I-5/Richards Interchange

The City of Sacramento is soliciting comments on its Interstate 5 / Richards Boulevard Interchange Project. Please take a look and comment.

My comments are summarized as:

  • The safety justification doesn’t hold water. The interchange itself has no fatal collisions and no severe injuries during the period of time analyzed (safety starts at about 9:56 in the video). The severe injury collisions are all outside the project area. The city is definitely trying to gaslight people on the safety issue. If the city were actually concerned about safety, they would be doing projects at the severe injury locations. But they are not. In fact, unnecessary projects like this one gobble up the funds that could be used to solve real safety issues. It is worth pointing out that this area is not a high priority in the city’s Vision Zero program. There are many, many areas in the city with far higher collision rates.
  • The information on bicycle and pedestrian improvements is very fuzzy. Nothing is indicated that to me makes is seem safer for either. More traffic means less safety, unless the safety improvements are substantial, and I just do not see that here. See DDI comment below.
  • The project points out rightly there there will be increased demand for travel as a result of residential, commercial, and public development in the Railyards and River District areas. But it makes no mention of other ways of solving the issue. Demand management? Never heard of it. The project simply accepts that traffic congestion will get worse if no infrastructure is built, so infrastructure must be built. Of course the EIR has to consider the no-build alternative to be legal, but the city is certainly not presenting that option to the public.
  • The project uses traffic delay through the interchange (on the interstate) to justify the project. The current traffic delay is due to the fact that commuter traffic has been encouraged by the provision of additional capacity on Interstate 5 to the south of the city, and on Interstate 80 east and west of the city. Of course things will get worse at this location, as more people commute and travel on this increased capacity. This is called induced travel, and is to be expected. Induced travel is increased by capacity expansion projects.
  • The city wants to spend $46 to $100 million of your tax money to ‘solve’ this problem. If we let them do that, they will be back in a few years with another project to ‘solve’ the problem at some other nearby pinch point, and the new project will be even more expensive because they have induced more travel by ‘solving’ the perceived congestion problem here.

It is time for us to demand that highways engineers be cut off from building new capacity. They see the taxpayer pockets as their piggy bank. Fix what we have, and invest the remaining transportation funds in supporting walking, bicycling, and transit.

The projects proposes making the interchange into a diverging diamond interchange (DDI), where the travel lanes switch sides under the freeway so as to reduce the number of intersections, and to ease common vehicle movements. Some people hate DDIs. Traffic and highway engineers love them. I’m pretty indifferent. I have spent a lot of time observing DDIs, before and after. They do offer some improvement in traffic flow, and they do offer minor improvement in safety for drivers. They are not any better or worse for bicyclist and pedestrian comfort and safety, IF they are designed properly (I’ve seen some very poor installations, some of which won awards from AASHTO, the highway lobby entity, that never saw an expensive project it did not love). It does take a period of a year or two for people to adjust to the different feeling of a DDI, but that is not necessarily bad. So my opposition to this project is not due to the DDI, but other issues. Others may feel differently.

O Street Activation

CADA (Capital Area Development Authority) is undertaking a process to activate O Street between 7th and 17th streets in downtown and midtown Sacramento. There was a community meeting at noon today, which I participated in. Not many people there, but there is also a meeting this evening which might gather residents who work during the day.

There are a lot of intriguing ideas and overall I think the draft framework is a good one. CADA said the diagrams and maps would be posted within a few days, so you will be able to see them at http://www.cadanet.org/projects/o-street-improvements-project.

Some comments I made:

  • the design needs to be compatible with the new light rail stations that will be constructed, probably in phases, to accommodate the new low-floor rail cars which require an 8-inch curb above the rails; the mini-high platforms needed for the current fleet of high-floor rail cars will eventually be removed, making for a much more pleasant street environment
  • rather than putting in bicycle facilities on O Street, separated bikeways on P Street and Q Street (partially complete) and N Street (not started) should handle most of the through bicycle traffic; instead, these things should be done to make the street bikeable without any special facilities:
    • speed limit 15 mph throughout
    • most sections become single-lane one-way, with narrowed travel lane; where two-way sections are needed (if at all), streets should be narrowed significantly
    • textured pavement, for streets or crosswalks or intersections, should either be sufficiently smooth to accommodate bicyclists, or have smooth pathways specifically for bicyclists
  • without bicycle-specific infrastructure, more of the right-of-way width can be devoted to pedestrians, sidewalks and the amenity zone; the pedestrian space will make the biggest difference in how the street is perceived
  • no section that is now closed to motor vehicles (9th to 10th and 11th to 12th) should be opened to motor vehicles, and no section that is currently one-way should become two-way
  • all corners should have bulb-outs (curb extensions) to calm motor vehicle speeds, reduce crossing distances, and preserve visibility at corners from parked vehicles; many corners are proposed for bulb-outs, but not all
  • raised intersections should be considered for all intersections
  • traffic on 15th Street (southbound) and 16th Street (northbound) must be calmed; it is currently difficult and hazardous for both walkers and bicyclists to cross through these intersections, traveling along O Street

