Back-Seat Driver

Sunrise Boulevard is the region’s real congestion champion, readers say

Last week, after getting stuck in that mega-morass of an intersection, Watt and Fair Oaks, I asked readers what intersections got on their nerves, and whether any were worse.

Plenty, it turns out.

Lynn Wilcox is one of several who says Sunrise Boulevard at the Highway 50 offramps is worse than Watt and Fair Oaks: “Traffic backs up out onto the freeway during rush hours, and Sunrise is stuffed with bumper-to-bumper cars from many blocks south of Folsom Boulevard to the American River,” Wilcox said.

Notably, Sunrise and Watt are among the few streets that cross the river. Several readers pointed out that there once were plans – we’re talking 1970s, 1980s and briefly in the 2000s – to build another river bridge. One route would have involved a connector from Highway 50 to the east end of Arden Way.

That would take some pressure off Howe, Watt, Sunrise and Hazel. Residents in affected neighborhoods, river parkway advocates, environmentalists and some urban planners oppose that idea. That group includes a reader who complained about traffic jams at the Fair Oaks and Arden Way intersection but said she would not want to see a mega-boulevard bulldozed through there, turning that quiet end of Arden into another Watt or Sunrise.

What constitutes an aggravating intersection? From what readers say, it sounds like it’s when you see the light ahead turn green, but you only can inch forward slowly, silently (or not so silently) urging the cars ahead of you to get going … get going, and then before you get to the intersection, the light turns red and you wait another several minutes.

Driver Jonathan Ball hinted he does something I think many drivers do at a certain point on their daily drive. He counts the cars ahead of him. He knows 15 can make it through the next light.

It seems a lot of the worst intersections involve streets that are called “avenues.” Isn’t an avenue supposed to be a broad, tree-lined, laid-back street for strolling on?

Reader Becky Price says that’s not the case at Madison Avenue and Dewey Drive. There’s a lot of speeding on Dewey. She calls it the “Dewey 500.”

Stuart Snider emailed us to warn about the congested intersections yet to come, the ones we don’t see. He points to east Sacramento County and north Elk Grove, where large, spread-out developments are planned and where old ranch roads slowly are being widened.

But readers, in their comments, kept coming back to the Sunrise corridor near Highway 50. Kathleen Franklin drives on Coloma Road where it hits Sunrise. She describes the wait to make a left turn there in one word: “Endless.”

So, what to do? It’s complicated. Widening streets doesn’t really fix congestion in the long run when it just allows for new housing tracts to open up alongside, feeding new traffic.

Several readers say there are too many major corridors where the signal lights don’t seem to be synchronized. Things like that often are harder to accomplish than it seems. But it’s true that technology-based changes – like synchronized signals or signals that adapt to traffic flow changes – are a smart and less-expensive way to speed commutes.

Some drivers say they use the Waze smartphone app and Google real-time traffic maps to help them out, either timing their trips to avoid the worst delays or finding new routes around congested areas.

But that’s been causing problems, too. Davis city officials recently told me traffic was jamming Second Street because Waze and Google were telling drivers to get off Interstate 80 during moments when freeway traffic was creeping and to cut through town instead to gain a few minutes.

Intersection congestion obviously is more than a traffic issue. It’s also about where people can afford to live these days and how far away from work many have to live. The region desperately lacks reasonably priced housing for regular people near work centers, including downtown Sacramento. But that’s a traffic jam of a different type.

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