Freeport trees and sidewalk buffers

Another post on the Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan. See the category Freeport Blvd for others.

So, given the need for trees to shade sidewalks along Freeport, where do they go? The answer is in the sidewalk buffer or planting strip. At one existing location along Freeport, there is an example of street trees in a sidewalk buffer, where the new Raley’s shopping center is. The photo below is from the photo essay. I don’t know whether the city required the developer to put in sidewalk buffers and wider sidewalks, or whether the developer knew this was the right thing to do and did it on their own. In any case, this is the only part of Freeport that has them, other than a short section along the airport north of Blair Ave.

The one situation in which sidewalk buffers may not be appropriate is where buildings come to the curb in dense retail areas. But there are virtually no instances of this along Freeport. Almost all buildings are set back from the sidewalk a little, or a lot. In several cases there are massive parking lots adjacent to the sidewalk, creating the kind of place where no one wants to be. So buffers and trees at least mitigate the blandness to some degree.

Freeport Blvd sidewalk buffer and trees
sidewalk buffer and trees along Freeport Blvd at Raley’s

As with any post, I look for example photos and diagrams. So I searched Google for ‘sidewalk buffer’. Lo and behold, the second item is my own post about this! It is experiences like this that make me realize the value of this blog, when other people are using my advocacy work in their advocacy work.

So, so rather than re-write the post, I’ll link to it here: sidewalk buffers. I encourage you to take a read. Trees, and the sidewalk buffers that would allow them, are probably the most important aspect of Freeport Blvd, and the most important topic that the city has neglected.

Where are the trees on Freeport?

Another post on the Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan. See the category Freeport Blvd for others.

If you take a look at the Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan, including Appendix F Design Layout, you will see that most of the existing trees are preserved. But there is no information about new trees, not in the diagrams, not in the text. In fact, the only text mention of trees, other than existing trees, is in the Community Vision (page 20, 23 in the pdf), where it says “4 IMPROVE SHADE AND COMFORT: Enhance the walking and bicycling experience along the corridor by integrating street trees to provide shade and comfort from the sun and rain”. Certainly, that is the community’s vision, but it does not seem to be the city’s vision. If it were, the plan would have addressed trees.

Given that a major objective of the plan is to make Freeport Blvd more walkable, the lack of trees and mention of trees is concerning, to say the least. When questioned about trees at the January 18 Active Transportation Commission meeting, city staff said two things: 1) we aren’t the experts in trees, so we didn’t include them, and 2) tree information will come later in the design process.

This is a classic case of planning and engineering gaslighting. The story beforehand is always, well, it’s too early in the planning process to consider that. The story later is that it is too late to consider that element of the plan, we’re already past that, the decisions have been made. Every plan goes that way. It is true that this plan is only the first step in design, and there will be more detailed design to come, but when you don’t plan for trees from the beginning, you get a roadway with too few trees. Or no trees.

Almost all the existing trees are in median strips at a few locations along the roadway. Trees in medians have some value. They make the road look prettier, they slow traffic to a slight degree, they shade pavement and slightly reduce the heat island effect. But they are not even as remotely useful as trees along sidewalks. What Freeport Blvd needs is trees adjacent to sidewalks, not median trees. But the city has nowhere reserved space for them. So they won’t be there.

Next post is about where to put the trees, adjacent to sidewalks.

Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan

The City of Sacramento has released the final draft Freeport Blvd Transportation Plan. Appendix F Design Layouts is a key part of the document. This post reflects my original comments (Freeport Boulevard Emerging Design Concepts) and the new plan. The city’s plan page is at http://www.cityofsacramento.org/Public-Works/Transportation/Planning-Projects/Freeport-Blvd-Corridor. The plan is on the Active Transportation Commission agenda for January 20, 2023, and will go to the city council within the next two months.

The ten common design elements on page 21 (24 of the pdf) include: “10. Maintained necessary travel lanes, turn lanes, and parking: Maintaining travel lanes and turn lanes ensures that drivers traveling along the corridor will not be compromised, and preserving parking spaces where 5 the utilization is higher so it serves better adjoining businesses.” This is statement is contrary to all walkability, bikeability and vision zero goals. It should be removed from the document, and removed from planning goals. It is offensive. It means that no matter what other improvements to the corridor will be made, cars and motor vehicle drivers will be preferenced over all others.

