Sacramento transit officials ask, should light-rail station near arena be closed?

RT’s Mike Wiley says talks with business leaders led to the idea of closing the Seventh and K Street light-rail station.
RT’s Mike Wiley says talks with business leaders led to the idea of closing the Seventh and K Street light-rail station. Bee file

Sacramento Regional Transit officials are considering closing the light-rail station closest to the downtown sports and entertainment arena, saying that stop probably can’t handle the large crowds expected when the arena opens, and that trains there would block people from exiting east from the arena.

Transit chief Mike Wiley said the idea of eliminating the St. Rose of Lima Park station at Seventh and K streets came after talks with business leaders, the Sacramento Kings, city downtown development officials and after an RT analysis of the site. Wiley said he believes the move would help the city’s arena-area redevelopment efforts without reducing the usefulness of transit.

“I don’t think we would lose ridership to the arena at all,” he said. “I’m expecting trains to be standing-room only.”

If the Seventh and K station were closed, a station one block to the south would be spruced up and designated as the arena district flagship station. That stop, on Seventh Street between L Street and Capitol Mall, is on flat ground and serves all three light-rail lines, Wiley said. RT may also make improvements to four nearby stations to accommodate event-goers.

Wiley said he believes several thousand Kings fans will be willing to take transit and walk a few blocks to avoid paying for parking and dealing with potential traffic congestion after the game.

“I look at the transportation options, and people are going to walk significantly farther to get to parking than they would walking from light-rail stations,” he said.

Regional Transit plans to take light-rail trains off K Street altogether at some point, moving them to H Street instead, Wiley said. The agency could have the financing in place by next summer to begin that transition. Business leaders have been pushing for that move, complaining that blocklong, four-car trains act as visual and physical barriers on K Street.

In an open letter earlier this year, a group of downtown business people called on RT to clean up stations and eliminate a few of them, saying some are too close to each other. They noted the Seventh and K station as one where “loiterers generate a sense of unease and lack of safety,” and called that station “a detriment to the adjacent retail businesses.”

Letter signers included developer and Kings investor Mark Friedman, and downtown developers Larry Kelley, David Taylor, Michael Heller and Ali Youssefi.

Youssefi and partners are building 137 apartments, stores and restaurants on the 700 block of K Street, next to the Seventh and K station. He wants to see that station closed.

“With so many people flowing into bars, restaurants and apartments, and with an outdoor patio along K Street, the train at that corner is dangerous,” he said. Residents, workers and visitors can use the light-rail station at Eighth and K or at Seventh just north of Capitol Mall instead, he said.

RT chief Wiley said the Seventh and K station is tight, forcing trains to curve around the corner when stopped, pinching the sidewalk and blocking pedestrian movement. Seventh Street is sloped, making it difficult for people with disabilities to wait and board.

“The increased crowds associated with the redevelopment in the area will exacerbate these issues,” an RT staff report concludes.

The staff report notes that block of Seventh Street will be closed to car traffic after major arena events, which would allow RT to let passengers in and out on both sides of the train, easing some of the potential troubles at the site. Similarly, a traffic lane would be closed as well on Seventh Street alongside the potential new flagship station south of L Street, allowing riders to board on both sides of that train.

The closure idea will be discussed at the RT board meeting Monday evening. Another possibility, RT officials say, is to close the Seventh and K station only during arena events.

Sacramento Kings team President Chris Granger declined comment on the potential closure, but pointed out in an email that there are five light-rail stations within walking distance, as well as the downtown train depot and bus stops.

“We estimate that 10 to 15 percent of arena visitors will either walk, bike or take public transportation to (arena) events,” Granger wrote. “So this is a critical component to the … project. We’ve been working with RT and the other regional transit groups to coordinate operations efforts on everything from safety to ticketing to ensure we’re ready by fall of 2016.

“The region’s transit organizations have been great partners, and we look forward to continuing our work with them to provide an improved experience for Kings fans and their customers.”

RT Board Chairman Jay Schenirer, a city councilman, said the station change idea makes sense, but he hasn’t made up his mind. “I really want to hear more discussion,” he said. “I’ve heard from the business community. I want to hear what riders say as well.”

Downtown City Council representative Steve Hansen, also an RT board member, said the idea has merit, but he wants to know more about potential effects on riders.

Wiley said the agency will ask for board input Monday, then will schedule public meetings and meetings with stakeholder groups, including the agency’s mobility advisory council.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak