walking policies for SacCity

Where two previous posts come together (Reset for SacATC and don’t forget the little things) is suggested policies for the City of Sacramento that support walking for many reasons: to protect vulnerable users from drivers, to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and thereby greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), to create a walking-first city where everyone feels safe to walk, and to support infill housing that is the next most important action to reduce GHGs. I’ll make a brief suggestion for a policy that would implement each walking idea.

These are the policies that the Sacramento Active Transportation Commission (SacATC) should be addressing, and then making recommendations to the city council. I’ll be blunt: if SacATC is not addressing these issues, then why does it exist?

The ideas presented are, not in any priority order (numbers for reference only):

1. Mark crosswalks at every intersection. Except in purely residential neighborhoods, these should be zebra design.
Policy: The city will mark (paint) every crosswalk in the city. The standard will be zebra or continental markings (the solid bars), but parallel lines are acceptable at purely residential intersections. Implementation within one year.
Considerations: Yes, this will be expensive to install and to maintain. But the safety benefit makes this a great investment. Since the DMV fails to ensure that drivers understand that every intersection has crosswalks whether marked or not, it is incumbent on the city to mark crosswalks.

2. Daylight intersections by removing parking from within 15 feet of every crosswalk, at least on the near side (far side is a lesser safety benefit)
Policy: Marked parking spots will be removed from within 20 feet of an intersection on the near side. Unmarked parking will be converted to no parking with red curb offsets of 20 feet. The resulting area may be used for shared rideables parking. Where a curb extension is present, parking need not be removed. Implementation within two years.
Considerations: This increases visibility at every intersection by making walkers more visible to motorists (and bicyclists), and making vehicles more visible to people walking. Near side means the first crosswalk at every intersection in the direction of travel. Removal of parking on the far side confers little safety benefit.

3. Re-program traffic signals to create leading pedestrian intervals, everywhere.
Policy: Every traffic signal with a pedestrian signal head will be programmed to offer a leading pedestrian interval (LPI) of at least three seconds. Implementation within one year.
Considerations: The greatest risk walkers face at intersections is right-turning drivers who do not yield to people in the crosswalk. The LPI gives walkers a head start so that they are visible to drivers while the traffic light is still red. State law will soon be changed to allow bicyclists to also use the LPI.

4. Remove or properly label every pedestrian push button. Don’t make walkers play the guessing game. Except at very low use intersections, pedestrian signals should be on auto-recall.
Policy: Every pedestrian push button will either be removed or labeled with its function. Implementation within one year.
Considerations: The presence of push buttons without indication of whether they are necessary to push is a case of clear discrimination against people walking. The city has refused to change signage to indicate whether the push button activates a signal change, triggers an audible warning only, or does nothing at all. In the long run, all pedestrian signals everywhere should be on auto-recall, meaning no push is needed, but this correctly labeling the button is the first step.

5. Remove pedestrian prohibitions which serve traffic flow rather than safety of walkers. This is the majority of them.
Policy: The city will study every instance of a pedestrian prohibition to determine if the prohibition is necessary to ensure safety for people walking. Traffic flow will not be used to justify a prohibition. Each location where the study determines there is no safety benefit for walkers will be removed, crosswalks marked, and appropriate pedestrian signal heads installed. Implementation within three years.
Considerations: Most, though not all, of these pedestrian prohibitions were installed to promote the flow of traffic, not to protect walkers. Studies will result in the removal of most.

6. Install traffic diverters (modal filters) on about one-quarter of all streets, at no less than 1/8 mile intervals. This discourages through-traffic on most streets, and discourages longer driving trips, while being permeable to bicyclists and walkers.
Policy: At every location in the city where a grid street system or alternate travel streets are available, the city will install traffic diverters (modal filters) which require motor vehicles to turn off current street. The interval should be no less than 1/8 mile. This will not apply to designated collector or arterial streets. Implementation within for years.
Considerations: Diverters discourage drivers from traveling long distances on streets which should be low traffic, and they also slow traffic. Diverters are the most effective traffic calming device available. Despite the clear effectiveness of the existing diverters, the city has decided not to install any more. This policy would reverse that unofficial policy. Where a grid street system exists, diverters are completely appropriate. Unfortunately the winding streets and lack of connectivity in the sprawling parts of the city make these impractical.

