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

Stockton Blvd Corridor Study

The City of Sacramento is undertaking a Stockton Blvd Corridor Study, covering the section between Alhambra Blvd and 47th Ave / Elder Creek Rd, but focused on the two high injury segments around Broadway to 14th Ave and north of Lemon Hill Ave to south of 47th Ave / Elder Creek Rd. Map below.

Tomorrow, Thursday June 25, there will be a virtual open house at 6:00 pm. There is also a survey which is open through Tuesday, June 30. The survey offers existing conditions information for each of several segments, and then presents two options are asks the user to select one of the other, and make comments if they wish. The options were developed as a result of a community engagement process which was partially led by Jackie Cole of VG Consulting. I attended one of the meetings in February, which had more actual community members than most such meetings, but was only moderately attended. I did not attend any of the other events.

I would encourage anyone who travels on Stockton Blvd, and particularly people who live on or do business on the corridor to take the survey and attend the virtual open house. Please use the comment boxes to tell stories of your personal experiences and concerns using the corridor, as they make a huge difference in the design ultimately selected (we hope).

The nature and width of Stockton (both the street and the right of way) varies considerably over the length of the section, so there is not a single roadway design that can be used throughout.

The survey and background documents do not address the number of driveways along several sections of the road. In some places there are more driveways than not driveways, with each commercial property having one or more driveways. The density of driveways mean that most measures taken to make the street safer for walkers and bicyclists, and faster for transit, will fail. The city must reduce the number of driveways, whereever consolidation is possible. A key question which the survey never asks is what should be the priority of the different travel modes along the corridor. I would argue for:

  1. transit
  2. walking
  3. bicycling
    …..
  4. private motor vehicles

But your priorities may be different. The reason I place transit at the top is that SacRT Route 51, when highest ridership route in the entire system, runs on Stockton from Broadway to 47th Ave and beyond. This is the sort of ridership that would justify bus rapid transit (BRT) in most cities, and some of the options do ease bus travel but fall short of BRT. And of course people must either walk or bicycle to the bus, and so these two modes must come next. High quality sidewalks and bike facilities can ease these ‘first mile’ trips, and make it possible to reduce somewhat the frequency of bus stops, further speeding the bus.

Stockton Blvd at Hwy 50, wide and ugly

walking…

A brief aside before I get to the solutions for construction zones.

I’ve been out walking
I don’t do that much talking these days
These days
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do, for you
And all the times I had the chance to

Jackson Browne, “I’ve Been Out Walking” or “These Days” 1967/1973

I’ve realized in the last few days that I could spend a week, and fill up a week with blog posts, about construction zone problems in just the central city, and could probably spend a month on it in the entire city. Prior to the shelter-in-place, I was mostly bike riding for time reasons, but now that I have more time, I’ve been walking a lot more, and I see a lot of construction activity that I failed to notice on bike. When I’m bicycling, I just go around the construction zone, taking the lane, because that is what I mostly do anyway, and don’t think about it that much. However, most people aren’t willing to take the lane in traffic, and therefore are stopped cold by these construction zones that do not carry the bike lane through. My posts will continue to be mostly about issues for walkers because I see walkers as being more vulnerable users of the public right-of-way, as compared to bicyclists, and collision statistics back that up, however, I recognize that there are plenty of issues for bicyclists as well.

we don’t need transportation “balance”

A recent post on Streetsblog, Brent Toderian: Don’t “Balance” Modes — Prioritize Walking, Biking, and Transit, is from a visit and keynote in Denver, but applies perfectly to Sacramento, and I encourage you to read and reflect.

His main point is that those calling for balancing spending on all the modes really mean “lets just keep doing what we were doing.” We have spent, in this region, trillions of dollars in support of one mode, the privately owned motor vehicle. We have spent a little on transit, and almost nothing on walking and bicycling. If we simply increase the share for transit, walking and bicycling a bit, we have not really done anything. There is a deficit in transit, walking, and bicycling that can only be overcome but shifting our spending to these modes. Every dollar spent on expanding or widening roadways and freeways for privately owned vehicles directly harms transit, walking and bicycling because it encourages and subsidizes privately owned vehicles. It encourages people to live further away from jobs and services. It induces traffic, which congests our roadways so that transit can’t work as well. It encourages inappropriate speeds that endanger walkers and bicyclists.

nonewroadsBefore we can start doing right, creating system that truly serves people’s desires for access in livable communities, we have to stop doing what we were doing. It think we can keep doing the wrong stuff and just add in the right stuff, we are wrong. We need to stop expanding and widening roads. Now, and for ever. #NoNewRoads

people out walking!

