SacRT light rail extensions

SacRT is considering a number of extensions to the light rail system, beyond the opening of the Blue Line extension from Meadowview station to Cosumnes River College, which will occur August 24.

These are:

  1. lpa_mapGreen Line to the Airport, also known as DNA (Downtown, Natomas, Airport). This project is likely in two phases, first from the current end at Richards Blvd to somewhere in North Natomas, and second the rest of the way to the airport. Information on this project is on the SacRT website. This project is furthest along, and the draft EIS/EIR is now being prepared. The map of the “locally preferred alternative” is at right, and this links to the larger map on the SacRT website.
  2. Blue Line to Elk Grove. This project has been talked about, particularly as the line to CRC has approached completion and generated discussions of whether or not Elk Grove residents will be willing to change from bus to light rail at CRC. So far as I know, there are no publicly available documents on this extension, but it is included in the 2009 Transit Action Plan updated Scenario C (below).
  3. Blue Line Northeast Corridor. This project would extend the line to the northeast, to American River College, Citrus Heights, or Roseville. Though this project was part of the original vision of the light rail line when constructed back in the 1970s, it has not received much notice while I’ve been in Sacramento. So far as I know, there are no publicly available documents on this extension, but it is included in the 2009 Transit Action Plan updated Scenario C (below).


Each of these extensions are worth exploring in detail, but for now I’m posting because I have two ideas I want to share.

Continue reading “SacRT light rail extensions”

SacRT issues and posts

A summary of SacRT issues and my blog posts (even more):

And issues on my list to blog about:

  • failure of the streetcar
  • more about light rail extensions
  • much more about bus rapid transit
  • funding (other options)
  • system map and frequency
  • equity
  • serving density
  • more about station amenities (signing, lighting, cleanliness, Watt elevator)
  • delay in ConnectCard implementation
  • need for a SacRT blog
  • transparency in the ad-hoc System Improvement process

Sacramento has stalled

Jim Brown wrote recently in the Sacramento Bee about underfunding for the city’s contractor to develop a new bike plan, and the plateauing of progress on bike mode share in the city. Please read! However, the issues go well beyond bicycling. Sacramento has stalled, period. We are no longer making forward progress towards livability.

There are three additional major issues, as I see them:

  1. Our public transportation system (SacRT) is woefully underfunded, and despite a lot of discussions recently about how to improve the system, not one of our political leaders seems to have the courage to state the obvious, that we cannot have a successful and efficient system unless we devote more tax revenue to it. Putting bandaids on the system will not make a significant difference. Sacramento needs to fund SacRT at a level comparable to other cities of our size, which means tripling our tax base.
  2. Sacramento is not becoming more pedestrian friendly, in fact it seems to me to be becoming less so. There is an almost universal failure among drivers to recognize the rights of pedestrians to cross the roadway (CVC 21950). I find that almost no drivers yield to me when I am walking. Apparently the Sacramento Police Department accepts this situation, because so far as I know they make no effort to enforce the law. I have never seen someone pulled over for failing to yield to a pedestrian, and in fact I’ve had several SacPD officers fail to yield to me. Pedestrians, not bicyclists, are the indicator species for our city, and until we treat people walking as the highest form of transportation, we will never be anything but a sad city. [As an addendum to this, Chris Morfas reminded me that the conversion of one-ways streets to two-way streets has also stalled. The city made a decision to start these conversions years ago, and then lost courage. Nothing has happened on this critical change in years.]
  3. The city is going to focus much of its attention on Natomas, now that the building moratorium has been removed. I think that no effort and no money should be spent there until the city develops a new vision for Natomas. The sprawl suburbs are a dead end, and we should not be spending any money on them until we have a plan for how to make them financial viable and livable. Meanwhile, the two truly needy parts of the city, South Sacramento and North Sacramento/South Natomas, are neglected. These are the areas where the most people are walking, bicycling, and using public transit, but yet the city continues to throw money at the “rich” areas that it hopes will provide sales tax and property tax revenue to save the city from its debt problem. The fact is, however, that it always costs more in infrastructure to support new developments than they ever generate in sales and property taxes. It is the small businesses in South and North Sacramento that actually support this city.