The ten common design elements do not mention trees. Trees are an integral part of the walking experience, as well as providing climate and heat island benefits. They should be prominently recognized throughout the document, but they are not. The phrase ‘existing trees’ occurs many time in the document, but nowhere are ‘proposed trees’ identified.

Frequent driveways along much of this section present hazards to walkers and bicyclists, and handicap the design of safe streets. It is clear that the city did not consider reduction or narrowing of driveways to address this hazard. If you look at the design layouts (Appendix F), the number of gaps in the bikeway, shown as dashed green, is remarkable. Each of these is a driveway. Again, this is a clear indication that the city intended to maintain the car-dominated character of this street.

All crosswalks at intersections should contain all three or four legs (three for T-intersections). The design leaves many intersections with only one crosswalk over Freeport Blvd, meaning pedestrians must cross three streets in order to reach some destinations, rather than just one. Though not mentioned in the plan, this often means installing pedestrian crossing prohibition signs and barriers. These should be outlawed, not encouraged.

North Section

pages 25-26 (28-29 in the pdf)

The intersection of Sutterville Road to the east with Freeport Blvd is shown with a two-lane roundabout. Two lane roundabouts have almost none of the traffic calming and safety benefits of one lane roundabouts, in fact they should not even be called roundabouts, with the implication that they have safety benefits. This roundabout should be redesigned to a single-lane. Traffic levels on Freeport to the north certainly do not justify two lanes, in fact Freeport become single lane each direction a short distance to the north at 13th Avenue.

The dedicated right turn lane on Freeport Blvd southbound at Sutterville Road to the west is not needed and presents an unnecessary hazard to bicyclists. Dedicated right turn lanes should be eliminated from this plan, and from all city roadways. They are rarely justified by traffic volume, create conflicts for bicyclists, and widen roadways and therefore crossing distances for walkers. They also encourage drivers to make right hand turns without looking for people walking.

There should be a crosswalk on the north side of the Freeport-Sutterville intersection. There is no justification for leaving it out, unless an attempt to discourage walkers from accessing the park.

South Section

pages 27-31 (30-34 in the pdf)

The offset crosswalks with median refuge at Oregon Drive and Potrero Way/Virginia Way are a good design, but there is no reason to not provide crosswalks on the other leg of the intersection.

The median gap at Arica Way, with dedicated left turn lanes, is not needed. Arica Way is a low volume street that is a good candidate for right in/right out treatment. The shopping center access can be provided for northbound traffic.

At the intersection of Fruitridge Blvd and Freeport, there should be no dedicated right turn lanes. They create a hazard for bicyclists, that cannot be mitigated by pavement marking, and they lengthen the crossing distance for walkers. In this location, where center refuge medians are not proposed, this is particularly egregious. The dual left turn lanes southbound on Freeport are a hazard to bicyclists and motor vehicles, and should be reduced to a single left turn lane. This intersection, due to long crossing distances, should provide center refuge medians on both the north and south crosswalks.

Northgate Blvd Transportation Plan

The City of Sacramento has released the final draft Northgate Blvd Transportation Plan. Appendix F Layout Designs is a key part of the plan. This post reflects my original comments (Northgate Boulevard Emerging Design Concepts) and the new plan. The city’s plan page is at http://www.cityofsacramento.org/Public-Works/Transportation/Planning-Projects/NorthgateMobility. The plan is on the Active Transportation Commission agenda for January 20, 2023, and will go to the city council within the next two months.

Travel Lanes

The most important aspect to the plan is that travel lanes (general purpose lanes) have been reduced from two each direction to one each direction. A reduction of lanes and narrowing of lanes (from 12 feet or more to 11 feet) is probably the single most effective action for calming traffic. When there is a single lane, the prudent driver who is traveling at or near the speed limit controls the behavior of other drivers, many of which would be traveling at excessive and incredibly dangerous speeds.

Trees?