Last evening I went for a walk, heading north to the Sac Northern trail, then the American River Parkway to Discovery Park, then across the Jibboom Bridge and into old town. I’d certainly seen bicyclists and a few walkers, but when I got to old town, there were hundreds of people walking around. I noticed they almost all had cell phones in hand, not that unusual, but still. I headed south along the river and saw yet more people. Then back along R Street where there were few people, until I got to the main part of R Street, and then into Fremont Park where there were yet more people. Remember, this was a Monday night largely after sunset, when I might see 10 people out walking in an evening, and I’d already seen at least 300. What was going on?

Well, you more culturally/technologically literate already know, but it took me some time to figure out. Pokemon GO! All of these people were playing the game on smart phones, looking for pokemons (is that the correct plural?).

I had heard a bit about the game, but didn’t realize it was taking the country by storm. Today, there were more prominent articles on all the media, even showing up on my main two news sources, Streetsblog and Strong Towns. I sat at Karma Brew with a Rasputin, and observed the goings-on in the park and along the streets.

So, what I saw, that I liked:

  1. People were out walking on a night when I would not usually see anyone. This means these people were getting physical activity when they would otherwise be in front of TV or computer.
  2. People were walking, looking at their smart phones, but they had their heads up, looking around, with the phone in their field of view but not their sole focus. Unlike most users whose heads are down and completely oblivious to what is around them. I’m not going to claim walking with a phone is safe, but I will say what I saw last night is significantly safer than what many people already do.
  3. People were talking to people in other groups, interacting with people they didn’t know. This is quite unusual. Even at bars and coffee shops, where people theoretically to to socialize, most people hang with their own group and do not interact much if at all with others.
  4. I heard people making comments like “I never knew that was there,” and “I always wondered what that was.” They were seeing things with new eyes. I am not sure how much of this discovery is designed into the app, but whatever is there results in people looking.
  5. People were hanging out in gathering places, old town, the promenade, R Street, Fremont Park. Again, whatever the design, this is where the pokemons were.
  6. People were not drinking. I have no problem with drinking, as long as you don’t drive, but I have to admit is was great to see so many people having such a good time without drinking.

As with any new technology, and any new social media, there will be hiccups. But on the whole I can see so many positives to this latest fad. I think I’m going to try it myself, though obviously not on my backpack trips. No pokemons out there!

MTP-SCS comments

mtpscsSACOG is working on the 2016 update of the MTP-SCS (Metropolitan Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy) or Greenprint, with the draft having been out for a month and the deadline for comments on November 16. The last of the public meetings will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, November 10, 6:30-7:30PM, at SACOG Offices, 1415 L Street, 3rd Floor, Sacramento. I hope you can attend.

I have been part of a 350Sac Transportation Committee effort to review the document. I’ve reviewed parts of it, Chapters 1, 4, and 5C, and Appendix A, but have not had the time to review the whole thing – it is massive. The comments below are my own, not the committees. Your comments on the plan are welcome and important. If you can’t tackle the whole plan, pick a small part of interest to you, and comment on that part.

Continue reading “MTP-SCS comments”

Sac Grid 2.0

Tomorrow (Monday) an open house / community meeting will be held on the Sacramento Grid 2.0 project which aims to improve transportation in the downtown/midtown area of Sacramento.

I attended the stakeholder meeting October 20, and had input leading up and as a result of that meeting, but then forgot to post. Thank you, Ken Petruzzelli for reminding me to post.

The stakeholder meeting was all about the maps of each component (pedestrian, bicycling, transit, and others), gathering feedback about what works and what doesn’t. Of course with physical maps you can’t overlay different layers to see what the correlation is, but the facilitator at my table did a good job of relating the layers. The maps have not been made available to the public yet, and what you see on Monday could differ from those shown at the stakeholder meeting.

Significant issues in my group (there were six groups) were: whether bike lanes on both sides of one-way streets made sense, with the consensus being that they were not needed except in special circumstances of heavy bicyclist traffic turning left; whether the two-way cycle-track (separated bikeway) on N Street between 3rd and 15th would work well at intersections in the western part; and that nothing in the plan seemed to address a reduction of signals and stop signs throughout the grid that would improve transportation flow and actually reduce speeding.

The map approach at the stakeholder meeting left out that which isn’t spatial – policy. I think policy to support the transformation is at least as important as which streets are changed. What follows is a list of policy issues that I think must be addressed in the plan.

Continue reading “Sac Grid 2.0”

Walking to the pub

I’d like to expand on a tweet I posted last night:

“On St Patricks day, when everyone is reminding you to drive sober, let me remind you to live close enough to your pub that you can walk.”

As I was walking around early evening yesterday, I went by a number of bars that were catering to some degree to the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I was looking for a place with Irish music, of which there were as many yesterday as the entire rest of the year (sadly, Celtic/Irish music has faded from Sacramento). Some were pretty empty, some were so full there were long lines just to get in. The most popular in my part of town, De Vere’s, didn’t seem to be offering music at all. And I won’t set foot in a place that serves green beer. I settled on Shady Lady as the place I’d return to in the later evening. But this isn’t a post about favorite bars, it is about transportation.