The big issue, though, is that there is insufficient residents along the corridor, specifically between N Street and Q Street, to activate the corridor. More about that in my next post.

The improvements to O Street will be very expensive, if all are completed, but there are low cost items to start with, and I’m hopeful about seeing some of these in the near future.

Roundabouts and traffic circles

It is common for people to use the terms roundabout and traffic circle interchangeably, as though there is no difference between the two. Sadly, Streetsblog San Francisco, whose mission is to educate the public, claims that there is no significant difference and that it is OK to use the terms interchangeably (SFMTA Launches “Muni Backwards” Program). That is not true.

A roundabout has two very significant features:

  1. significant horizontal deflection which slows traffic
  2. yield signs at all approaches

Traffic circles do not usually have these features.

Sac_7th-St_roundabout
roundabout, Sacramento

The photo at right shows a roundabout in the River District/Township 9 in Sacramento. It is quite a bit bigger than a roundabout needs to be, and was installed in a new development, not at an existing intersection, but you can see the deflection and yield signs.

Significant horizontal deflection means that vehicles must change significantly from a straight line of travel, which requires that they slow significantly. This slowing reduces the number of crashes somewhat, and almost eliminates the number of severe crashes and fatalities (about 80% reduction). They are safer because they greatly reduce the number of conflict points in an intersection.

R6-5_288Yield signs on all approaches means that vehicles only have to stop for other vehicles already in the roundabout. Otherwise, they proceed at their reduced speed and never have to stop. This yield approach benefits motor vehicles and bicyclists who ride in the travel lane. It does not, and is not really intended to, benefit bicyclists in bike lanes or pedestrians, but at the same time, if does not hurt them. There is one standard MUTCD sign used at roundabouts, shown at right, but you will also see many other signs at both roundabouts and traffic circles.

traffic circle, Sacramento

Traffic circles vary widely in size, and therefore the amount of deflection. At least in California, they almost always have stop signs on two of the approaches, so that one street does not stop and the other does. The photo at right shows a traffic circle in downtown Sacramento. It has some deflection, but not enough to really slow traffic, and with the stop sign, does not ease the flow of traffic. These traffic circles also squeeze bicyclists who do not know they need to take the lane to safety navigate the intersection. The traffic circle sign is not a federal or state standard sign, but does communicate.

There are a a number of traffic circles in Sacramento central city, most of which were put in years ago, but a few newer ones also exist. Depending on the size of the circle, they have varying traffic calming benefits. The reason traffic circles are used instead of roundabouts is that you can’t just plop a roundabout into the footprint of an existing urban intersection. They require more space.

There are a lot more features of roundabouts than just the two that I mentioned. If you want to become a traffic nerd on roundabouts, I recommend the FHWA roundabout page, particularly the publication Roundabouts: An Informational Guide, Second Edition. For an international best practices perspective that focuses on bicyclist benefits, check Explaining the Dutch roundabout abroad.

Multi-lane roundabouts probably do not have significant safety outcomes over regular intersections. Many Sacramento people have experienced multi-lane roundabouts in Roseville and in Truckee at the Interstate 80 – Hwy 89 interchange. It makes me nervous to even watch these, and I always label these as multi-lane roundabouts to distinguish them from single-lane roundabouts or just roundabouts, which do have very significant safety outcomes.

SF_new-traffic-circle-McAllister-LyonLastly, the type of traffic circle that engendered the discussion in San Francisco is at right. It has several non-standard features, even given the variability of traffic circles.

