Every city has its anti-everything people, and nearly every anti-everything person eventually latches on to traffic as a reason (sometimes as a valid concern and sometimes just a smokescreen) not to do something that is so clearly the right thing to do.
And so lest the man I overheard at Peet's coffee continues to grumble otherwise I thought it'd be good to establish exactly why the proposed downtown arena is ideal for transportation and far better than either the existing Sleep Train Arena or even Seattle's proposed siting of an arena.
The reason, in a nutshell, is what engineers refer to as "traffic dispersion," of which there are three main facets all very much relevant here: dispersion over space; dispersion over time; and yes, even dispersion over modes.
Traffic dispersion over space: The knee-jerk reaction that arena-generated traffic will overwhelm downtown streets is completely false; the reasons are twofold:
First, this sort of claim is almost always based on a "shopping-mall" traffic mentality, which assumes that everyone who would consider attending a Kings game would also insist on parking within very close proximity (i.e. sight distance) of the arena itself. That kind of thinking fully ignores the fact that the comfortable walking distance of a multi-faceted "urban stroll" can be at least two to three times that of a mind-numbing "suburban haul" through a really big parking lot, translating into a greatly expanded "arrival zone" for a downtown arena.
Second, this expanded arrival zone would be accessible by a far larger number of street routes along the city grid via a far larger number of freeway interchanges, resulting in a "fan-out" rather than "funnel-in" traffic pattern utilizing a downtown lane-capacity that has already proved it can handle a far higher peak-period commuter crush than a new arena could ever possibly generate.
Traffic dispersion over time: The second notable facet of traffic dispersion is that compared with the isolated Sleep Train Arena there would be far less reason for any Kings fans to all arrive and all depart at the same time as they do now. In fact, even if just a very conservative percentage of Kings fans would decide to grab a downtown snack either before or after the game or visit Macy's or Old Sac then it would still translate into several thousand fewer cars trying to make a sudden break for it at the final buzzer.
This, incidentally, is one of the reasons that the Sacramento proposal is so much more intriguing than Seattle's; while Sacramento's represents a true full integration of an arena with the urban core a core that would forever be identifiable with the NBA and vice versa the Seattle arena would be just a relatively isolated pocket of "come at 7, leave at 9:30" urban suburban-ness tucked into an already existing drab complex of baseball and football stadiums.
Traffic dispersion over travel modes: Perhaps the most difficult notion for many Sacramentans to grasp is the potential for transit. Without a doubt, a a much-greater-than-expected volume of Kings fans would indeed choose to arrive to the new arena via park-and-ride using light rail rather than driving, if only because it would be such an easy carefree option.
After all, a change in circumstances nearly always trumps a behavioral history.
How many of you, for instance, would ever have considered using public transit to go to Candlestick as opposed to AT&T Park? And really, is there anyone anywhere who would ever argue that the latter "traffic-challenged" location is not one of the best things to ever happen to San Francisco?
Finally maybe slightly less significant in numbers but still very important in principle is that the ability of many Sacramentans to walk, ride a bike, or even take Amtrak to a basketball game, schedule permitting, would be greatly enhanced with a new downtown arena.
All of which further contributes to the fact that the enormous people-absorbing capacity of the proposed downtown location is hugely superior, by far, to any other possible arena site anywhere between here and Vancouver.
Frank Jaskiewicz is president of JzTI Traffic Consulting and a resident of midtown Sacramento. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.