Of the 10 common design elements on page 20 (23 of the pdf), none are about trees. Yet the lack of trees and shade for walking was a major issue in community input. The city has a tendency to minimize trees in transportation planning, because they are a detail beneath the interest of traffic engineers, and the city doesn’t want responsibility for maintaining street trees. Trees are often treated on the standard timeline of it is either a) too soon to address that (which was the response to early plans lack of attention to trees), or b) decisions already made so it is too late to address that (which will be the answer on trees now). Yet trees are a critical element of walkability, and walkability is a critical element of economic vitality. No trees, no walkers, no economic vitality.

On page 26 (29 of the pdf), the proposed cross-section does not show any trees within the public right-of-way, only on private property. Sidewalks are shown as eight feet, which is great, but without trees, many fewer people will walk there than if there were trees for shade. The wide-open viewshed also encourages higher speed driving, counteracting efforts to reduce speed.

Driveways?

One of the unfortunate aspects of the corridor is the prevalence of driveways. In most cases, each and every business has its own driveway or driveways, and its own parking. That is a characteristic of how the area developed, and in some ways it is a strength, because many small businesses make for a more vibrant economy (not to mention higher property tax and sales tax income). But crossing driveways are also the biggest impediment to a safe and welcoming walk, and to bicycling.

The city seems to have decided that it is not worthwhile addressing the number of curb cuts for driveways. The plan acknowledges wide and number driveways, but offers no solution.

Page 28 (31 of the pdf) shows a diagram for Wilson Avenue intersection. In just this short section, three properties are shown as having double in-out driveways for a single business. Not only is this unnecessary interruption of the sidewalk, but an interruption of the bikeway (green color in the diagram).

I believe the city should proactively reduce driveways by eliminating all double in-out driveways. It could be left to the property owner or business to decide if they want to have one in driveway and one out driveway, or a wider in-out driveway, though clearly one in-out is better for walkers and bicyclists.

Stockton Blvd Corridor Plan review

I have finally gotten to reviewing the Stockton Blvd Corridor Plan, following my post noticing the draft plan: Stockton Blvd draft available.

Overall, the plan is great, and when someday implemented, will result in a much safer and livable Stockton Blvd. The plan addresses major concerns raised by the community, including safer and more frequent crossings, better lighting, more trees, more effective transit service, and others. However…

  • The plan is still too oriented to the throughput of motor vehicle traffic. Better, but not as good as it could be. Maintaining the five lane configuration for significant parts of the corridor is unnecessary.
  • The plan does not even mention speed limits. When any street is reconfigured/reallocated, it removes any obligation to the unsafe and outmoded 85% rule, so the city should have considered speed limit changes for the corridor.
  • The plan recommends two-way cycle tracks in some locations. These are great for traveling along, but the problem comes in transitioning into and out of them at the beginning and end. Unless very clear guidance and priority is provided, these transitions can be very unsafe, particularly for less experienced bicyclists. In most cases, a bicycle signal head with exclusive bicyclist phase is required at beginning and end.
  • The plan acknowledges the challenging intersection of Stockton Blvd/34th Street/R Street as a “unique challenge” (page 13), but doesn’t even suggest solutions. I believe that the only way to make this intersection safe is to either restrict R Street or 34th Street, or to construct a flyover for light rail, similar to that for 19th Street, Watt Ave, and Sunrise Blvd. Yes, the expense of any of these might be beyond the scope of this plan, but eliminating this issue from the plan makes it difficult to compare the relative cost and benefit of other solutions.
  • On page 36, a diagram shows a bike lane eastbound on T Street to the right of a dedicated right hand turn lane. Bike lanes should never be to the right of dedicated turn lanes unless there is a bicycle signal head to create an exclusive bicyclist phase, which the plan does not propose. This must be fixed.
  • Shared bus and bike lanes will be a new concept for the city, and region. I support the implementation of these, and have used them in several other cities where transit frequency is not high. But they should be considered a pilot. If they don’t work out for bicyclists, and bus drivers, in this region, how do we fix it?
  • The flared intersection at Stockton Blvd and Fruitridge Road is preserved in the plan, but this is completely inappropriate. Flared intersections are always more dangerous for people crossing the street. The roadway width at the intersection, shown on page 41, is 90 feet. Crossings of this length cannot be safe, no matter what the length of the pedestrian cycle, without a pedestrian refuge median (with push buttons unless the pedestrian crossing is already on auto-recall). Double left hand turn lanes are dangerous for drivers and everyone else, as driver attention is focused on the vehicle beside, and not the roadway ahead, so these should be reduced to single left turn lanes. The right hand turns lanes should probably be eliminated, unless a traffic study shows conclusively that traffic would not clear during a signal cycle without them. The upshot is that this intersection should be completely reconfigured, not just tinkered with.
  • The plan does not indicate which intersection signals and signalized pedestrian crossings will be on auto-recall, or not. There is probably no justification for pedestrians activation buttons at any location on the corridor (pedestrian crossings should have auto-detection), but if there is, these should be called out clearly in the plan.
  • The plan shows most intersections as having skipped (dotted) green bike lanes striped through the intersection, but a few do not. They should be used everywhere. For the protected legs of partially protected intersections, the striping should be continuous rather than skipped (dotted). MUTCD frowns on this, but it has been installed many places with positive safety outcomes.
  • Added item: No right turn on red prohibitions should never be used without leading pedestrian intervals (LPI). Otherwise, drivers turning will immediately come into conflict with walkers in the crosswalk. I don’t think this is being proposed in this plan, but just want to make sure.

The City of Sacramento Active Transportation Commission will consider the plan this evening (2021-03-18). I apologize for not posting this in time for you to consider my suggestions, and relay them to the commission, if you agree.

Stockton Blvd & Fruitridge Road intersection

Added info: There was a discussion about the prioritization of different travel modes during the SacATC meeting this evening. It reminded me of one of my favorite graphics about transportation modes, from Chicago Department of Transportation. I think this is the right answer for Stockton Blvd, and for nearly every other roadway.

Stockton Blvd draft available

The Stockton Blvd Corridor Study draft is now available for review. It and some display boards reflecting the report can be downloaded at https://www.cityofsacramento.org/Public-Works/Transportation/Planning-Projects/Stockton-Blvd-Corridor-Study. The city is asking for feedback through email rather than another round of workshops.

I have not reviewed the report, but if I have comments to share, I’ll post them on the blog. My take on the earlier ideas are here: Stockton Blvd Corridor Study and Stockton Blvd needs trees.

Stockton Blvd needs trees

This is a follow-on the the Stockton Blvd Corridor Study post.

Trees

Following the online virtual open house, I realized I could not picture the situation on some segments of Stockton. Though I’ve traveled Stockton many times, I had not in a while, so I went back. I had commented during the open house, as well as after, that I didn’t think the cross-sections presented gave enough information on or weight to trees, so that was part of my agenda, to see the tree situation better. The day I went, last Sunday, was one of the cooler days in a while, high of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but on the street the lack of shade and heat was noticeable. Add 20 degrees, and it would be intolerable for walking and unpleasant for bicycling.

The tree situation is not good. There are some sections with healthy trees, and some places where trees on commercial properties are healthy and shade the sidewalks, but on the whole, trees are lacking. The first photo below, taken looking south, to the south of Broadway, shows a long section with no trees at all, no buffer, no shade. The sidewalk is wide enough, but who would want to walk here?

Stockton Blvd south of Broadway

The next photo is of the section adjacent to UC Davis Medical Center where trees are present in a slightly too narrow buffer. The trees are relatively young, but when mature, will provide necessary shade and probably also crowd the buffer.

Stockton Blvd near UC Davis Medical Center

The next photo is of a very narrow strip where trees were present but were all cut down, and the following photo, a Google streetview capture of the trees. The trees were obviously planted in a strip far too narrow for them, and some of them were unhealthy as a result, so I’m not presenting this as a model, but as a warning that commercial properties cannot be relied upon to provide trees. Even the small trees in this narrow strip provided some shade and feeling of place to the street. In addition to this instance, there are many commercial properties and some residential properties along Stockton where the trees are dying, dead, or have been removed. And conversely, some where the trees on commercial properties are in good condition, so thank you to these properties. Trees, if they are to serve as a long-term amenity, as I believe they should, must be provided in the public right of way and maintained by the city.

Stockton Blvd, removed trees, near Jansen
Stockton Blvd, trees before removal, near Jansen

A small archive of photos from Stockton Blvd are available in the Flickr album at the end of this post, and those who live along or do business along can provide more detail.

