streets are for people!

Part of an ongoing series of posts to support better streets in the City of Sacramento during their 2023 update of Street Design Standards. New standards must be innovative, safe, and equitable, and it will take strong citizen involvement and advocacy to make them so.

The streets we have are largely for cars and car parking. In this, I include trucks and delivery vehicles. Streets are only incidentally for walkers, bicyclists, economic vitality, and urban life. We know that our urban environment must change, to meet the challenge of climate change, but also to create a place where people thrive.

SPUR, a San Francisco Bay Area education and advocacy organization, has done as good a job as I’ve found so far with the words to describe where we are going and how to get there. Their Transportation page includes:

Our Goal: Make walking, biking, taking transit and carpooling the default options for getting around

SPUR’s Five-Year Priorities:

  • Improve the region’s transit network, and the institutions that run it, so that all people have fast, reliable access to their city and region.
  • Make it faster, easier, more dignified and less expensive to get around without a car.
  • Leverage transportation investments to build great neighborhoods and connect people to opportunity.

As a point of comparison, the City of Sacramento, Department of Public Works, Transportation Division says:

The Transportation Division’s primary focus is maintaining and enhancing traffic operations, traffic safety and multimodal mobility for our citizens and customers.

Wake me up from my nap!

I have started working on transportation principles for Sacramento. I admit that the points and wording below are not yet succinct and powerful, but I’m offering them now so that you have an idea where I’m going. I will work on improving them, and post the improvements again at the end of the series.

Street Design Principles

  • Street design will ensure the safety of all street users; Vision Zero rejects any street design that allows fatalities or severe injuries for any street user
  • Street design will encourage walking, bicycling, and transit use, and will discourage unnecessary motor vehicle use
  • Street design will rank safety, livability and economic vitality above vehicle throughput or speed; congestion relief will not be a goal in street design
  • Street design will actively support the city’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) through reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT)
  • Streets can and will be redesigned to better serve current and future need; past design which may have met past need need not be retained
  • Interim solutions to safety or capacity issues will be identified for immediate implementation whenever permanent solutions are not yet budgeted; design diagrams for these interim solutions will be provided along with the permanent solution diagrams

My posts and city design standards should use these definitions:

  • ‘Walking’ and ‘walkers’ includes mobility devices; the term pedestrian will not be used except in reference to laws or designs which use that term
  • ‘Bicycling’ or ‘bicyclists’ includes any devices permitted by state law or city code to use bike facilities
  • ‘Street’ includes all roadways which are not freeways or expressways, even if they do not currently meet standards for safe, equitable, or effective streets

Your suggestions on words and ideas are welcome! Comment below, or email me.

NACTO downtown streets

There are a few streets in Sacramento which are wide enough to host many activities and modes of travel, with reallocation of the roadway width to meet a new vision of a livable, walkable city. Two NACTO diagrams are below. The first, a downtown one-way street, is interesting to me because it shows a better use of space without having to change from one-way to two-way. I have always been opposed to one-way multiple lane streets because they present the multi-lane threat to people crossing the street, when one driver stops but others do not. This is one of the most common causes of fatalities for walkers, and why it must be eliminated. However, if the design is changed, the street becomes much safer, and the multi-lane threat is reduced or eliminated. Check the NACTO page for an alternate design.

diagram of NACTO downtown one-way street
NACTO downtown one-way street

I believe there should be high frequency bus service on J Street from 5th St to the university, and if J Street remains one-way, paired service on L St. This diagram would be a great model. Current service is 15-minute frequency on part of the route, but only 30-minute on part. Service should be at least 10-minute, maybe even more frequent. This would be a good design for that service and for those streets. Yes, L Street is not continuous, due to a broken street grid, so either H Street or Folsom Blvd could be used to connect.

Other streets that might remain one-way, but only with redesign, include the 9th-10th couplet, 15th-16th couplet, 19th-21st couplet, and P-Q couplet. The W-X couplet that bounds the Hwy 50 freeway would have to remain one-way due to freeway onramps and off ramps, but must be narrowed significantly. It is nothing but a traffic sewer as currently designed, and the motor vehicle capacity of the street is completely unneeded, even during rush hours.