JUMP users

I have heard many complaints from regular bicyclists and car drivers about JUMP bike riders. Since I spend a lot of my time paying attention to where the riders are and how they are riding, and I live in the central city where a large percentage of the usage is occurring (I live two blocks from the R Street corridor and three blocks from the 16th Street corridor), of course I have some perspective to offer.

Sidewalk riding: Is there a lot more sidewalk riding by JUMP riders? Well, I certainly see JUMP bikes on sidewalks, and it bothers me in part because JUMP bikes potentially go faster. However, I think the reason there are JUMPs on the sidewalk is because there a just more bike riders out. I don’t think JUMP riders are on sidewalks any more than any kind of bicycle. I fact, I’ve noticed a lot of JUMP riders in travel lanes on streets that don’t have bike lanes. Most bike riders avoid these roads, but because JUMP bikes are more able to keep up with traffic than the average bike rider, it seems like more are doing this. As SABA and many others have pointed out, most people riding on sidewalks are doing so because of their perception that the street is not a safe place to ride, and in many cases they are right. Probably a few are doing it out of habit, they learned to ride there and they continue to do so without thinking about whether and where that is appropriate, but again, the rate of sidewalk riding doesn’t seem any higher.

Parking: I hear complaints of bikes parked everywhere and blocking everything. Some of the comments are similar to those of people reacting to electric rental scooters in other cities, that civilization is ending and the sky is falling. But the more reasoned comments are worth considering. There are simply a lot more bikes needing to be parked than there were before. And there are not enough bike racks. The JUMP hubs are generally not in the most in-demand locations, but a block or two away, and so a lot of riders are parking exactly where they are going, and not at the hubs, sometimes on existing bike racks and frequently on sign poles and parking meters, and sometimes not locked to anything at all. On the whole, I see people parking JUMP bikes in appropriate locations. JUMP’s user agreement is that the bike be locked to something, and the City of Sacramento rule is that they must be locked to a bike rack (I’m not sure about West Sacramento and Davis). Very occasionally, I see a bike parked in such a way that it blocks pedestrians (both walkers and mobility devices). But this is rare.

I have been surprised by a recent trend, to lock a bike to nothing except itself (the lock mechanism locks the rear wheel, so it cannot be ridden, whether locked to anything or not). I’m seeing this even when there is something easy to lock to, right next to a bike rack or right next to a pole. Since the JUMP user agreement says the user is responsible for the bike unless it is locked to something. it surprises me that people would not lock to something when it is convenient or possible. I have not heard of any theft, but better safe than sorry. Yes, many types of bike racks are awkward to lock to, and pole and parking meters are not always easy to use.

If you do see a bike blocking pedestrian access, and you have some muscles, please move it! Yes, the bikes are heavy and not easy to move, but most people could move them a couple of feet to clear the sidewalk.

Riding skill: People who ride regularly are horrified by the skill of many of the JUMP riders. They have a point, there are a lot of unskilled riders, as many riders are people who don’t regularly ride bikes. They may not be handling it very well, particularly with the speed and acceleration. There are often riding in the wrong place on the road, which is in the travel lane if there is not a bike lane.

Traffic laws: I see JUMP riders not stopping at stop signs, and occasionally not at signals. But I don’t perceive that there is any difference between JUMP riders and other riders. And as always, I must point out that motor vehicle drivers run stop signs at a higher rate than bicyclists, though they also run red lights at a lower rate. Drivers have a perception that bicyclists always violate the law, and so they see what they expect to see, but they have a perception that drivers mostly follow the law (which is far, far from the truth), so they don’t see driver violations. Of course being on a bright red bike makes one more prominent.

Helmets: And last of all (added), people complain that JUMP users aren’t wearing helmets. I’ll keep this short, recognizing that even anything I say about helmets is likely to start a war with helmet trolls. There is no real evidence that helmets save lives. Yes, trauma nurse say so, but they only see the after-effects and know nothing about the causes. Yes, the ‘research’ of the helmet industry says so, but it has all been discredited. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has removed all reference to the ‘prevents 85% of head injuries’ statements because it turned out the research results that they cited were fabricated. I’ll accept the validity of helmets when pedestrians and motor vehicle drivers, who both have higher rates of head injuries, are also wearing them. If you are so concerned about the safety of bicyclist, then get cars off the road.