7. Charge for all street parking, everywhere, even in residential neighborhoods.
Policy: End all free street parking. Charge residents a reasonable fee for a parking permit that covers the cost of maintaining the portion of the street that contains the parking. Set fees for paid parking in such a way that there is always at least one open parking spot on every block. Implement within one year.
Considerations: The city has done much better at managing paid parking, raising rates to more closely reflect (though not fully cover) the actual costs to the city. But outside of paid parking areas, drivers are getting a free ride, which encourages ownership and use of vehicles, contributing to VMT. In residential areas, it is not unusual for a single residence to own multiple vehicles, some of which are rarely used and just take up space that could better be used for other purposes.

8. Reduce speed limits to 20 mph, citywide and all at once, on every street that is not an arterial or collector street.
Policy: The speed limit on all streets that are not collectors or arterials will be reduced to 20 mph. Implementation within six months.
Considerations: The benefits to walkers and bicyclists (and drivers) of lower speeds are well known, reducing the severity of crashes and reducing the likelihood of crashes due to more reaction time. The ’20 is plenty’ movement is becoming widespread. Some argue that changing speed limits without changing roadway design is pointless, but my philosophy is “Yes, and…” – we should be redesigning roadways, but while that work is in progress, we can save lives now by reducing speed limits. It will take some while to change speed limit signs, so simply blocking out the existing 25 number would be acceptable in the interim.

9. Ensure that every construction project that reconstructs sidewalks also installs curb extensions (bulb-outs) where there is a parking lane present. This is not uniformly happening.
Policy: Curb extensions will be required on every corner which is reconstructed for any purpose. Street faces on corners where a bicycle lane is present but parking lane is not present will be excepted. Curb extensions will be designed so as to not interfere with bicycle lanes, and existing or planned separated bikeways. Implementation immediately.

Considerations: Curb extensions, also called bulb-outs, significantly increase safety by shortening crossing distances and by increasing visibility between walkers and drivers. The entity making the change to the sidewalk/corner would be responsible to the extension, though where drainage issues exist, the city might help with partial funding to move or enhance drainage. There are many instances in the city where curb extensions should be installed as part of construction projects, but are not being.

10. Create interim curb extensions with paint and flexible posts.
Policy: At any intersection where a pedestrian fatality or severe injury has occurred within the last ten years, temporary curb extensions created with paint and vertical delineators will be installed. Implementation within one year. Temporary curb extensions will be replaced by permanent concrete curb extensions within ten years.
Considerations: This policy would allow the ‘quick fix’ of curb extensions at relatively low cost, but eventually create curb extensions at all hazardous intersections, city-wide.

11. Take on responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, since they are an integral part of the transportation network.
Policy: The city accepts maintenance responsibility for all sidewalks that are within the public right-of-way. The city will develop a plan for bringing all sidewalks to a state of good repair, with implementation first in low-income neighborhoods.
Considerations: State law allows the city to shirk its responsibility for maintaining sidewalks by shifting the burden unfairly onto adjacent property owners. The result is poorly maintained sidewalks that do not serve the needs of anyone waking or rolling, but particularly discriminate against people with mobility limitations. Some sidewalks are not within the public right-of-way, but this is uncommon.

12. Buy every employee of Public Works and Community Development a copy of Walkable City Rules (Jeff Speck), and hold sessions to develop a new city mission that prioritizes walkers (and bicyclists and transit riders) over private vehicles.
Policy: Buy the books! Implementation immediately. Hold sessions within six months. Develop new mission within one year.
Considerations: Every city employee should be responsible for doing their part to make the city a walkable place where people are safe and welcomed on every street. City employees and politicians have in the past created a car-dominated city where it is unsafe to walk and bicycle, and now is the time to set a new vision and way forward. Note that this does not address the issue that people don’t feel safe walking in some locations, and this is a critically important issue that the city should also address.

Sac Vision Zero top ped intersections

As promised, a follow-on to my post on the top bicycle collision intersections in Sacramento (Sac Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors and top intersections), here is the same sort of analysis for pedestrian collisions. I used a somewhat different data set, this time only killed and severe injury crashes (KSI), for the years 2009-2017. This mirrors the data the city used in the Vision Zero Top 5 Corridors document, and so is not directly comparable to the different criteria I used on the bicycle post.