Continue reading “NACTO downtown streets”

street design ideas

I have decided to start a series on street design ideas and standards, as a support for the City of Sacramento update of its Street Design Standards, due to occur this calendar year. I would hope that the city would actually engage citizens and transportation experts in the development of the standards, though it is more likely that the city will present a late-draft-stage document for review. In either case, I hope to educate the public about what good street design looks like and functions like, so that they can provide useful input and demand the highest level of design safety and innovation from the city.

The posts will be available under the category ‘Street Design Standards‘. Though this is a subcategory of City of Sacramento, the posts will almost entirely be applicable to any city or county.

First up, existing design standards and concepts. The horrible state of our transportation system is due in large part to the practice of traffic engineers using highway design ideas on urban streets. These designs have encouraged traffic violence, reduced the livability and economic vitality of cities, and created infrastructure that we will never have the funds to properly maintain. And, most importantly, then have killed millions of people and maimed at hundreds of millions more.

If you have not read it yet, I can’t more highly recommend Confessions of a Recovering Engineer by Chuck Marohn, founder of Strong Towns, for a review of the traffic engineering malfeasance and embedded but never explicit values that got us to this point.

There are a number of existing publications and resources for designing streets, some of them useful, and some us them which got us into this mess to begin with. Here are the ones I recommend that the city use, and not use:

SacCity street design standards

I had recently posted on the design for alley sidewalk crossings, based on a document from the City of Sacramento website. I shortly thereafter discovered that there are at least two sets of standards. The Department of Utilities, on the Development Standards page, has a Standard Specifications document which includes some text about streets, and the Transportation appendix of standard drawings which contains the diagram referenced. If you look at the text document, you will notice that it does not link itself to the Department of Utilities. Who wrote it, who would you contact about it? Who knows. Why the Department of Utilities has its own designs, separate from Department of Public Works, which has assigned responsibility for transportation, isn’t clear at all. On the positive side, though, this document was updated November 2020.

The Department of Public Works has its own Section 15 – Street Design Standards, part of the Design and Procedures Manual, linked on the Public Works Publications page. This is the document I discovered after using the Department of Utilities document. On the negative side, this document was last updated in June of 2009. Fourteen years ago. Again, there is no attribution to department in the body of the document. I only know/think this is a Public Works document because it is linked from a PW page.

There have been immense changes in street design best practices in that time. Most of the diagrams are overviews of arterial and collector roadways, very little about other streets. Bike lanes of any sort? Nada. ADA ramp details? Nada. Protected intersections? Nada. Curb extensions (bulb-outs)? Nada. Traffic calming infrastructure? Nada. The text of the document does contain references to a few of these issues, but without corresponding diagrams, there really is no guidance at all.

In searching for design diagrams, it appears there are additional designs scattered across the city website, some of them having to do with subdivisions, which seem to be treated separately from other street design. Let me say that this is not at all clear. The city website contains many documents without attribution to the department which created it. The city search engine is one of the poorest I’ve ever seen, and when it finds a document, it is almost impossible to tell where it came from or on which webpage one might find it.

At the SacATC (City of Sacramento Active Transportation Commission) meeting on 2023-03-16, staff presented an Introduction to Current Active Transportation Efforts. Under Projects, item 6 is ‘Street Design Standards Update: website expected in Fall 2023’. I spoke at the meeting about the weakness and antiquity of the current standards, and about the confusion over which set of standards is being talked about. City code, in Title 17 Planning and Development Code also has references to street design, but no linkage to the corresponding street design documents or diagrams. I don’t think staff realized how big a mess this is. It is not just the Public Works document that needs to be updated, but all city references to street design pulled together and properly referenced and linked.

A post in the near future will provide my ideas about what a street design manual ought to look like.

cover page of Section 15 - Street Design Standards, of the Public Works Design and Procedures Manual