J St bus stops & bikeway

I recently attended a meeting of SacTRU (Sacramento Transit Riders Union) and heard complaints about the bus stops along J Street between 19th Street and 29th Street, in the section where a separated bikeway (cycletrack, protected bike lane) was installed. I have heard these concerns before, so let me talk about them. Two SacRT routes run along this section of J Street, Bus 30 and Bus 38.

The concerns are two:

  1. The bus stops are too widely spaced.
  2. The bus stops are very difficult for disabled people (and bus operators) to use because the bus no longer stops at the curb, but rather in the street.

Actually, there are TOO MANY bus stops in this section of 10-1/2 blocks, from 19th Street to nearly 29th Street where the separated bikeway ends. Five bus stops, two of them only one block apart. In a central city setting like midtown, bus stops should be no closer than three blocks apart (about 1/4 mile), and preferably more, like four to six blocks. Why? Because every stop slows the bus significantly, not only the deceleration to the stop and acceleration from the stop, but dwell time. Buses in some areas like this actually spend more time stopped than moving, and as a result, the speed of the route is often below 10 mph. The following five photos show the five bus stops. It is significant that there are too many stops, because solutions to issue 2 are not inexpensive.

J St near 19th St
J St near 22nd St
J St near 25th St
J St near 27th St
J St near 28th St

The second issue is real. Bus operators can have a hard time deploying ramps to the street, particularly when the street is strongly crowned as parts or J Street are. A disabled passenger needing the bus ramp, which might be a wheelchair user or someone with a disability making stepping up to and down from the bus difficult, have to wait in the bikeway to board, not appreciated by the rider or by bicyclists. After debarking, the person must travel along the bikeway to the nearest driveway or corner curb ramp, again, not appreciated by the rider or bicyclists.

So, what is the solution? Bus boarding islands, which have been implemented in many cities. The first photo below is from Seattle. Riders have an large area to wait for the bus, the bus ramp is easy to deploy, and there is a safe crossing to the sidewalk at the end of the island. A slight disadvantage for the rider is that they must ramp down off the island and then back up to the sidewalk.

Seattle bus boarding island (from NACTO)

The diagram shows an alternative configuration, where the bikeway humps up over the crosswalk, but the route from platform to sidewalk for bus riders is level. This is probably safer for both riders and bicyclists.

diagram of bus boarding island with level crosswalk (from Vision Zero Network)

There are two significant challenges for these bus boarding islands. First is that installing them may require addressing drainage, which can greatly increase the cost of the installation. If three of the five bus stop photos, you can see drainage inlets, so this would be an issue on J Street.

The second is that by placing the bus boarding island where the bus stop now is, buses then stop in the travel lane rather than pulling out into the bus stop. The positive of this is that they don’t then have to negotiate their way back into traffic, which can be challenging and lead to significant delays to the bus schedule. The negative is that private vehicle drivers will complain about the slight delay to their drive from having to wait behind the bus. The convenience and safety for the many people on the bus outweighs the slight inconvenience for private vehicle drivers, but there will be complaints. Timed points on the route, where the bus would stop to wait if it is ahead of schedule, should not be in the travel lane, but that is not true for any of these stops.

To solve the boarding issue on J Street would take a cooperative project with SacRT and the city, and funding from both sides. The number of bus stops should be reduced, probably to three, so that fewer bus boarding islands are needed. This should be carefully planned so that they don’t need to be changed. It is possible to install temporary bus islands, as Oakland and other cities have done in a few places, so if the stop doesn’t turn out to be the best location, it can be moved without great expense.

J St bikeway posts

This is a followup to J St bikeway. If you are a Twitter person, you may have noticed discussions the last few days, started by Jennifer Donlon Wyant of the city, about new delineator posts being installed on the J Street separated bikeway. See also the ‘Battle of the Bollards’ page. Though as Jennifer points out, these are not bollards.

Below are photos of the three types of vertical delineators. I’m calling them, respectively, fat delineators (first two photos), rubbery delineators (second two photos), and turtle delineators (fifth photo). The bumps are often called turtles (except in Texas where they are called armadillos). As you can see, despite the fresh installation, at least one of the rubbery posts has already been hit several times and is marked with tire rubber. However, it does not seem to be damaged in the way a regular plastic post would be. The delineator is much more flexible, and perhaps more able to take being hit by reckless drivers.

J St bikeway fat vertical delineators
upJ St bikeway fat vertical delineator close-up
J St bikeway skinny rubbery delineators
J St bikeway skinny rubbery delineator showing damage
J St bikeway turtles & delineators

The fat delineators are much more visible than the rubbery delineators, and probably about as visible at the turtle delineators.

