Back-Seat Driver

Sacramento street closures are on the rise; so are parking woes

A construction crew works on an extension of the westbound outer shoulder near 19th Street on April 17, 2014.
A construction crew works on an extension of the westbound outer shoulder near 19th Street on April 17, 2014. Sacramento Bee file

Today we tackle two classic Sacramento transportation questions:

If downtown parking is so bad, how come no one parks in the lots under the W/X freeway?

And, the weekend driver’s lament: Where the heck did that “fun run” or street festival come from, the one now blocking my way?

Lisa McElligott, office manager at a midtown business, says state workers migrate to her area in the morning to park where there are no meters. That pushes some of the area’s workers to nearby metered spots, forcing them to run out to their cars several times a day to move them, or, if they feel like gambling, to simply replenish the same meter.

Why, she asks, doesn’t the state open up more parking for its employees under the freeway?

The answer is, the state offers plenty of parking there, but workers don’t use it. State General Services officials say they have 800 parking spaces at $37 a month under the freeway, mainly between Sixth and Eighth streets. But only about 100 to 120 state workers park there. That’s possibly because the parking lot is at least a dozen blocks away from most state offices.

Meanwhile, there are waiting lists at popular garages, so workers spread lava-like out into the neighborhoods each morning. We know one enterprising guy who parks in midtown at a free spot under light rail (not in front of anyone’s house or business), then pulls a bike from his truck and pedals to his office.

Parking under the freeway is definitely not popular these days. But here is something that’s increasingly popular in Sacramento: public events that require street closures. The city closed streets 242 times last year for various events, including runs, concerts, farmers markets, marches, and sporting events. The previous year, 2013, the city closed streets 170 times.

Melissa Romero of Sacramento’s special events services says that figure doesn’t include more than the 200 neighborhood block parties people hold on the street. It’s a good thing, she says. The city “is committed to supporting quality special events throughout the community. Community festivals add to the spirit of our neighborhoods and provide an opportunity for residents, local artisans, performers, merchants and city employees such as neighborhood police officers to interact with one another.”

But closures lead to moments of consternation for unsuspecting drivers. Reader Louise Mehler got blocked a couple weekends ago en route in her car to the store because the Shamrock’n half-marathon was streaming down the street. She didn’t hear about it beforehand, she said. She asks: What is the city policy on allowing street-closing events, and on alerting drivers beforehand when a big street event is planned?

The basic city philosophy is to let responsible groups use streets for events. But they have to jump through a few hoops first. The city requires organizations to obtain special-events permits. City officials say the group needs to put together a city-approved traffic control program, and it must pay for police officers if they are needed for traffic control. The city sometimes requires event coordinators to pay for message boards that the city will set up on the street a few days in advance to warn drivers.

Groups also often must pay to have residents of the immediate event area notified in advance. Typically, property owners within a few blocks of the event are notified by mail. Sometimes those notices are delivered by hand to houses and businesses near the event site.

Despite all that, drivers get surprised. If they are lucky, a sharp police officer doing traffic control can direct them to the best alternate route.

For running events like the California International Marathon, the city will set up “rolling street closures.” That means they leave streets open until just before the runners are scheduled to reach that point. Then they close that section of the street and reopen it after the last runners pass through.

City officials say the system generally works well, and, surprisingly, they don’t get many complaints.

It’s part of being in a big city with a small-town sense of community, and a belief that the best use of a street is not always as a car conduit.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.