Pedestrian (walker) collisions are more dispersed that bicycle collisions, fewer occurring at intersections and more in between. Of the 408 collisions, 70 were at intersections, 17%, compared to 69% for bicycle collisions. Of these 408 collisions, twelve intersections stood out: Amherst St & Florin Rd, Marysville Blvd & Grand Ave, and Watt Ave & Auburn Blvd, each with three; and 15th St & Capitol Mall, 29th St & Florin Rd, 5th St & N St, 7th St & J St, Stockton Blvd & Broadway, Stockton Blvd & Lemon Hill Ave, Riverside Dr & X St, and Julliard Dr & Kiefer Blvd & Folsom Blvd, each with two. Of these 12 intersections, 4 are on Top Five corridors: Marysville Blvd & Grand Ave on the Marysville corridor, Stockton Blvd & Broadway on the Stockton-Broadway corridor, Stockton Blvd & Lemon Hill Ave on the South Stockton corridor, and 29th St & Florin Rd on the Florin corridor.

The map belows shows the city corridors and the twelve intersections, with the number of collisions and intersection name labeled. There is also a pdf available.

map Vision Zero top pedestrian intersections
Sacramento pedestrian collision top intersections, with Vision Zero corridors

There is a better alignment between the five designated corridors and pedestrian collision intersections than was true for bicycle collisions.

I will point out that the Julliard Dr & Kiefer Blvd & Folsom Blvd intersection is the site of three pedestrian collisions and four bicycle collisions, which is higher than any other intersection in the city. It should really be a focus for the city.

Addition 2021-03-02: Someone asked how the pedestrian collision locations relate to disadvantaged communities. Below, a map with CalEnviroScreen 3 2018-06 (CES) layer, with red end being higher pollution, green being lower, and weighted with income. CES is not the only measure of disadvantage, but it is one commonly used.

more LPIs

I wrote some while ago about leading pedestrian indicator (LPI) signals, which give the pedestrian a head start of a few seconds before the parallel traffic light turns green. So far as I know, Sacramento has not added any locations to the list of eleven.

But the city should. In fact, I’d argue that any traffic signal where there are a significant number of walkers, and a significant number of turning drivers, should have an LPI. Drivers often fail to yield to people in the crosswalk when turning, or cut in right behind them, and the more chance the walker has to get out into the crosswalk and visible, the better. Of course nothing about the LPI prevents the driver from turning on red, unless turns on red are prohibited. Prohibiting turns on red has been much discussed lately, but I don’t think that treatment is the most important that can happen at intersections.

I live a few blocks from Fremont Park, which is the block between 15th Street and 16th Street, and P Street and Q Street. In fact, many of the parks in the central city are located between pairs of one-way streets, called couplets. 16th is one of the busiest streets in the central city, and the other two are moderately busy, and these four intersections see a lot of turning vehicles. Since I walk nearly every day to and around the park, I get plenty of chance to see how drivers interact with walkers in the crosswalk. I’ve never seen anybody hit, but I often see conflicts, the driver trying to intimidate the walker, trying to beat them to the crosswalk, stopping just short of hitting them, or cutting in close behind them.

P Street and Q Street are two-lane arterials, while 15th Street and 16th Street are three-lane arterials, with higher traffic volumes and vehicle speeds. 16th was a state highway.

So, I’m asking the city to install LPI signals for the south crosswalk at 15th & P, the east crosswalk at 15th & Q, the north crosswalk at 16th & Q, and the west crosswalk at 16th & P. The photos below show the intersection of 15th & P from pedestrian level, and overhead. The video shows two pedestrians crossing, and mostly through the crosswalk before the driver encroaches. This was a low traffic time with only one turning vehicle. When I have a chance to capture a heavier traffic time with pedestrians, I’ll replace it.