So what is the solution? The first part of the solution is that the city must modify its cross-section renderings and pages so that it highlights the tree situation. Will there be a sidewalk buffer? How wide? What numbers and kinds of trees? To what degree will the project rely on trees on private property, versus trees in the public right-of-way? I find the options presented as unacceptable because they don’t really address this issue. On a few of the pages, trees are mentioned, but never in enough detail.

I would propose for community along Stockton Blvd that there should be continuous sidewalk buffers planted with trees, all the way from Alhambra to 47th Ave/Elder Creek Rd. Where buffers are present with trees, great, make sure they are preserved and cared for. Where buffers are present but the trees are absent or unhealthy, plant new trees and care for them. Where there are no buffers, create them, and plant trees and care for them. Where there is a healthy tree line on private property, this can serve for now, but the buffer should still be provided for the protection of walkers and as a bulwark against possible abandonment of the private trees. I envision Stockton Blvd being a tree-lined community asset, where walking is a pleasure and traffic speeds and volumes are low.

For new buffers, the minimum width of the buffer should be eight feet, as anything narrower does not allow for full development of the trees, and leads to excessive root heaving of the sidewalk. The heaving is to some degree an inevitable consequence of having trees, but wider buffers and correct watering regimes reduce the problem considerably. Where the existing buffers are at least six feet and the trees are healthy, the buffer can be widened or left as is, depending on the situation. Where the buffer is narrower than six feet, the buffer must be expanded.

Where commercial businesses are present and buildings meet the sidewalk, the trees should still be present, but the spacing and species can be adjusted in consultation with the property or business owners so that they don’t block off visibility of local businesses. In most cases the buffer would be paved, with tree wells for the trees, and street furniture or other amenities in the buffer, but the buffer would still be a minimum of eight feet.

Intersections

Another issues that the city diagrams and information do not address is intersections and crossings. The existing conditions report acknowledges that there are long distances between safe crossings on the south end, but doesn’t provide much detail about intersections.

The intersections as they exist actively discourage pedestrian activity. The midblock crossings, of which there are a few, do not have any additional protection. At a minimum, these locations need user-activated RRFBs (Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons). At many of the signalized intersections with minor streets, there is a pedestrian prohibition on either the north or south leg. These prohibitions exist solely to speed the signal cycle and encourage traffic flow; they do not exist for safety reasons. They must be removed. The photos below shows just one of the many such prohibitions. A person walking on the south side of Jansen, wanting to go south on Stockton, would have to use two crosswalks, waiting for the signal, and then walk through an overly wide commercial driveway. There is no reason for this.

Stockton Blvd at Jansen Dr, pedestrian prohibition

At the major intersections, where crosswalks are present on all legs, the crossing distances are long. Though not as bad as many other locations in Sacramento, intersections are often flared out to add turn lanes, both left and, often, right turn lanes. This increases crossing distance. This issue can be solved in two ways: removing the unnecessary turn lanes, or adding pedestrian refuge islands in the middle, so that slower walkers can make the crossing in two stages. The medians must be six feet wide, to meet standards, and must have a pedestrian button so that people don’t become stranded. (Note: I’m not in favor of pedestrian buttons at all, except when they: 1) trigger audible information, or 2) lengthen the crossing time; however, this is one situation in which they make sense)

The project information does not really address intersections at all. City staff said that these details would be worked out later, but I find this unacceptable. Intersection design must be part of the options presented. Intersections are where most conflicts occur between pedestrians and vehicle drivers, and bicyclists and drivers as well, so they are a critical element of any effort to improve Stockton.

Driveways

Some of the sections of Stockton are littered with driveways. Each commercial property has one to several. Part of improving Stockton must be to reduce the number of driveways. Each commercial property should have one driveway, or less. One of (the only) advantages of the parking moats that front the street (what I mean by parking moat is that the commercial buildings are set back away from the street, and parking lots face the street; these parking moats contribute significantly to the feeling of Stockton Blvd being a car-dominated place). In several cases, these parking moats can be combined for several properties in order to reduce the frequency of driveways. The issue with driveways is that they not only make a place feel busy and unwelcoming to walkers and bicyclists, but they are safety hazards for walkers and bicyclists very nearly as bad as the hazard of an intersection.

