Transportation

From chaos, a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly Freeport Boulevard is born

A McClatchy High student rides up Freeport Boulevard on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Changes to the street include bike lanes that run in front of McClatchy High School, Sacramento City College, and businesses such as Freeport Bakery and Taylor’s Market.
A McClatchy High student rides up Freeport Boulevard on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Changes to the street include bike lanes that run in front of McClatchy High School, Sacramento City College, and businesses such as Freeport Bakery and Taylor’s Market. aseng@sacbee.com

The stretch of Freeport Boulevard through Land Park and Curtis Park has long been one of the busiest and most chaotic commute routes in central Sacramento.

Now the street has completed a $2.3 million personality makeover. City officials cut the red ribbon Friday on a project that turned the four-lane thoroughfare into a calmer two-lane street with a center turn lane and bike lanes on each flank – a transformation that could serve as a model for other corridors in the city.

Councilman Steve Hansen said the city is working to make similar changes on Broadway to slow traffic and encourage more pedestrians and cyclists.

“We should no longer tolerate streets that are not safe,” he said.

The Freeport Boulevard project, initiated by McClatchy High School students and neighborhood residents, makes the street safer for the high school, people commuting to Sacramento City College on bikes and on foot, and residents headed on foot to the street’s businesses and eateries.

Among them is Caroline Peck, a member of Safety Along Freeport For Everyone, SAFFE, a group that began pushing in 2008 to slow traffic and make the street less car-centric. Peck walks her two spaniels, Savannah and Madison, daily on the street, and sometimes uses it to bike to work downtown.

“It has really changed the feel of the street from highway to a neighborhood street,” she said. “Before, it was like a racetrack, people jockeying and passing each other and going high speeds. Now speeds are slower and drivers are more respectful.”

She said she especially likes the pedestrian crossing in front of McDonald’s that uses flashing yellow lights to alert drivers. “I was never able to cross the street there with my dogs before,” she said.

The project creates the longest bike-lane corridor in the city, running from Meadowview Road into midtown. Bicycle advocates cheered the newly marked lane, saying they hope it will be the first of several like it that will take commuters on bikes more safely into downtown.

There are still are a handful of spots along Freeport where the bike lane disappears for a few dozen feet or a block at a time, creating what Jim Brown of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates calls “white-knuckle gaps” where bicycle riders are squeezed between moving traffic and in some cases parked cars.

“I am convinced it is gaps like that that keep people off their bikes,” Brown said. Still, he said he applauds the city’s efforts to encourage more safe cycling.

Commute-hour traffic continues to back up at several places along the corridor, but traffic is smooth through the project area, from Sutterville Road to Broadway, most of the day, project manager Adam Randolph said. In particular, Randolph said, the new dedicated center turn lane gets turning cars out of the way of other traffic.

The city several weeks ago discovered signal light sensors had been damaged. By fixing them, engineers have been able to adjust timing to give cars on Freeport more “green light” time, cutting down on some commute-hour backups.

Danny Johnson, co-owner of Taylor’s Market, said the project has not eliminated all of Freeport’s problems. He said the awkward merging of 21st Street and Freeport Boulevard next to his store remains dangerous for drivers and cyclists.

From Broadway to Fourth Avenue, southbound Freeport Boulevard is essentially an extension of 19th Street in midtown. It curves sharply around the Taylor’s parking lot before joining 21st Street in a merged Freeport Boulevard. The road then almost immediately shrinks to one southbound lane, with a series of white arrows painted on the pavement warning people to get over.

The city painted a green path there to make it more clear where cyclists are expected to ride as they cross in front of the merge.

“I’m not going to say it is worse, but it is definitely not better,” Johnson said.

City officials say they intend to monitor traffic flows on the street in the coming months, as well as traffic on nearby Land Park Drive to see if more drivers have switched to that street.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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