Curb extensions 16th & N

Curb extensions, also called bulb-outs, have been installed on all four corners at the intersection of 16th Street and N Street in midtown Sacramento. The extensions are the width of the parking lanes along both these streets. N Street has bikes lanes, which are not restricted by the extensions, while 16th Street does not have bike lanes, and won’t until the street is reconstructed into a more complete street at some unknown point in the future.

The primary beneficiaries of curb extensions are pedestrians, who have a shorter distance to cross, with every crossing being about six feet less distance for every parking lane, so in this case, 12 feet less. There is also much better visibility of cars by walkers, and of walkers by car drivers. Sometimes they also provide an opportunity for beautification, with rainwater swales and/or planting, as can be seen in the photo.

Every street with parking lanes should have curb extensions, so almost every intersection, but implementation will be slow because they are moderately expensive to construct (curbs sidewalks, detectable warning strips, better located ped buttons), and sometimes require drainage changes and occasionally even utility relocation. These particular extensions are certainly not the first in Sacramento, in fact there are extensions on the west corners of the intersection of 16th and O, just to the south, but are notable for being installed in a high pedestrian use area along two heavily trafficked streets.

J Street Safety Improvments

The City of Sacramento is going to use street rehabilitation funds (from SB-1) to create a separated bikeway on J Street between 19th and 30th, starting this summer. The city held a public meeting last night (January 25) to gather public comments on the design elements, which have not been finalized.

I like the proposal, and see it as a significant improvement over what is there now. The general purpose travel lanes would be reduced by one, from three to two, while bike facilities would be increased from zero to one. The separated bikeway, also called a cycle track or protected bike lane (separated bikeway is the correct term in California) would be installed along the right side of the one-way street. The project will improve pedestrians safety by shortening the crossing distance over general purpose lanes, but this is more a traffic calming and bike facility project than a pedestrian project. This project is intended to be a “paint only” project that fits with the funds available. Improvements needing concrete would come later, if at all. The separated bikeways would be “protected” with flexible delineator posts between the parking lane and the bikeway, which provides increased safety but not full protection.

Though the diagrams shown last night indicate that bus stops would be at the existing curb, and the bikeway with green paint would swing around the bus stop to the left, it appears that the city is rethinking that and will use a shared bus/bike lane for the length of the bus stop. There is talk of moving bus stops to better locations, and perhaps reducing the number of stops for better service times. The only bus currently using J Street is SacRT Route 30, which has a 15 minute frequency on weekday day times, 30 minute evenings and Saturdays, and 60 minute Sundays. This is a route whose ridership probably justifies 10 minute frequency day times.

The intersections will be daylighted by removing the parking spaces that currently are right up against the crosswalks and reduce visibility between drivers and pedestrians. I completely support that and feel that the safety benefits make the loss of a few parking spaces worthwhile. I’m not against on-street parking, in fact I like it because it slows traffic, but safety is even more important.

I would like to recommend some improvements to the project as presented:

  • Reduce lane widths from 11 feet to 10 feet. This is the most important action that could be taken to enhance safety. The best action for pedestrian and bicyclist safety is to #SlowTheCars (@StrongTowns). The narrower the lanes, the slower the traffic, and the slower the traffic, the less severe collisions that do occur, and the less collisions. The city currently has an 11 foot standard they don’t seem ready to change, but what better time than now to create a significant project with narrower lanes, so we can directly experience the safety benefits.
  • Reduce the speed limit to 20 mph, and stripe the street in a way that encourages this actual speed. Again, the city is reluctant to go below 25, but there is a growing national movement to 20 mph in urban areas. Goes hand-in-hand with the lane width reduction, and is very inexpensive to implement.
  • Stripe the separated bikeway and street in such a way that the shared bus/bike lane at bus stops can be converted to floating bus islands with the bike lane at the curb. This configuration keeps the bus in the flow of traffic, which greatly speeds bus times as they don’t have to wait for a gap in traffic to continue. I do not know how wide the islands need to be to accommodate bus shelters, but am looking into that and will report. Another advantage of the lane width narrowing is that it would provide another two feet for the islands. The separated bikeway “lane” is seven feet, and that seems fine to me. Since this is a “paint only” project, concrete bus islands would delay it for additional finding, which I don’t want to see, but the design should be ready for bus islands as soon as they can be funded.
  • Reduce the number of bus stops to one every three or four blocks. The increase in service speed makes the greater walking distance worthwhile, and since the walking environment will be more appealing and safer, this is a good trade-off.