Stockton Blvd, north of Elder Creek, excessive driveways

Built Form

There is a section of ‘old’ Stockton Blvd where the buildings come to the sidewalk, and parking, if any is to the side or back. This traditional pattern (traditional before suburban sprawl) is the best built environment, the one that feels most welcoming to people outside cars. It increases customers, it makes the street feel smaller and the sidewalk feel larger.

The ‘new’ sections of Stockton Blvd where buildings are set back behind a moat of parking have exactly the opposite effect, producing an environment that feels unwelcoming to walkers, makes the sidewalk feel like a part of the street rather than a part of the neighborhood. This built form is a widely recognized mistake, but the correction will take many, many years as these commercial properties evolve. But what can happen, now, is that all new commercial buildings can be required to front the sidewalk. There are a lot of empty or abandoned parcels on Stockton, which everyone hopes will see new development. That development should be the traditional pattern that gives the street a neighborhood feel rather than a traffic sewer feel.

Stockton Blvd, buildings fronting the sidewalk

Speed Limits

Another issue that the study pays scant attention to is speed limits. Whether or not the street design option work depends on design speed and posted speed. The default assumption in transportation planning is that speed limits cannot be lowered, due to California ‘law’. First, it is not a law, it is case law, established by judges, not the legislature, that says traffic tickets won’t be enforced unless speed limits are set to the level at which only 15% of drivers exceed. This will of course be changed, but the process is long, with powerful opponents, most specifically CHP whose lip service to safety is legend. But more important to this study is that streets that are reconfigured, with a change to lane width or number of lanes or mix of modes, can be set to any speed limit the city wishes. The road is new, and the past speed limit doesn’t apply.

So, in accordance with my desire to see a tree-lined neighborhood boulevard, I think that the speed limit for this entire length should be 30 mph. And of course the street must be designed to enforce that posted speed limit.

Highway 50 Interchange

The Hwy 50 and Stockton Blvd interchange is problematic for both walkers and bicyclists. There are no bike lanes through this section, at all, and walkers on the east side of Stockton face long crossing distances in a design that strongly favors high speed motor vehicle drivers. In the photo below, look at the long crossing distance on the north side of the freeway, of the exit and entrance ramps. It’s about 120 feet, with no protection from drivers, at all. I have both used and observed this crosswalk, and can confirm that very few drivers yield to walkers in the crosswalk. It is a guaranteed death trap for walkers.

The roadway striping does not delineate areas for motor vehicles and bicyclists, nor does it indicate where riders or drivers should be merging to reach their destination. It is just a wide-open area, and as with all wide-open areas, drivers will assume they have complete right-of-way. You can see by the tire tracks that the turns on and off the freeways are being taken at high speed.

Stockton Blvd – Hwy 50 interchange

This interchange must be completely reconfigured for the safety of walkers and bicyclists, and drivers for that matter. The entry and exit ramps must connect with the street at 90 degree angles, requiring drivers to make low speed turns. Bicycle lanes with green conflict markings must be installed throughout the interchange. Sidewalks must be improved and crossing distances shortened to no more than 22 feet.

It is disappointing that such a critical safety hazard was not addressed in the study.

Mode Share

The study, online survey, and open house never address the key issue for the entire corridor, which is: what should be the priority of travel modes in design of the street? Some of the options imply a higher priority for some modes than others, but the critical question is never asked of the public. I had said in my previous post that my priorities would be transit first, then walking, then bicycling, then private motor vehicle travel. However, having spent more time looking at and thinking about the corridor, I’m going to change that. The priorities should be walking first, strongly supported by the tree-lined boulevard configuration I’ve outlined and justified, then transit, then bicycling, then private motor vehicles.

What is is important here, though, it not my preference, but that the public, and in particular the residents and customers along the corridor were never asked this question.

What Now?

I’ve laid out what I consider some major flaws in the study. I am not against the particular options that were presented, and from that limited perspective, the study has done a good job. But the number of things NOT considered is glaring. I know the city hopes to address these issues later, but I don’t find later to be acceptable. The public needs a full set in information now, so that it can comment on the study from a perspective of understanding how the street will feel after the changes, not just design diagrams, but how each traveler will get along and across the corridor, and whether it supports their desires for mobility and livability.

