Protected bikeways, also called separated bike lanes or cycle tracks, are all the rage these days. The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide codified cycle tracks, but they were already showing up in several cities, and are now being implementing in a great number more. I’ve ridden on cycle tracks in Long Beach, San Francisco (just yesterday, in fact) and other cities, and yes, they are a pleasure to ride on compared to riding in traffic or traditional bike lanes. Many people have declared the era of vehicular cycling dead, and the era of protected bikeways upon us.

So why am I doubting?

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Rosswood-GrandOaks_crosswalksIn the month of May I bike commuted to work in Carmichael and Citrus Heights most of the days. I had plenty of time to think about stop signs, as there are a lot of them on my regular routes. A few less, now that the county has removed some from the parkway path, but still, a lot. At most of these stop signs, there are no cars anywhere in sight, particularly at the beginning of AM and PM commute hours when I’m riding, but even at other times of day. So I started thinking, why are these stop signs here, and what are stop signs for?

Stop signs get used for these purposes:

  1. When there is a busy intersection with a more or less equal flow of vehicles on both streets. The four-way stop signs assist people in taking turns.
  2. When one street is so busy that gaps long enough to cross that street are rare.
  3. When there are visibility issues that prevent vehicle drivers to see each other.
  4. When motor vehicles are going too fast, and they need to be slowed down.

Looking at each purpose in more detail:

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Note: I’ve updated this post to add some detail to the descriptions and photos to illustrate the treatments. I will be adding separate detailed posts on some of these treatments.

Following on my earlier posts about changing streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento, here are additional street changes that might be used in some places:

  • r2-1_20Reduce speed limit: Reduce speed limits throughout downtown/midtown to 20 mph. Of course simply reducing speed limits does not ensure that actual speeds go down, unless other measures are taken. The removal of three-lane and one-way streets will help a great deal, since these are the streets that most encourage speeding. Other changes suggested below will also slow traffic. I think, however, that the primary change will be a change in attitude, in cultural values. Once a place becomes more livable, people will focus more on being there instead of going through there to somewhere else. I see the whole pace of life in downtown/midtown as being slower, living at the pace of a walker, or even the pace of a casual conversation, rather than at the unnatural pace of a motor vehicle.

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Sacramento Press is sponsoring a live chat with Jeff Speck, the author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step At A Time. The live chat is tomorrow, January 3, at 12:30PM. The offline chat is already going on, if you want to check it out. I am currently reading the book, in the Kindle version, but am only part way through.

Many of the online comments so far have focused on creating a livable city, and it is wonderful to see so many positive ideas and accurate identification of challenges. Intelligent conversation like this is rare in the Sacramento news blogs. I’ll make some comments specifically on the walkability safety aspects. I’ve written about this before, but it is worth writing about again and again, because the problems still exist.

Traffic sewers: Multiple lane and one way streets are traffic sewers. This epithet is used to describe streets designed to flush traffic in and out of employment centers (and to homes in the suburbs) twice a day. They serve no other reasonable purpose, and they make a place very much less walkable. Three (or more) lane roadways are incompatible with walkability. They encourage high speed traffic, and provide too long a crossing distance to pedestrians to be comfortable with. They don’t meet the “8-80” criteria, of being safe and comfortable for people of all ages.Solutions:

  1. Therefore, I think that all three-lane roadways in Sacramento must be narrowed to two lanes. If a true refuge median is provided between two directions of travel, at least three feet wide, so that a person can cross each direction of traffic separately, then roadways with a total of four lanes are acceptable. If not, then only a total of two lanes. Six lane or more roadways, common in the northern and southern suburbs of the City of Sacramento, are not acceptable.
  2. One way streets also encourage high speed travel. I think that all of our one way streets should be converted to two way streets. This can be done over time as streets are repaved, it is not as high a priority as the narrowing of streets, above.

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