P Street westbound, showing crosswalk over 15th St ahead
15th Street & P Street, south crosswalk
crosswalk over 15th Street at P Street

I often write about the Sacramento central city because that is where I live, and I have ample opportunity to observe transportation infrastructure and driver, walker and bicyclist behavior. However, I’d like to state that I DO NOT think that central city issues should be solved first. These issues occur in many places in Sacramento, where the traffic is higher speed, facilities are poorer, and neighborhoods have been disinvested. Drivers in the central city are just as bad as drivers elsewhere, in fact most of them are from elsewhere, the suburbs, but they have grown somewhat accustomed to seeing walkers and bicyclists, and are more careful around them.

Next: LPIs and bicyclists

Reform NHTSA? Hmm…

Congratulations to Californian Steven Cliff on his appointment as interim administrator the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). See StreetsblogCal post Steven Cliff, from California Air Resources Board, Appointed Acting Head of National Highway and Traffic Safety for more information.

The agency has many areas of responsibility including vehicle safety and education. The agency mission is: “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is responsible for keeping people safe on America’s roadways.” The agency has for years (long predating Trump) seen its mission as making it safe for people inside vehicles, and has ignored any issues of safety for people outside vehicles. People have repeatedly asked that the agency address vehicle design that would make it safer for people outside, making it less likely that they would be hit by a driver, and more likely to survive if they were hit. Its education programs are rife with victim blaming and bias against walkers and bicyclists. Nearly everyone who is active in the walker and bicyclist safety profession rejects out of hand their educational materials as being so biased as to be unusable. Even though they have officially stopped using the discredited claim that driver behavior is responsible for 94% of crashes, they are still relaying and cheering on this garbage when other agencies and organizations use it.

NHTSA has promoted the ‘shared responsibility’ mythology, that all users of the road are equally responsible for safety, frequently seen along with the message that walkers and bicyclist must wear high visibility clothing, must carry lights, must never use cell phones, must be aware at all times of the hazard presented by motor vehicles and are responsible for avoiding those hazards. This is bullshit. Drivers of vehicles which are designed to be unsafe for people outside them, who think they own the road and that pedestrians and bicyclists should be somewhere else, should be responsible. These drivers are traveling along roadways that were designed to be unsafe for walkers and bicyclists by transportation agency engineers, who also should be responsible.

NHTSA does not have responsibility for roadway design, that lies with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). However, NHTSA has made no effort to work with FHWA to bring together concerns about the safety of vehicle design with the safety of roadway design. The agency view seems to be ‘not our problem’.

I encourage you to read Don Kostelec, who has been one of strongest voices highlighting the victim-blaming of agencies like NHTSA and the mis-design of roadways by engineers. He does a better job of this than I ever could.

20% of roadway fatalities in 2019 were what NHTSA calls ‘nonoccupant fatalities’, meaning people walking and bicycling. Or eating in cafes, or sleeping in their beds, or shopping in stores, or any number of other ways in which drivers kill people when departing the roadway. During the pandemic there has been a huge increase in poor (criminal) driver behavior, and after the pandemic there will be a large increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT). In some places, vehicles miles traveled (VMT) has already increased nearly back to where it was before the pandemic, even though many people are taking few or no trips. Those who are taking trips have increased their motor vehicle use. This does not bode well. NHTSA does not directly contribute to this problem, but it has had a central role in absolving drivers of responsibility for crashes that kill and maim walkers and bicyclists, and for that, I hold them responsible.

7,338 walkers and bicyclist died on the roadways in 2019. The numbers will probably be similar in 2020, though some cities have seen huge increases. Ironically, the percentage of total fatalities may decrease since there has been such a huge increase, of about 1.5 times, in single vehicle crashes, mostly due to speeding. (https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/Publication/813054)

I don’t think that NHTSA can be reformed. The culture of windshield perspective and victim blaming is so deeply ingrained in the agency that, short of casting off all the administrators, department heads, and much of the employee base, no reform is possible. While other agencies and organizations at all government levels have shifted away from victim blaming and windshield bias, many kicking and screaming, NHTSA has not shifted. It is still stuck in the 1970s mindset that plagues transportation agencies, that the purpose of roadways is to move the maximum number of motor vehicles at the maximum possible speed.

So, Steven, I wish you the best of luck and professional success in this position, but I’m not holding my breath. The anti-safety culture is just too deeply embedded in NHTSA. Of that 7,338 people who died in 2019, I would guess that half of them would be alive today if NHTSA actually took its stated mission of roadway safety seriously.