For a stretch of concrete that’s less than 2 miles long, Franklin Boulevard south of Sutterville Road sure has a reputation. People talk about it as if it were a lovely but mildly frumpy person with a surprisingly sordid past.
“You know,” confided Marti Brown, executive director of the North Franklin District Business Association, “there was a time when Franklin was labeled the ‘Ugliest Street in Sacramento.’ ”
I wasn’t surprised. I mean, it’s not as if Franklin Boulevard is all that beautiful today.
It has four lanes of traffic and a turn lane and no lanes for bikes until you hit the Sacramento County line. Sidewalks abut the roadway where cars regularly whiz by doing 40, 45, 50 mph, kicking up all kinds of debris. Businesses, some that look inviting, others not so much, line both sides of the street. But even slowing to turn into a shopping center can be a challenge because drivers loathe hitting their brakes.
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I’m sure it’s an improvement over the scene in the early 1980s, when utility poles and billboards outnumbered cars and trees on the boulevard, and pedestrians were all but nonexistent. But still.
Just this week, I watched a guy riding a bike wait 10 minutes just to cross Franklin at Fruitridge Road. He was trying to travel only one block to get to a business and had to suffer through at least six cycles of the traffic light. It’s true, he was on the sidewalk, crossing the street where pedestrians would. But I don’t blame him. On that stretch of Franklin, it takes a brave – or really, really high – person to ride in the street.
So clearly, even with all of the money spent on improvements in recent decades, more must be done if Franklin is ever going to become more than a moderately successful commercial corridor that’s a shortcut for commuters when Highway 99 jams up.
Brown has ideas. Some would say radical ones.
She wants to reduce the boulevard from four lanes to two lanes of traffic and install bike lanes that are separated from vehicles. She wants to put in a landscaped median with trees and other vegetation, add on-street parking and more crosswalks.
In other words, she wants to turn the corridor into a neighborhood street that better serves the needs of the hundreds of business owners and thousands of residents who call it home. Her idea would build on streetscape work recently completed by the county, which kept four lanes on Franklin, but added trees and bike lanes south of Fruitridge Road.
Brown admits she hasn’t convinced many business owners or residents of the validity of her ideas yet. But Sacramento City Council members and county supervisors have been publicly wishing for some of the same things for years.
A recently awarded $433,000 grant from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and another $250,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds could help make that wish list a reality. The money will be used to solicit input from the public on streetscape improvements. Any plans for actual construction will be based on that.
So the plan is far from a done deal. Anytime anyone proposes turning a popular shortcut for cars into a bottleneck, the backlash is bound to be fierce.
But this seems to be the last piece in a very long and complicated effort to breathe life back into a corridor that’s been on life support since Highway 99 opened in the 1960s. Franklin Boulevard deserves more than to be forever stuck in the ugly shadow of its sordid past.