbanized areas

Schools

  • school districts will have the authority to close roadways fronting the main entrance to a school, during arrival and dismissal times, in order to increase student safety and protection from air pollutants
  • Safe Routes to School programs or similar will be supported by transportation funds at the local level
  • school districts will be prohibited from building new schools at locations which are not easily accessible via active transportation or transit
  • school districts will prioritize neighborhood schools over magnet schools, in order to reduce travel
  • school districts will develop policies that allow neighborhood schools to remain open under declining enrollment
  • school districts will be responsible for the same transportation demand management requirements placed on any other entity

Thank you if you read all the way through. I realize some of these are radical ideas, but radical ideas make space for more reasonable ideas provided by others. That is part of the purpose of this blog.

Strong Towns and speed limits

I am a strong supporter of Strong Towns, and think their analyses of financial and transportation issues is almost always spot on. However, I think there is a blind spot when it comes to speed limits. In a recent broadcast, Chuck Marohn addresses a question from a member about whether it is better to change speed limits street by street, or all at once. In response, Chuck launches into his view that only design changes can control speed. This is the first question in the broadcast, so you can listen from the beginning.

Here is my response:

I have to push back against Chuck’s take on speed limits. Nothing he says is incorrect, but there is an underlying ideology that rejects changing speed limits without changing design, as any part of a solution.

  1. This is not about enforcement. I agree that much of traffic enforcement is pretextual, and intended to oppress people of color and low income. I’m not asking for any more enforcement, and am in complete agreement with the current movement towards removing most traffic enforcement from the responsibilities of armed law enforcement agents. And moving speed and red light running enforcement to automated systems. In high risk, high fatality/injury settings, we could even invest in automated enforcement of failure to yield to people in crosswalks, which is a driver behavior that not only kills people walking but intimidates them out of walking.
  2. Chuck correctly states that drivers respond to roadway design, and consider what feels safe in setting their own speed. However, he misses the fact that drivers also respond to the speed limit. Drivers are very aware of posted speed limits. I constantly hear drivers say things like “I always go 5 mph (or 10 mph, or…) over the speed limit”. If the speed limit is 25, they will go 30, or 35, not just based on roadway design, but on the posted speed limit. If we lower it to 20, they will go 25 or 30. That is a huge difference (see the fatality at various speeds charts), and should not be discounted.
  3. The problem with 85% is not just that it allows drivers to set their own speed limits, but speed creep. If 85% indicates a ‘safe’ speed of 35, and it is posted, then drivers will start going 40, and the next survey will show 40 is the ‘safe’ speed, and so on, ad infinitum. Regardless of the impact on drivers, every increase in actual speeds makes the street less safe for people outside vehicles. Which is why high speeds should be reserved for limited access, designed for higher speeds, roadways. Streets should always be posted for the desired safe speed, no matter the roadway design.
  4. I live in a city where, at the current rate of roadway redesign, it will take about 80 years to create a safe system, and in a county where it will take at least 120 years. I am not willing to accept the death and severe injury that will happen in the meanwhile. We must do anything and everything we can to reduce that trauma, and that includes lowering posted speed limits.
  5. There is evidence from around the world that when speed limits in a city are lowered wholesale, both the rate and severity of crashes also decreases. By as much as we want? No, but to reject this change out of hand for ideological reasons is, in my mind, a huge mistake.
  6. There will always be egregious violators, drivers who drive as fast as they can no matter what. I think these drivers are actually responsible for most crashes. If these drivers can be caught and punished (removal of driving privilege and confiscation of vehicle) by any sort of enforcement, that is great. Redesigning a roadway does not eliminate these drivers or reduce their speed, it just makes it more likely that they will kill themselves along with the other people they are killing. That is small consolation.

I am absolutely in favor of roadways designed to self-enforce lower speeds. I have supported and helped design projects to do exactly that. And at no time have I ever felt that was enough. I think we need to use every action at our disposal (except biased traffic enforcement) to lower speeds. Now, not at some time in the future.

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