Time will tell which of these works best. Of course none of these provide complete protection from errant drivers, but the theory is that parked cars provide much of the protection. Probably true during the times of day when the parking is in heavy use, but not at other times of day. In the previous post, I recommended that the block sections without driveways, about half the blocks in this stretch of J Street, be protected with concrete curbing. Jennifer points out that this is an attempt to solve or mitigate the problem with relatively minor expenditures, whereas concrete is more expensive. The bikeway itself was an attempt to improve bicyclist safety and comfort with relatively minor expenditures, as part of a repaving project.

Next post I’ll have some information about the bus stops along J Street.

RRFB on J St at 17th St

Last week I walked over to the new Target store at J Street & 17th Street in midtown Sacramento. On my way there, I was thinking to myself that with the additional people walking to the store, the crosswalk over J Street was going to need some sort of additional protection, since I knew from experience that most car drivers don’t yield to people walking at that location.

Lo and behold, a RRFB (rectangular rapid flashing beacon) was installed!

RRFB on J St at 17th St
RRFB on J St at 17th St

The person walking presses a button which triggers flashing lights mounted on the pedestrian crossing signs. A curb extension on the north side of the crosswalk was installed when the sidewalks around the Target store were installed, so the crossing distance has been shortened somewhat, which also helps.

There are signs with the buttons, below. These are not MUTCD compliant signs, which is ironic, because the city had refused at the beginning of the pandemic to install pedestrian crossing signs that indicated the actual effect of the button, whether it was necessary to press it, because there is no MUTCD sign that does that. Maybe the city is reconsidering it’s signing – unlikely.

RRFB button

A word of warning to anyone who thinks signs and flashing light make it safe to cross. What they do is make is safer than it would be without, but not safe. J Street is a three-lane traffic sewer, on which drivers seldom yield to people walking, whether there is a marked crosswalk or not. Anytime a roadway has multiple lanes in a direction, the multi-lane threat exists, that one driver will stop and others will not. I see this routinely on all the streets in Sacramento that are multi-lane. So, cross with caution no matter what. What I do is step into the street to remind drivers that I have the right-of-way, but walk very slowly until the drivers in all lanes have come to a complete stop. Of course that frustrates the driver who originally stopped, that I am crossing so slowly, but my job is to keep myself safe, not to please drivers.

Hmm. 16th St traffic calming

A new traffic calming feature has showed up on 16th Street approaching R Street in midtown Sacramento. Paint and flex posts have been placed between the travel lanes. Advance yield lines (‘sharks teeth’) were also painted, showing where drivers should stop when yielding to pedestrians.

16th St lane channelization

I’m not sure what to think of this. Certainly this is a problematic intersection. Cars stopped for the light rail gates between R Street and Q Street often stop throughout the intersection, blocking both the north and south crosswalks over 16th Street, as well as the intersection itself, preventing vehicles along R Street from proceeding while the traffic is stopped. As with all multilane streets, but particularly high speed, one-way arterials, drivers in one lane may stop for a walker while the others will not. I see this every day, and this intersection is worse than most. For reasons I don’t understand, traffic speeds on 16th Street northbound are noticeably higher than 15th Street southbound, even though the design of both streets in the same.

So, how’s it working. Well, I’ve so far only had the chance to observe it for 15 minutes. I’m not sure it is making much difference. About 10% of drivers stopped at or close to the advance yield lines. About 70% of drivers stopped at the forward edge of the flex posts, about 10% stopped over the crosswalk, and about 10% did not stop for people using the crosswalk. I saw three people nearly hit by drivers. This is not unusual, and it not worse than before, but it is not good.

Below is an example. The driver to the left stopped over the top of the crosswalk, even though it was clear that traffic ahead was stopped for the light rail gate, and there was no space to proceed into. The driver to the right stopped before the crosswalk, but not at the advance yield line. Not visible it the driver in the closest lane who did not stop at all because there was a space in that lane across the intersection.

walker using the crosswalk over 16th St at R St

While I appreciate the effort, I’m not sure if the results will be what is desired, which is the ability of walkers to safely cross the street.

In the long run, the reallocation of roadway on 16th Street to reduce the general purpose lanes from three to two will help this location a great deal, but I don’t know when that will happen. It could be years away.

With the new businesses on R Street to the east, and the street dining area on R Street to the west of 15th Street, this intersection has become quite busy with walkers, bicyclists, scooters, and motor vehicles. It does deserve attention.

traffic calming in the central city

There are four types of traffic calming that have been used in Sacramento central city: median islands, traffic circles, traffic diverters, and speed humps. It was recently said by city staff that only speed humps are a current solution for traffic calming, but I’d really like the city to bring back diverters.

