The next mayor of Sacramento will have a chance to make the city truly “world class” – not by subsidizing more professional sports teams or building taller office towers, but by making the city a vibrant place that people can navigate without having to use a car.
A modern city hoping to draw economic, cultural and social vitality from people on its streets must place a priority on making those streets safe and easy to use for everyone, not just motorists.
Today, Sacramento is not especially friendly to either pedestrians or cyclists. A person biking or walking to work in Sacramento is far more likely to be killed in an accident than a commuter in Boston, New York or San Francisco, and deaths in Sacramento, in relation to the number of commuters, are 10 times more common than they are in Davis. Hundreds of Sacramento residents are injured or killed each year after being hit by a moving vehicle.
That’s unacceptable. And these problems are the worst, ironically, in places where people can least afford to drive. Many of the city’s low-income neighborhoods are bisected by wide, fast-moving roads that were designed with little regard for people who might be on foot or on a bicycle.
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Fortunately, the two major candidates for mayor have pledged to make active transportation a priority if they win the election.
In conversations with me last month, City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby and former state Sen. Darrell Steinberg both said they believe the city needs to improve its policies and its infrastructure to make walking and cycling a more viable option for residents.
Both candidates want communities and neighborhoods more closely connected by bike lanes and bike paths, which today are too often intermittent. Both support slowing vehicle traffic to reduce the chance of serious accidents. And Ashby and Steinberg both say they would be more aggressive in seeking federal, state and regional funding to redesign existing roads and build better walking and biking paths.
“If the city doesn’t fix your bike lanes and your roads, no one will,” Ashby said. “This is what we do. This is why local government exists, to take care of your police department, your fire department, to make sure that your roads are traversable and safe.”
Steinberg agreed. As a senator he authored major legislation to push local government to make alternatives to driving more realistic, and he says he wants to implement that vision as mayor.
“I’m going to make it a priority,” Steinberg said. “If we are serious about bikeability and walkability, we need to make sure we are serious about complete streets that are not just convenient for automobiles but are safe for biking and walking.”
Ashby, who represents Natomas on the City Council, talks fondly about the bike lanes and walking paths that have been built into that master-planned community’s neighborhoods. She has worked with a local transportation agency there to connect more of those paths to each other and to routes that can take people to Garden Highway or the American River bike trail and then to the city center.
Ashby also says she is a big believer in training the “next generation” of Sacramentans to get around without a car. She has supported programs to give bikes and helmets to schoolchildren and build safe routes to school.
More broadly, she is focused on building more bridges to make it easier for people without cars to cross the Sacramento and American rivers. Perhaps coining a new word, she says Sacramento is “under-bridged.”
“From a bird’s-eye view the communities are pretty close together, but we tend to have a feeling of being sprawling when we’re not,” she says. “It feels that way because it’s difficult to traverse in any other way than auto-centric, which is a problem.”
Steinberg says there are economic benefits to a city that is friendly to walkers and cyclists.
“The economic renaissance represented by downtown and midtown Sacramento will only fully succeed if we prioritize active transportation as part of the vision,” he said. “I recognize, given what I have done at the state level, that bikeability and walkability are not amenities. It’s not a luxury. It’s central to continuing the economic renaissance in the urban core.”
Steinberg says he wants to fix the city’s haphazard collection of bike lanes that seem to start and stop at random intervals, and he supports more bike parking. He also believes that real estate developers should have to provide a “health impact” report similar to the long-required environmental impact report. The new review would include effects on biking and walking.
“The more information you give policymakers, the better,” he said.
Neither Ashby nor Steinberg was familiar with the “Vision Zero” concept, which seeks to design and redesign streets and intersections with the goal of having zero serious injuries or fatalities. The concept pioneered in Sweden has recently been embraced by New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, among other cities. A privately funded initiative is working on a Vision Zero plan for the dangerous south Sacramento streets centered on the intersection of Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road.
The idea can be controversial because it says that traffic should move no faster than is safe for pedestrians and cyclists. In some cases, that means mobility is sacrificed for safety.
But Steinberg says he has no problem with that – in south Sacramento or elsewhere.
“I am very clear on how that balance should work itself out,” he said. “Safety first. We should be looking at those dangerous intersections and doing everything we can to enhance safety.”
Ashby also endorsed the idea, in concept. She said she supports “road diets” – where fast-moving thoroughfares are reduced from four lanes of traffic to two, with more medians, greenery and dedicated bike lanes physically separated from the cars whenever possible. She thinks Broadway, from the center of the city to Tahoe Park, would be an “ideal” candidate for such a street.
“I think that public safety should be the top priority, all the time,” she said.