I think the city should pause the study process and add in the elements not addressed, then go back out to key stakeholders, and re-do the engagement process including the survey and open house.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157714923753216

Redlining trees

A take-off on the article on CapRadio, Summer Days Often Feel Much Hotter If You Live In One Of California’s Historically Redlined Neighborhoods, published/broadcast May 26.

image from @RandolWhite tweet

The lower temperatures along the river corridor are of course expected. And so is the pattern, almost universally seen here, that lower income locations have higher temperatures. One could speculate that these areas never had as many trees, but I don’t think that is the explanation. It has to do with sidewalks, and city neglect.

I walk a lot, and to the degree possible, walk throughout the city. What I see in the lower income neighborhoods is a decline in trees. Many have been removed, and many of the ones remaining are declining in health. I do not think it is because people who live there don’t care about trees, quite the opposite. It is because there are more renters in lower income neighborhoods, with landlords who do not care much about trees, or other things. For those who do own their homes, it is a struggle to pay the bills and take care of trees.

When these neighborhoods were built, they probably had just as many trees as any of the leafy neighborhoods in midtown or east Sacramento or Arden Park. But these neighborhoods are old enough that many of the trees are dying out (maybe for lack of care, more probably because they were not the right tree for the context), and not being replaced. The homeowners or renters don’t have the money to replace them, and the landlords don’t care.

So why are there still trees other places? Because the design of streets in many higher income neighborhoods feature detached sidewalks, with a buffer in between the street and the sidewalk. This is the standard design for livability in all but intensive retail areas, and adds significant safety and comfort for walkers. But in the second ring and beyond suburbs, most streets are either without sidewalks or have attached sidewalks, with no buffers. So the trees were in people’s yards, not in the buffer. When they die or are taken out, the city has no responsibility. When there are buffers, the city replaces the trees. Yes, they are incredible slow about doing so, but it does eventually happen. And it happens for the most obvious of reasons, that richer (white) people get what they ask for in this city.

The city also repairs sidewalks when the buffer tree roots systems begin to crack and heave the sidewalk (many buffers were too small for the trees planted in them). Not with alacrity, but they do it. When a yard tree cracks and heaves a sidewalk, the city sends the owner a notice to repair.

tree in sidewalk buffer, with city repair
a typical lower income neighborhood, no buffer, no city maintenance
no buffer, rolled curb, no yard trees (though there were at one time)

A person posted in reply to the CapRadio article that the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District did a Urban Heat Island Project to assess the issue and solutions. Good for the air district, and good for the study, but what about action? What about the city? What is the city doing, proactively, to get trees back into low income neighborhoods?

Tree redling also relates to the issue of sidewalk responsibility. Sidewalks are a part of the city’s transportation system, and are legally and morally the responsibility of the city to maintain. The idea that we provide for cars and car drivers, while leaving walkers to the vagaries of private property owners is an idea whose time has passed. In fact, I think that the city should establish a program of repairing and installing sidewalks before ANY road repairs are done. It will take many years to undo the damage of our cars-first transportation system and funding, but the time to start is now. Where sufficient public right of way exists, and sidewalks are in need of significant repair, existing sidewalks should be replaced by detached sidewalks, with buffers and street trees.

surprisingly good sidewalks

repaired sidewalk around tree, P Street at 16th Street
repaired sidewalk around tree, P Street at 16th Street

When working on my post about responsibility for sidewalks, I realized I did not have a good illustrating photo for the post, so I went off walking in my neighborhood (midtown) looking for examples of broken sidewalks. After walking a couple of miles, I’d found only a few, and they were not bad. I guess my view of the world has been jaundiced by the time I spend in the suburbs, where many of the sidewalks are broken and deteriorating. There, it would take me less than a block in most areas to find something wrong with the sidewalk, or to find no sidewalk at all.

In midtown, that is not so. I see a lot of places where the sidewalk has been replaced or repaired, often many times over the years, in a patchwork of concrete of varying ages. There are asphalt patches over uneven sections, which work as long as they are kept up to date, but must eventually be repaired by removal and replacement.

Continue reading “surprisingly good sidewalks”