Median islands: These islands, placed at the approaches to intersections, provide some traffic calming effect, offer walkers a refuge in the middle of a crossing (though it does not meet current ADA standards for refuge). Below is a typical setting, this one at D Street & 23rd Street. Though the median does slow some drivers, other drivers use these as slalom courses. On streets with bike lanes, the bike lanes are generally dropped before the intersection in order to accommodate the median, but his is poor practice, leaving bicyclists either feeling vulnerable or actually vulnerable at just the wrong location.

median island, D St & 23rd St, Sacramento

Traffic circles: Traffic circles deflect drivers to the side, a somewhat more effective solution, but have the same problem for bicyclists as the median islands, with bike lanes dropped at the critical point. These traffic circles are NOT roundabouts. A correctly designed roundabout allow the bicyclist to choose between continuing in the general purpose travel lane, or using a sidewalk or sidewalk adjacent bypass. Roundabouts also have a continuous flow, only requiring a driver or bicyclists to yield to someone already in the roundabout, but traffic circles have stop signs on one of the cross streets. Roundabouts also have enough deflection that a driver must slow down to navigate, whereas most traffic circles have only a slight deflection and therefore limited slowing value.

The central city does not have any roundabouts, and they are rare in the region. They can be a reasonable solution at the intersection of two arterial roadways, again, IF correctly designed. The footprint of a real roundabout is bigger than an urban intersection. Below is a typical setting, this one at 13th Street & F Street.

traffic circle, 13th St & F St, Sacramento

Speed humps: Speed humps slow drivers crossing over them. Many people still call these speed bumps, but the sharp bumps are now illegal on streets and are only found in private parking lots. These can also be speed tables, longer than the humps, perhaps higher, and sometimes hosting a crosswalk on top. There are two problems with humps: 1) drivers with good suspensions can sail over these without slowing, and ironically the drivers of high value motor vehicles are the ones most likely to have good suspensions and to not slow for any reason; and 2) drivers accelerate back to speed immediately after the hump, so it only has a traffic calming effect at that particular point. Often speed humps have cut-throughs for emergency vehicles, so they don’t have to slow, but wide stance pickup trucks can use the same cut-throughs, and the cut-throughs are often placed so as to inconvenience bicyclists.

Stop signs: Stop signs calm traffic somewhat by requiring drivers to slow at intersections. Anyone who thinks that drivers actually stop at stop signs, in the absence of conflicting and risky traffic, has not actually stood at an intersection and observed driver behavior. Almost no one stops at stop signs unless they have to. This includes law enforcement officers. Stop signs are the most commonly requested traffic calming solutions by people who live on or near the street. But they are simply not very effective. Drivers accelerate away from the stop signs and are soon going just as fast as they were before, likely 10 to 25 mph over the posted speed limit. While not a major issue, this stop and go traffic adds to air pollution.

Traffic diverters: Traffic diverters turn motor vehicles off a street, but allow bicyclists through. There are a number of these in the central city, and in my opinion, they work great. The subsequent blocks are quiet and safe, at least until the street has regained traffic from other directions. They make is difficult to continue for long distances in a single line of travel, which is a good effect, as it discourages low value driving trips. My observation is that these also increase compliance with stop signs. It is true that some scofflaw drivers will go around these diverters, but at least they have slowed considerably to do so. Below is a typical diverter, this one at 20th Street & D Street.

traffic diverter, 20th St & D St, Sacramento

There are a number of other traffic calming treatments, but so far as I know none are present in the centra city, so I’ve not addressed them.

I don’t think the city should install any more median islands or traffic circles, due to the negative impact on bicyclists. However, I’m OK with letting those that exist remain, as bicyclists and walkers have grown accustomed to them and mostly know how to deal with them. I’m against more stop signs, except where a stop-controlled intersection replaces a signal-controlled intersection (of which there are a number of candidates in the central city). I don’t think speed humps are effective, and I see a speed hump as an admission of a failed street design.

What I would like to see is more traffic diverters, many of them! Every street that is not a one-way arterial in the central city should have a diverter about every eight blocks. This will make is less pleasant for commuters, who have to zig-zag to get where they are going. It will also cause locals to reconsider driving trips, realizing that bicycle or walking trips are easier and more straightforward. It will ensure that more of our streets are calm and peaceful, with less driver intimidation of walkers and bicyclists.

I hope to find the time to make a map of all the traffic diverters in the central city, and will add that reference here when I do.