There is also much to celebrate in Sacramento. I live in midtown, and I am so impressed with the new development happening, with the richness of opportunity here, and even impressed with the improvements to bicycle facilities that have happened. But most of this is driven by economics, and will happen with or without the help of the city. What won’t happen without the help of the city is livability in South and North Sacramento. Indeed, to say something controversial, I think the city needs to pay way less attention to downtown/midtown, and much more to the neglected areas north and south. I am not saying that every area of the city can be saved – we will have to prioritize and triage – but to keep acting as though downtown/midtown are the whole of Sacramento indicates a complete lack of leadership on the part of the city council.

SacRT gets grant for light rail car refurbishment

In the recently announced round of grants under the CalSTA Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, SacRT received funding to refurbish the remainder of light rail vehicles from San Jose. The money is from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund using proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade auctions. The statewide total was $224M.

7. Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) – Refurbishment of Seven Light Rail Vehicles
Award: $6,427,000
Refurbishment of the last 7 of 21 vehicles acquired from Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in order to support 15 min peak hour service frequencies throughout the RT light rail system and enable future limited stop service on the RT Gold and Blue Lines during the next 15 years. The project will result in increased ridership, eliminate impacts from the overhaul program needed on the rest of RT’s fleet, and connect residents in disadvantaged communities to jobs. Improved service on the system also increases the attractiveness of connectivity to Amtrak services and future High Speed Rail service at the Sacramento Intermodal Facility.

walking the streetcar route

K Street pedestrian plaza between 11th and 12th
K Street pedestrian plaza between 11th and 12th

Today I walked the route of the proposed Sacramento Riverfront Streetcar. No, this is not part of the argument about whether pedestrians or streetcars are faster, going around the Internet recently, but I just wanted to see it all from a walking viewpoint, not on my bicycle. There is a map of the probable route on the website above, though oddly it leaves out some streets.

I picked up the route at L and 16th, just two blocks from my home, and headed west between Capitol Park and the brutalist Community Center Theater. The route turns north on 13th Street and apparently goes through the pedestrian plaza over to 12th where is would then use the SacRT light rail tracks (light rail would be routed to the north along H Street). The further west on K Street, the more depressing things are, with most buildings not only empty but abandoned. But, this is part of the reason for the streetcar, to support the economic redevelopment of this area. At 6th it heads north along the existing light rail tracks to H, and then west to Sacramento Valley Station (Amtrak).

Continue reading “walking the streetcar route”

improving SacRT

The condition and future of Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT), particularly the light rail system, has been much in the news recently:

Everyone these days seems to want a better transit system. The problem is that no one wants to pay for a better transit system. The business leaders who suddenly want a modern, appealing, well-maintained light rail are the same ones that have worked over the years to suppress efforts at increasing the tax base for operation of the system.

Continue reading “improving SacRT”

Riverfront streetcar makes FTA budget list

DowntownRiverfrontStreetcarThe list of transit projects put out by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as part of President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget includes $75,000,000 in Small Starts funding for the Sacramento Downtown Riverfront Streetcar. The FTA Project Profile is available with some detail that may be of interest.

Sacramento region transit projects in 2015

Jonah Freemark on The Transit Politic has detailed transit projects in Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2015. For Sacramento, it will be the end of work on extension of the SacRT light rail Blue Line to Consumnes River College, and the start of planning for the Sacramento/West Sacramento streetcar. It is good that these projects are happening, but in comparison to many other urban areas, Sacramento is falling further behind. We spend most of our money on expanding the freeways, building new freeways such as the Southeast Connector, and upgrading arterial roadways. Almost all of this work furthers suburban commuting and sprawl, and very little if any of it leads to true economic vitality.

Projects I’d like to see joining the list for next year are:

  • Green line extension to Natomas. Not necessarily the airport, and I’m not sure that pencils out as a beneficial project.
  • Blue line extension to Elk Grove. Though I don’t like the suburban wasteland that is Elk Grove, it is nevertheless true that there are a huge number of commuters from there to downtown Sacramento, who could be pried out of their cars if we spent money on light rail instead of highway and roadway expansion. Just the interchanges on Interstate 5, largely purposed to serve the commuter crowd, cost more than the entire light rail system.
  • Blue line extension to American River College, and eventually to Roseville. The college is a huge trip generator, and this part of the county is very underserved by transit. Though the Capitol Corridor third track will take some of some of the demand, light rail with its more frequent service would be a great complement.
  • Bus rapid transit (BRT). I’m not sure where the best location would to pilot bus rapid transit in the Sacramento region, but the fact that we are not even really experimenting with it (other than the tiny Watt Ave over US 50 bridge) does not bode well. Bus rapid transit could be an even more important solution for the region, particularly because much of the region lacks the density to make light rail successful.