The meeting last night was the only formal opportunity to have input to this project, but I encourage you to email Jennifer Donlon-Wyant with support for the project, for these improvements I’ve presented, or you own ideas. You can also comment here, but emailing Jennifer is the first step.

SHSP Update

shsp-logoThis is one of the nerdier posts I’ve written in a while, and much of it probably won’t make sense to anyone who has not been involved in SHSP. Why is it important? Because all of the safety funds in California, some of the transportation budget, and much agency effort go to the priorities identified by SHSP. In the past, that has meant a focus on the safety of motor vehicles drivers, focus to issues such as distracted and drunk driving (which are important but not everything), and in a perversion of priorities, stings on pedestrians and bicyclist funded by OTS.

On November 14, 2015, the SHSP (Strategic Highway Safety Plan) Safety Summit was held on the CSU Sacramento campus, part of the SHSP Update process that seeks to revised the Strategic Highway Safety Plan for California. The summit was very well attended, nearly filling the ballroom. After some introductions from various agencies (Caltrans, Office of Traffic Safety, and California Highway Patrol are the main partners in the program, but several other agencies participate), there were six breakout sessions to provide input on different topics, and an opportunity to participate in two of the six.

I participated first in the Active Transportation (bicycling and walking) breakout, which was facilitated by Katherine Chen & Jill Cooper. Issues identified: we really don’t know why there has been an increase the last few years in bicyclist and pedestrian injury and fatality, whether due to increased mode share or some other reason; the CHP 555 form and SWITRS database do not offer all the information we need; there is almost no injury/fatality rate data available because agencies are not collecting counts; rather than transportation funds being allocated based on injury/fatality rates, bicycling and walking receives a tiny portion construction and safety funds. The session went well, with good discussion and a lot of good information gathered onto charts by Katherine.

I also attending the Infrastructure and Operations breakout session, which was facilitated by two individuals from Cambridge Systematics, the contractor being used for the update process. This session did not go well. The participants provided thoughtful input, but much of it was rejected by the facilitators, either not written onto charts, or crossed out because they didn’t agree with it. The group wanted to use rates rather than counts, education is needed to create a culture of safety, distracted driving is epidemic, automated enforcement of red lights and speed are critical to changing behavior, and we need to focus on intersections since that is where most problems occur. The facilitators wanted to hear none of it, and were disappointed that no one seemed interested in spending money on “improving safety” for motor vehicle drivers by building more highways.

We were promised at the summit that the breakout session notes would be tabulated and made available to participants “soon.” As of today, 11 weeks later, no information has shown up on the SHSP Update web page. I doubt that the information will show up before the process is complete. I would guess that the contractor and Caltrans didn’t like what they heard and decided to suppress the information.

Despite the lack of input from the SHSP Safety Summits (there was one northern and another in southern California), the SHSP Steering Committee has been pushing forward with updating the SHSP strategies. The SHSP Bicycling committee (formerly Improving Bicycle Safety) on which I serve, and the other committees, were given a very short deadline to provide a new short set of strategies (up to five). It seems as though we will be locked into these for several years. In the committee’s January meeting we made remarkable progress on coming up with strategies, coming to consensus on a number of issues that we’ve discussed for years and never quite come to common understanding or agreement. When we ask where the Safety Summit information was, we were told by Pamela Beer of Cambridge Systematics that she had all the information we needed, that the printed notes that we were given at the meeting but not beforehand where all we would get, and that we should not expect to see any outcomes from the summit before the strategies finalized. Somehow she had inserted herself into our committee meeting as a facilitator/controller, without the knowledge of anyone on the committee.

The strategies adopted by the Bicycling committee, pending some wordsmithing, are:

  1. Improve roadway and bikeway planning, design, and operations to enhance bicycling safety and mobility while supporting  bicycling to and from all destinations.
  2. Improve data collection regarding bicyclist trips, injuries and fatalities on California roadways and bicycle paths.
  3. Improve education and enforcement based on the protection of everyone’s right to travel by lawful means.
  4. Encourage more bicycle travel by improving public attitudes about bicycling safety and the need for safe and courteous behavior toward all roadway users.
  5. Develop safe, direct, and connected routes on which bicycling is a priority mode of transportation.