J St construction zone bad to worse

Though in most cases the construction zone signing and barriers improve after they are reported (first time, second time, third time…), sometimes they get worse. I had reported to the Sac311 system that there was no advance warning of the sidewalk closed ahead on the south side of J Street, westbound, at 7th Street. This the left hand photo below.

The ‘correction’ was to place an incorrect sign at the location, which is more confusing than the lack of a sign. I observed and listened for a while to people looking at this location. Every single one commented on the confusion. Does the detour sign point to a detour, or does it mean to cross the street? There were discussions and even arguments within couples and groups. The sign is the wrong sign, and it is placed in a very confusing manner, angled toward the sidewalk rather than perpendicular to it. The clear indication is to continue along the sidewalk if one wants to go west on J Street, but this is incorrect, as the sidewalk is closed a short distance away. This is the right hand photo.

7th St & J St sw, no advance signing
7th St & J St sw, wrong advance signing

The correct sign of course is this one, MUTCD R9-11 right, placed perpendicular to the path of travel along J Street. It could be argued that the sign should be orange rather than red, indicating a temporary traffic control (TTC) device, but at this time the MUTCD does not offer this sign in this color.

J Street needs construction bypass

The future development, possibly to be called Anthem Cathedral Square, at J Street & 11th Street is currently a hole in the ground. The old buildings have been razed, and debris hauled away, but new construction has not started, so it will be some while before J Street on the north side of the site (south side of the street) returns to normal.

A channelized bypass should be created to carry the sidewalk for walkers and the bike lane for bicyclists past this construction site, between 10th St and 11th St, by removing a general purpose travel lane from J Street. The aerial below (before removal of the buildings) shows a sidewalk, a parking lane, a bicycle lane, three general purpose travel lanes, and a parking lane. The channelized bypass would include a shared pathway for walkers and bicyclists, in place of the right hand general purpose lane. The bypass can be created with use of orange construction barrier, as was done on 9th Street. This bypass would remain in place until construction is complete.

While the razing and cleanup was going on, there was decent signing, but it has disappeared or been moved to the side. The first set is the former signage at J St & 1oth St, and then today without an signage. There should be a sign here, the MUTCD R9-11; a barrier is not appropriate at this location since the closure is ahead and there are businesses open.

J St at 10th St se, signage
J St at 10th St se, no signage

At the sidewalk closure point, there is an acceptable barrier but no signage. At this point, it looks like there could be a bypass, but it is fenced off. The appropriate sign here is MUTCD R9-9.

J St past 10th St, sidewalk barrier

At J St & 11th St southeast corner, there was a barrier and signage, but the barrier has been moved to the side and the signage is gone. There should be a barrier and sign here to indicate that the crosswalk is closed. The third photo is an example of a correct barrier and signage.

11th St at J St se, signage
11th St at J St se, no signage
crosswalk closure barrier
correct barrier and signage

At J St & 11th St northwest corner, there should be a barrier and signing to indicate the crosswalk is closed, but neither is present.

J St & 11th St nw, no barrier or signage

This construction zone failure is one among many in Sacramento. The city is not creating traffic control plans that accommodate walkers and bicyclists, and the construction companies are not appropriately placing signs and barriers. This is a violation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Responsibility for encroachment permits (when the construction project goes into the public right of way, which includes sidewalks), and traffic control plans to mitigate the situation, rests with the City of Sacramento Department of Public Works.

I have created a new category, construction zone, which will make is easier to find other posts on the construction zone topic. Photos of many construction zone locations are on Flicker in Sac construction-zone album.

9th St update

Things have changed again. The construction zone on the east side of 9th Street between K Street and L Street has changed again. The east parking lane and east travel lane are now dedicated to the construction project, the general purpose lane has been shifted right into the west parking lane, and the combined pedestrian/bicyclist bypass is now in what was the right hand general purpose lane.

One the plus side, detectable strips have been added to the left side of the bypass, which are required to provide protection from trip and crash hazards presented by the fence bases. Photo below.

detectable strips along bypass on 9th St

The entrance to the bypass is still awkward, too narrow and poorly signed. There are still corrections to be made.

entrance to pedestrian/bicyclist bypass on 9th St

Previous posts: 9th Street update, 9th St fixed, sort of, and 9th St blocked by construction.

parking instead of housing

I am working on a project to find some of the land in the central city that could be housing instead of empty land, or surface parking lots. To me, every surface parking lot is a crime against the climate because it spreads out housing and other amenities to the point where driving becomes preferred if not necessary. But while comparing the county parcel map to the current land use, I was struck by what a sad, sad loss of housing there has been, particularly in the downtown section of the central city. To highlight this, I picked a block very close to where I live, the block bounded by P Street, Q Street, 11th Street, and 12th Street. On this entire block, there is one temporary building, a state child care center, and a small power facility related to the SacRT light rail tracks on 12th Street.