Shady Lady is four blocks from my apartment. An easy walk at any time, and an easy walk if I’ve had enough to drink that it would affect my walking. I actually don’t drink much, and had only two strong beers last night. But the point is, I could have walked home if I’d had ten, or more. Or I could have done what many others were doing, jump in their car and head home, endangering themselves and their passengers, endangering other drivers and passengers, endangering pedestrians, endangering bicyclists. Everyone spends time talking about not driving drunk, about having designated drivers, but despite years of this kind of talk, and some effective shaming by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, people still do it. The talk is especially prominent around holidays, St. Patrick’s Day among many. But there are still drunks on the road, and they still cause a disproportionate percentage of crashes. We’ve made some difference, but only a small part of the difference we need to make, and I have the feeling that effectiveness has plateaued. When I read the newspaper, most crashes involve alcohol, or speed, or alcohol-fueled speed. We can never reach Vision Zero if anyone, ANYONE, is driving home from a bar with significant alcohol in their system.

So, what to do? Well, live close enough to a pub/bar that you can walk.

I think we would do well to return to the old concept of a pub, the public house, the gathering and drinking place where the town or the neighborhood went to on a regular basis. There was a time people did not jump in their cars to go drinking. I understand that pub culture has faded even in the United Kingdom, but given this celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and Irish culture, I’d like to see us turn back towards that model. Get drunk at the pub, stumble home. That was the tradition, and it could be again.

There are some issues:

  1. There are vast areas in the suburbs that have no bars, or at least no bars that the average person would feel safe walking into. Just like there are food deserts, there are good bar deserts.
  2. There is a strong social desire to go to the latest, greatest, most popular, most “cool” bar, so those places are packed with people who have driven in from somewhere else.
  3. Most people chose the place where they live based on other criteria, such as a nice house, or an affordable house, or good schools for the kids, or a quiet neighborhood. All of those are useful, but when that choice leads to killing yourself and others by driving drunk, it is a bad choice for everyone. And a real possibility is that you will end up killing your own kids or someone else’ kids.

So, do you drink enough that it affects your ability to get around? If you answer yes, then I’m asking that you commit to yourself, and to me and everyone else, that you will only do that at a place you can walk home from. No exceptions, no excuses. Will fulfilling that commitment cause you to have to move? Probably. Do it anyway. Don’t kill yourself, and don’t kills others, based on a broken concept that the decision about where we choose to live is without consequence to others.

For some more perspective on the issue, see Strong Towns “Mothers Against Drunk Driving Should Also Be Against Zoning.” Though I strongly disagree with the post title, and the post only provides arguments against dumb zoning, it is an interesting read.

Portland

20120404-224509.jpgI have been in Oregon City, Oregon, for the last few days visiting my friend Tim, as well as Patti who came over to join us from Idaho. We worked together in the Superstition Wilderness in Arizona many years ago.

Monday I spent in Portland while Tim was working. Since I don’t have my bike with me on this trip (I miss it), I was focused more on walking and transit.

I walked all over the downtown area and along the river. Not once did I see a motor vehicle encroach on a crosswalk with a pedestrian in it, which is a common occurrence in Sacramento, though I’m sure it happens. Sidewalks are wide throughout most of downtown, but not on some of the older streets where new development or redevelopment has not taken place. Street furniture is common. In parts of town such as the Pearl District and Chinatown, there are frequent kiosks with maps of the streets and interesting destinations.
Continue reading “Portland”

Getting started

As I ride my bike and use transit, and even to some degree as I walk, I think about our transportation system. In part this is my job, as a Safe Routes to School Coordinator, to observe, document, and reflect on the patterns of traffic and human behavior. But is is also just part of how I relate to the world. I believe that the two most important activities we do in our lives, for their impact on the earth, are eating and getting around. Eating is something I very much enjoy, but don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. Getting around is.

I’ve been living in Sacramento since April 2011, but there was a long period of transition as I left Carson City. There was also a long period of transition in becoming car-free. I’ll have more to say about being car-free in the future, but it has already faded into the background for me. I spend much more time thinking about how I get around than on the fact that I have no car and rarely drive.

This blog will collect my thoughts about how our transportation system works in Sacramento, both for me and for other people. Just so you know, I don’t think the system works very well. A system designed to give priority to the personal motor vehicle doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for us personally, it doesn’t work for us as a society, and it most certainly does not work for our relationship with the earth. We are killing the earth for our own convenience, and I feel strongly that we must stop.

I have a personal blog (link at right) on which I’ve posted a bit about transportation issues, and I’ll link back to those posts here and sometimes cross-post, but most of what will show up here is transportation ideas I’ve had rattling around for some time, and reactions to the day-to-day joy and challenge of getting around.