What City of Sacramento ISN’T doing

The City of Sacramento, that bastion of doing the least amount possible, has failed to notice that progressive cities in the US and worldwide are making changes to their environment to make is safer for people who walk and bicycle, and more efficient and welcoming for people outside of cars.

What the city is NOT doing, that it could:

  • Accept responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, as an integral part of the transportation network. The city continues to shirk its responsibility, spending funds on motor vehicle infrastructure instead of maintaining walker infrastructure.
  • Installing leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) at every traffic signal in the city. The same eleven have been in place for years; none have been added. The recent legislation, AB 2264, only applies to state highways; it is up to cities and counties to implement on other roadways.
  • Daylighting intersections. This means removing parking from within 15-20 feet of the crosswalk or stop bar, either by painting and enforcing red curbs, or building curb extensions (bulb-outs) at every intersection. Upstream, approaching the intersection, is the big safety feature, downstream, leaving the intersection is much less important. There are interim solutions here, such as painting curb extensions and using soft-hit posts (vertical delineators).
  • Implementing construction zone requirements that accommodate walkers and bicyclists. The current city policy is to provide safe bypasses only if it does not in any way inconvenience drivers. The public has asked that a policy be developed along the lines of the Oakland construction policy, but the city has stonewalled against that.
  • Making transportation improvements that benefit walkers and bicyclists, except with county, state or federal grants. The city simply will not spend any of its general funds on improving transportation safety.
  • Waiting until a roadway is completely repaved to reallocate roadway width to bicycle lanes or separated bikeways, or transit. Compounding this issue is that the city doesn’t share with the public the repaving projects that it intends to do, so the public has no chance to comment beforehand.
  • Lowering speed limits citywide. While it is true that spot reductions have little effect on travel speeds, there are a growing number of cities that have lowered speed limits citywide, with a significant reduction in speed.
  • Enforce traffic laws. The Sacramento Police Department has essentially stopped enforcing laws related to the safety of walkers and bicyclists. This of course is also true in many other places. Police don’t see traffic safety as an issue worthy of concern. Of course so much of law enforcement is used as pretext to oppress, and I’m not in favor of any of that, but if the police won’t even enforce failure to yield to people in the crosswalk, what use are they? We would all be much safer if traffic law enforcement were removed from the police, largely automated, and the money saved diverted to real community needs. Yes, defund the police.
  • Painting marked crosswalks at every intersection. Yes, I know that unmarked crosswalks are legal crossings, but most drivers either don’t know or don’t care, so marking crosswalks is critical.
  • Remove beg buttons. These buttons, which sometimes a walker must press to get a walk sign, and sometimes don’t need to press (this is called auto-recall) are a direct attempt to discriminate against people walking. The city, after much pressure from the public at the beginning of the pandemic, set five crossings to auto-recall, out of the thousands. Of course they didn’t change the signing, so people walking don’t know this. The city it being intentionally obstinate in its defense of this outmoded requirement.
  • Remove pedestrian prohibition signs unless that is a demonstrable safety reason for the prohibition. There are numerous signs all over the city that were placed solely to preference motor vehicle drivers over people walking. The default should be that every one is removed unless the city wishes to do a traffic study to justify them.
  • Install traffic diverters (mode filters) all over the city. These diverters, which allow bicyclists free travel but turn motor vehicle drivers aside, are the single most effective safety measure that city could implement. But the city has decided to take these off the menu of solutions, for no reason that it has ever been made public. The few that exist are in the central city, almost none in other neighborhoods. Another example of privileging the already privileged over lower income neighborhoods.
  • Charge for parking, eveCavrywhere. Residential neighborhoods, where there is usually open parking space, would be charged through permits for the cost of maintaining that portion of the street. Any place where parking is in short supply, market rates for parking should be charged. Giving away free parking is subsidizing drivers and throwing your tax money in the trash.

I could go on with this list for pages. In fact, I have: walking policies for SacCity, and many related posts. But the city is still not taking meaningful action on any of these items, so I will keep reposting. For as long as it takes. And it will probably take quite some while before the city gets over its culture of doing the least amount possible.

Caveat: The city has disinvested in lower income and high minority neighborhoods, probably for its entire history. The first steps should be taken in these neighborhoods, with input from the residents, of course, and not in higher income and non-minority neighborhoods which have always gotten more than their share.

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.