The image below shows the county parcels, labeled with addresses, overlaid on up-to-date ESRI Imagery layer. The child care building is in the lower right corner, at the intersection of 12th Street and P Street, and the SacRT facility is on the unlabeled square on 12th Street. The entire remainder of the block is parking. Some of the parking is state-owned, some privately owned. Every single one of these parcels at one time had either housing or business, or both, though there is some indication that the northwest corner large lot may have been a gas station for a period of time.

Sacramento parcels overlaid on imagery, P Street to Q Street, and 11th Street to 12th Street

I first looked at Google Earth historical imagery, but the only fact from that is that in 1993 all of the block had been converted to parking, and the child care center was probably there (the photo is fuzzy). Then I looked through Center for Sacramento History photos. I have only started through the archive, but did find some photos of the block or nearby blocks. One things that surprised me is that in the early 1950s homes were already being torn down to build state buildings. The photo below shows 1116, 1118, and 1124 P Street in 1949. If I’m able to get a better image, I will replace this one. It shows what seems to be typical of housing in this area, single-family and multi-family mixed in.

The Sacramento Redevelopment Agency was established by 1951, and its mission was to remove all housing that didn’t meet its standards, which meant all housing occupied by lower income and people of color, centering on Japantown.

CADA (Capitol Area Development Authority) was established in 1978 to save what little was left of housing in downtown, so it is probable that the housing had been torn down by the state or city well prior to that. If so, that means that this block has been a parking lot for at least 43 years. Probably much longer, perhaps back into the 1950s. What used to be homes and businesses, has been essentially worthless for that entire time. So, so sad.

For more info on the destruction of downtown, I recommend any books by local author Bill Burg (in local bookstores for paper copies or on Amazon for Kindle copies). You can also find a number of papers and research documents on the Internet by searching ‘Sacramento redevelopment’. I have hardly scratched the surface.

There are several entire blocks of parking in downtown, and many, many blocks that are mostly parking. What a waste!

I ask that the state transfer all surface parking lots under its control to CADA. The state has as many office buildings as it will ever need, but there is no housing to support the office workers, and particularly the lower income maintenance workers that support these office buildings. More to come on that idea.

I welcome historians, particularly Bill Burg, to correct or amplify my information.

Sac Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors and top intersections

As promised in my previous post, Sac Vision Zero flaws, here is a limited analysis of high injury network intersections in Sacramento. I used bicycle crashes for 2014 through 2018 from the SWITRS crash database, and matched these to intersections of arterials and collectors in the city. It is known that most crashes occur at or near intersections, not in between. Of the 1112 crashes in this time period, 763 occurred at intersections, or 69% (for all crash types, the city said it is 78%). I selected eight intersections to highlight, which had 4, 5, or 7 crashes at the intersection or within 120 feet of the intersection, meaning on the approach or departure from the intersection. The other 590 intersections had 3, 2, 1, or no crashes. I did not analyze the crashes for fatality or serious injury, but that would be a useful.

The map below shows the Sacramento Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors, in red, and the top eight crash intersections with a bicycle symbol. The number to the right is crashes, and the location is labeled with cross streets. This is also available as a pdf.

Of the eight intersections, one is part of the Florin corridor, at 24th Street and Florin Road. The other seven are not.

I ask that the city revise its Vision Zero program to include high injury intersections. The number might be as many as 10, and selection should include the same equity criteria used to select the corridors. That means that the three central city locations might not be selected, or might be lower on the priority list, and that is good. The challenge of the Stockton Blvd & Fruitridge Road intersection is that it is on the city/county boundary, so complete treatment of the intersection would require some cooperation with the county. But with seven bicycle crashes in the time period, it is a very important intersection.

A strong advantage to giving high injury intersections recognition and attention is that they could receive near-term safety improvements that require only reallocation of roadway width and new paint. Full safety improvements probably would require redesign of the intersection.

Again, I fully support the city’s Vision Zero efforts, and want to see them be the best they can be. That means including high injury intersections.

Addition 2021-03-02: Someone asked how the bicycle collision locations relate to disadvantaged communities. Below, a map with CalEnviroScreen 3 2018-06 (CES) layer, with red end being higher pollution, green being lower, and weighted with income. CES is not the only measure of disadvantage, but it is one commonly used.