Here’s to seeing more Sacramento projects on the 2016 list.

Free holiday parking? Why not free transit?

The City of Sacramento has announced free holiday parking (on the Downtown Sacramento Partnership website), stretching from Old Sacramento through midtown, to attract shoppers. This is done in order to attract people who might otherwise shop at suburban big box stores and malls that offer acres of free parking, as this free parking in the suburbs puts downtown businesses at a disadvantage. (There is, of course, no such thing as free parking, someone has to pay, but that is another argument for another day.)

However, why no benefits for people who use transit to reach downtown, either by choice or necessity? I think there should be free transit tickets for people who shop downtown during the same times and places as the free parking is in effect. Businesses would give out a SacRT single ticket (normally $2.50) to each shopper for the trip back home. There might be a minimum purchase requirement, just to prevent someone from accumulating a large number of tickets by making small purchases at several businesses. However, since one free ticket doesn’t cover the trip to the business, nor trips requiring a transfer, nor family members, I think overall it would be more than fair to the city.

The free tickets would cost the city money, since they’d have to be purchased from SacRT. I’m sure a volume discount could be worked out, but there would still be real costs. The free parking offer means that the city is foregoing a considerable amount of parking revenue in order to support local business. Whether the increase in sales tax revenue from holiday shopping balances the lost parking revenue, I don’t know, but the city obviously considers it an overall benefit whether the balance sheet works or not. The same benefit could be obtained through free transit tickets.

Fare is fair! Let’s see free transit tickets!

We need more of this… dedicated bus lanes

dedicated bus lane, Capitol Mall, Sacramento
dedicated bus lane, Capitol Mall, Sacramento

The recent relocation of bus service from L Street to the Capitol Mall for demolition of the mall and later construction of the arena has resulting in an interesting change: the first dedicated bus lane (that I’m aware of) in the Sacramento region. There are some dedicated light rail lanes.

True, the bus lane is only one block long, between 8th Street and 7th Street (this photo is taken from 8th Street looking westbound).

Prior to the bus stops being moved, asphalt was replaced with concrete, which is the only material that can stand up well to frequent bus traffic.

So why am I excited about a one-block long dedicated bus lane? Because it is a local example of something that is happening in many cities, but you don’t have to travel to see it. It also represents a reallocation of street space that increases the utility of bus systems and better balances different modes of transportation. Buses spend much of their time at critical times of the day waiting on motor vehicle traffic congestion. Dedicated bus lanes remove some of this conflict and create, for the first time, the possibility of buses being a faster mode of transport than private cars.

This one-block location show a good balance of modes. There is a wide sidewalk for pedestrians, a dedicated bus lane, a dedicated bicycle lane, and a travel lane for motor vehicles. Many more of our streets should look like this. Any street that carries bus traffic at a frequency of once every ten minutes or better (whether from a high-frequency single route or from multiple routes), at any time of day, should have dedicated bus lanes.

There are six SacRT routes that ran on L Street and are temporarily running on Capitol Mall. In addition, four Yolobus routes and several from other transit providers run along these streets.

So what are we going to do when the arena is finished and some or all of the bus traffic moves back to L Street? I think that L Street should have a dedicated bus lane from 15th Street, where it becomes three lanes westbound (and four lanes at 6th Street), all the way to 3rd St. SABA has suggested a protected bike lane on the south side for the portion between 7th Street and 3rd Street, and I think that is a good idea as well. I am not sure if SacRT has proposed anything. Wide sidewalks, dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and a somewhat reduced capacity for private motor vehicles would make for a more welcoming and efficient street. The arena developers and city have resisted making any transformative changes to circulation downtown, but significant public pressure could bring the improvements.

The NACTO Urban Street Design Guide has diagrams and details about dedicated bus lanes.