Back-Seat Driver

Look out, pedestrians. Sacramento streetcars could hit 35 mph

Are streetcars faster than pedestrians?

A ride on the Portland streetcars shows that streetcars are not fast, but they are faster than walking.
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A ride on the Portland streetcars shows that streetcars are not fast, but they are faster than walking.

It turns out Sacramento’s streetcars will be pretty zippy. If they get built.

The trolleys, which would run on rails in the street, will be capable of hitting 43 miles per hour. But they’ll have internal controls that limit them to 35 mph, according to recently published technical documents.

The idea, advocates say, is for streetcars to be fast enough to keep up with the car traffic around them, similar to Sacramento Regional Transit buses. Like those buses, though, they’ll be a bit lumbering in getting up to speed, taking nearly 10 seconds to go from zero to 25.

It remains uncertain if and when the project will get out of first gear though. Sacramento had hoped to get the federal government this year to sign a grant agreement for $100 million, half the estimated cost of the program. That didn’t happen. Advocates say they now hope they can get something signed this spring.

That will allow the four-mile project to be under construction in 2018.

Meantime, the streetcar group, headed mainly by the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento, hopes to pick a streetcar builder in the next month or so.

One of the bidders for the contract is Siemens, the international giant that has long had a major manufacturing plant in south Sacramento.

The company has built light and heavy rail vehicles for decades, but added streetcars to its repertoire five years ago when modern trolleys became popular. The Sacramento company has now built streetcars for Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Charlotte and Ft. Lauderdale.

A lawsuit brought by a local tax group is still in play, though. The suit is challenging a downtown tax district the city of Sacramento has set up. The city recently tried to get the suit thrown out on technical grounds, but was rebuffed by the judge. A hearing is set for May.

No cannabis while driving - or walking

Marijuana use is about to be legal in California, but drivers can’t smoke marijuana or eat it either when they are behind the wheel. A new law, Senate Bill 65, bans California drivers from ingesting cannabis.

The law, similar to the “no drinking while driving” rule, says you can drive around with cannabis in the car, but it must be in an unopened package or in the trunk.

State officials say that they are worried about the effects of marijuana on driving safety. Since 2006, the percentage of drivers in fatal collisions who have other impairing substances in their system has risen 38.7 percent, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety. A lot of those are legally prescribed medications. Often, though, tests show marijuana in drivers’ systems.

The city of Sacramento put out notice last week, as well, that people cannot smoke or eat marijuana in public, including on sidewalks, in outdoor restaurants, on the bus, on light rail or in parks.

Scurrying pedestrians

Pedestrians in some cities have been getting tickets for stepping out onto the crosswalk a bit too late.

It happens when the “walk” signal has turned to “don’t walk,” but the signal light is still green. Fast walkers can scurry out and make it across. But, technically, they are disobeying the sign.

Until now. A new state law, in effect next week, allows you to make a late dash, under certain circumstances. If the pedestrian light is one of those with a numeric countdown head (like a NASA launch: 10, 9, 8, 7 ...), you can cross even after the “don’t walk” sign flashes, as long as you time it right so that you get to the other side before the countdown hits zero.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, the bill’s author, says it should make cities a little more pedestrian-friendly.

“I don’t believe pedestrians should be preyed upon just to fill local coffers,” he said. “It ought to be based on whether it is safe or not.”